I almost always look at things from some distance before engaging. There are few things that reel me in unwittingly, few things I do impulsively. There are a number of reasons for this, most of which I’ve identified and looked at with exasperatingly tedious analysis. But I won’t get into all that today.
With that said I will abuse you with my thoughts about American Idol and shows of its kind. First, I’m thankful for their part in turning the trend away from record companies monopolizing the music market and dictating what merits our consumption. The existence of a show in which the public can evaluate talent and pick favorites provides a fairer outlet for great performers to be recognized and their music to be enjoyed. When I say “fairer,” I don’t mean ultimately fair. American Idol has been an amazingly popular channel for exposing talent to the planet, but it is not the only option.
I have a problem with American Idol‘s theme song (which is repeated ad nauseam in commercial bumpers and every other way the producers find to use it). From a musical science standpoint, it is blatantly manipulative, created to build tension and suspense. But I’ve always avoided most game shows and the like with their characteristic “noises.” I am aurally sensitive, if you will. A less intrusive way for me to pick new musical favorites is listening to new submissions on iTunes and other sites. I can also go to Pandora, type in examples of my favorite music, and Pandora will play for hours artist after artist, new and old, known and unknown, from which I can pick favorites. Did you know you can submit your music to Pandora? It does actually have to be good — please, for all of our sakes — in which case it will be picked up, dropped into Pandora’s music genome and played along with other selections that match it. And it pays royalties. Of course, there’s not the hype, publicity and financial backing that comes with making it into the top group on Idol. But that takes us back to the power mongers, doesn’t it?
American Idol turns away thousands of incredibly talented people every year. I know singers who could go toe-to-toe with any of the past top fives who did not even make it past the producers at the cattle call. It is a TV show more than it is a competition; its producers know what gets ratings; they are looking for drama, quirks and controversy to keep you interested to the final night. You may be wowed by what you see once the competition starts, but don’t fool yourself into thinking you are evaluating the best singers that auditioned in all those cities. I’ve heard friends say they think this year’s group has been the most impressive collection of talent in the history of the show. But the fact that a show of its billing ever showcased a top 12 of questionable caliber is proof that it was never all about vocal competition. I suspect the producers knew they were throwing the public a lot of changes this year, so they made sure the talent was dazzling.
Still, there’s the problem of the voting public. American Idol continues to appeal to a wide age demographic, yet its voting majority obviously has become “tween” and teenage girls. Teenagers are still ahead of their parents in technology and may always be. If you want to be an armchair judge but don’t bother to vote, then why express shock at the outcome? Unless parents and grandparents start voting or AI comes up with a more geriatric-friendly form of voting, you can be sure you’ll continue to be “shocked.” What was Einstein’s definition of insanity again?
Despite the show’s appeal to the musician in me, I feel I’m being played, and I never like that. Whenever I sense my baser instincts are being appealed to, I get wary. (Believe me, this is no indication that I’ve not succumbed to my baser instincts. Oh, the days and days I could spend blogging.) What I’m referring to is our need to elevate ourselves by playing judge, by evaluating others: We’ll jump at the chance to evaluate and score others even in arenas that are not our expertise. American Idol has banked on that human response. It’s the way of Rome.
The water cooler conversations I have heard, the vehement opinions expressed . . . so tiring. And it’s all subjective anyway. It’s about what appeals to us and all the reasons it does, not about which singer is best. I suppose I feel too much empathy for the contestants to enjoy the game, even knowing they have thrown themselves into the ring. And that’s a reflection of my own issues. To be continued. . . .