Something my beloved high school physics teacher once said is ringing loudly in my ears. In the fall of 2002, he sarcastically mused about the then-fledgling reality TV show, “American Idol.” He commented that the competition would “obviously” be a litmus test of contestants’ wits and intelligence, and the winner would undoubtedly be the one with the most impressive base of knowledge in liberal arts, sciences and culture in general.Though his charming knack for sarcasm was duly noted, I couldn’t help but remember what he said now that the popularity of “American Idol” has exploded exponentially, plodding along through its fifth consecutive season. It really makes me question the nature of the moniker “American Idol.”
“Idols” in the truest sense are supposed to be figures worthy of admiration, or at the very least, something significantly appreciated. Unfortunately, I can’t bring myself to idolize any of the contestants of this season’s American Idol.
Sure, some of them can sing, but I’m infinitely more impressed with somebody who can write, play and sing his or her own songs rather than emulate something else. I find myself yawning and reaching for the remote before the show even begins. Perhaps it’s not the contestants that are lackluster, but the show’s monotonous concepts.
Unfortunately for those of us who have grown weary of the initial charms of “American Idol,” the pop-star-making behemoth is far from dying off. The fact that ratings are increasing with each season clearly illustrates that “American Idol” will be far from giving up on its quest for a seemingly infinite number of American Idols. (Perhaps we’ll all personally know an Idol someday. And with any luck, we’ll be a country brimming with Idols.)
What makes the show so tiresome to me is its concepts – the cutesy video montages, the “theme nights”, even Simon’s biting criticism – it’s all been beaten to death far too many times for me to continue watching.
Take, for instance, the show’s ritualistic first rounds of auditions. The first season’s batch of screwball auditions struck a unique chord with viewers -something about taking delight in others’ embarrassing antics fills us with some morbid delight. I admit that I found them very amusing at first.
However, the horribly goofy renditions of hackneyed Stevie Wonder songs are now anything but silly and offbeat – and the oddball auditions are now a staple of the show, an overzealously emphasized selling point that I can now hardly stomach. The actual “talent” in the first few weeks of the “talent” competition is elusive to the point of ridiculousness.
After the initial shoddy schtick, the show lumbers along its course of systematically culling the pop star wannabe herd. Here’s where the actual talent emerges. However, instead of continuing to reincarnate Kelly Clarkson and Clay Aiken year after year, one would assume that, after all this time, the Idol producers would take a little liberty and experiment with the show’s format. Rather, we end up with Simon Cowell’s lovechild with ABC – a very strange, very painful to watch the spinoff, “American Inventor”.
Here’s an idea. Perhaps producers should be developing “Idol” spinoffs that really promote the other qualities we apparently idolize in our American culture. For instance, in light of our country’s resurgence of staunch patriotism, I propose the pilot episode for a potential hit-reality series, “American American.”
The winner, of course, will be well versed in all of the Articles of Confederation, know the intricacies of the Tet Offensive, and proudly display a half-dozen “Support Our Troops” magnets on his or her atmosphere-obliterating sport utility vehicle of choice. There can be no truer “American American!”
As no such show exists, we are left to idolize those with the ability to sing. Forget current events, education and broadening whatever horizons there be. Who needs that when you can be idolized by the American public as a product of media biz marketing with a great set of pipes?
To prevent my “American Idol” critique from becoming a wry commentary on mass culture and TV viewership, I’d like to propose a viable new direction for American Idol: provide a format for other types of musical acts. It could take the form of a spinoff show or a sub-category of American Idol. Then bored viewers like me can have something different to look at and listen to, rather than Kelly Clarkson Wannabe #17.
I’m desperately hoping “American Idol” will take advantage of its immense star-making power by taking risks and allowing for a refreshing type of competition – one that invites musicians and songwriters to catch their lucky breaks, rather than making pseudo-celebrities out of gawky, stiff-limbed college students struggling in vain to emulate Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs.”
Rachel Gollay is a junior radio-TV-film major from Rockwall.