American Idol: Failure to launch (artists)
While I understand the hype about this series (the competition and all), I don’t really understand why this show continues to exist. Yes, we go through each season and whittle down contestents to the final two. But, after the winner is chosen, then what? Oh yeah, they get a recording contract. What happens after that?
Spotting Commercial Viability
The ‘judges’ (and I use this term loosely) seem to think they know what’s best in the ‘pop music biz’. Frankly, if they could discover real talent, they would be working for a record company locating and signing talent right and left and not hosting a silly variety hour show. But, here we are… and here they are. So, I must honestly question the sincerity and realism of this show. The whole thing is staged, yes, to find someone who can sing. But, it’s really there as a money maker for whomever is producing that show. The underlying values aren’t to get someone signed to a contract. The real point is to put on a show. And, thats what they do, for better or worse.
It’s funny that they pick judges who are has-been recording artsts and supposedly A&R people like Simon Cowell. What’s funny about Simon is that his ability to pick talent has been extremely spotty. For example, he signed and produced Westlife. Westlife is a boyband that’s a meager shadow of N*Sync and The Backstreet Boys at best. What’s even more funny is that THAT is really his BEST claim to talent selection outside of Idol. Every other artist beyond that isn’t even worth mentioning.
So, how do these washed-up has-beens end up judging a show that supposedly prides itself on selecting quality talent? Well, let’s examine Idol more closely.
Since 2002, there has been (in order), Kelly Clarkson, Rubin Studdard, Fantasia Barrino, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Hicks, Jordin Sparks, David Cook and Kris Allen (most recently). Arguably, the biggest name to come out of the Idol circle is Kelly Clarkson with Carrie Underwood as a solid second. The rest, well, what about them? They may have produced records, but few appear to be listening. This isn’t a good track record for Idol.
Let’s consider Kelly Clarkson for a moment. Even she has had her ups and downs (mostly downs). While Kelly has a resonably strong voice, the question remains just how commercially viable it is. With a name like American Idol, you’d think that Kelly Clarkson would have taken the pop crown away from the likes of Madonna and Britney. Yet, while Madonna’s star is fading, Britney has taken the crown over and firmly holds it as far as pop acts go. Britney wasn’t even ‘discovered’ on Idol. More than this, Kelly has a stronger voice than Britney, yet you see what that gets you. Kelly isn’t even close to being in Madonna’s league and, while Britney has her own personal issues, her music producers provide a much better music experience than most of Kelly’s efforts.
Outside of these ‘winners’, we also have non-winners like Jennifer Hudson (who’s at least as well known as Kelly Clarkson and she wasn’t even a runner-up) and she’s also an overall more complete ‘star’ than Kelly. Then there’s David Archuletta, Chris Daughtry and Clay Aikin. These four people are the proof that the judges cannot pick winners. In fact, these 4 people should have won Idol, but didn’t. Yet, they are still successful on their own.
Just looking at Idol’s track record, you can see more of the Idol winners have failed to be commercially viable than have been successful (Fantasia who? Jordin who? David who? Rubin who? Taylor who?). The point here, that the judges clearly are not capable of spotting talent. Even when someone has real singing talent, is young and good looking, clearly that’s not everything that’s needed. Otherwise, everyone graduating from Idol would have become an instant success… which, of course, has not happened.
I understand the fervor over this show and I understand that the point in watching is more about the competition than the outcome. But, isn’t the outcome why we come to watch? Don’t we actually expect the winner to become popular, make great music and usurp the pop crown from Britney? After all, that’s what Idol started out promising.
Idol is Flawed
The premise of Idol is flawed. The barometer by which they choose winners is in versatility in singing already commercially successful songs. The real barometer of talent is both in songwriting and performing. Even though someone has a great singing voice, that doesn’t automatically make them a pop sensation. Becoming a ‘Pop Idol’ comes with singing unique new songs. Songs that have not been heard before. Better yet, it proves talent when the person can both write and sing their own music. Artists like Prince and Sarah McLachlan are capable of this. To me, this is talent worth finding. But, today, commercial pop music is more about the look and voice than it is about songwriting. Music producers are far too prone to run to Taxi and buy a song or commission their favorite songwriter to write a song rather than having the singer write something.
For me, Idol would be a much more rounded show if they actually required the singers to also write all of their own material. This would be a lot more time consuming, but requiring this would also show the true talent of the artist. This premise would show a contestant’s ability to write music under pressure and, at the same time, perform that music admirably. Using this model in the show would likely have changed both the contestants in the show and the outcome of the winners. I would also have a lot more respect for the winners of the show. I also believe the winners would have been far more commercially viable as artists than anyone Idol has, so far, produced.
Idol’s days are numbered
We are now going into the 9th season and I believe this show is wearing out its welcome. Talent shows like this do come and go, so I expect this show go packing probably in one to two seasons. If it lasts beyond 10 seasons, I’d be highly surprised. I’m honestly surprised that it has survived this long with its dismal track record of spotting viable commercial talent. Yes, the winners can sing, but can they produce an album that people want? In 8 seasons, I’d say the answer to that question is unequivically no. The spectacle of the live performance is great, but it doesn’t mean the contestant has what it takes to succeed in the music business. Clearly, Idol has failed at it’s primary goal.