An American Idol Rant

So.  I watch American Idol.  I admit it.

A lot of people don’t expect musicians (or ex-musicians) to watch Idol.  I think we’re expected to be bitter that we didn’t cash in on our dreams of becoming huge rock gawds.  But personally, I’m happy for anyone who is able to make a living making music and doing something they love.  I wasn’t able to do it even though I’m a really, really great guitar player and a really, really good songwriter (and a kinda sucky vocalist).  But that’s all beside the pont.  I want to talk about American Idol.

I don’t think that the producers and judges of American Idol have ever accepted the reality of what they’ve created.  They think it’s something that it’s not.

In the old seasons all the way up until 2-3 seasons ago, the judges would frequently say things like “ultimately, this is a singing contest.  And you can SING!”  And then they’d be surprised when those great singers would get voted off.  Ryan Seacrest would come on and say things like “You can’t take it for granted that your favorites are going to be saved, you have to vote for them if you want them to stay.”  As if we weren’t voting for who we liked and wanted to win.  They just didn’t understand that those great singers weren’t necessarily the people that people liked.  Chris Daughtry was voted off.  (Which really ticked me off.)  And Taylor Hicks won.

And then David Cook came along.

The way American Idol is set up, it’s really configured to be a giant karaoke contest: Disco Night, Latin Night, Beatles Night, etc.  Up until Daughtry, almost all the singers tried to show how versatile they were by singing the songs in the original style and not generally playing around much with the arrangements.  Daughtry was the first person I really heard as an artist singing the songs in his own style.

But David Cook took that to a whole new level.  He re-arranged things.  He would take almost any song and regardless of the style, make it his.

And with that, the producers and judges had an epiphany.  I think that they figured out that this isn’t a singing contest.  And they’re starting to think that their job here is to find artists.  With Bowersox (and Lily Scott) and Dewyse and this new crop, the judges are really pushing the contestants to find a way to make each song theirs and to change the style and feel of the song.  In previous seasons, they would have been expected to play the song with the original arrangement.  When these kids just play the song with the original arrangement, they’re kinda getting crucified for it.

And I like that approach.

But they’re still wrong.   So You Think You Can Dance has it right.  On SYTYCD, they say over and over that it isn’t a dance contest, it’s a contest to find America’s favorite dancer.  And that’s what American Idol is.  It’s a popularity contest.  They can say it’s a singing competition but it isn’t because the best singers don’t necessarily win.  And they can say it’s an artist’s competition to try to find an artist who will sell the most CD’s, but the most artistic doesn’t necessarily win. 

No.  The winner of American Idol is just the singer who happens to be the most popular from week to week.  They’ve instituted this “save” because they’re trying to save America from making a “bad decision” but that just stems from their ignorance that this is just a popularity contest and the people that THEY like aren’t necessarily the most popular.  The producers and judges need to understand that and embrace it.

I like Big Mike.  I liked his performance last week.  But if he wasn’t popular enough to get the votes, he shouldn’t have been saved.  They’re just delaying the inevitable.

And I guess that’s the end of my little diatribe.


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