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Idol Comments

Although it’s become beneath our NLT pay grade to talk about or even watch TV, I have to say that THE AMERICAN IDOL final show was quite entertaining. It featured CYNDI LAUPER, KISS, STEVE MARTIN, SANTANA, ROD STEWART (struggling charmingly to belt out his first hit Maggie May), and some other famous singers I don’t like that much. Steve Martin, Crunchies please note, played the banjo to a very pretty sort of mountain song he wrote himself. The idol top ten acquitted themselves well singing with these stars, and Adam, in particular, out-kissed Kiss. Kris and Adam, the two finalists, are both smart, classy, and musically inventive young men (that Danny, the number 3 guy, is too). But the result was an injustice. Kris may resonate more with the heartland, but Adam, however over-the-top in certain ways, must be the best Idol singer ever. As Simon says, it is, after all, a singing contest. Kris, quite the gentleman, said after after hearing the result something like: "I don’t know what to say, it feels good, but Adam deserved this." Consent and wisdom don’t always come together, despite Simon’s effort to direct the American verdict. But that’s not to say Kris didn’t earn his victory through brains and hard work: He sometimes soared above his relatively limited vocal ability with arrangements that highlighted the stories the songs actually tell--especially "The Way You Look Tonight." The weakness of Adam, sometimes, was subordinating the song to his amazing voice.

Discussions - 19 Comments

I just read Peter Lawler's terrific essay in the latest Intercollegiate Review. On that basis I recommend we all watch as much TV as he does.

Steve, Thanks.

Am I being teased? As far as I know, I am the only NLT regular who considers watching TV a nearly total waste of time. I must be forcefully persuasive on the issue for my stand to flavor the whole darn blog. I smile at the suggestion.

I will note that I actually had a clue about all of this American Idol hoohah. That show has become an American cultural event and a person even mildly awake to American culture (like me) just cannot be unaware of the central conflict in the drama. That review above makes me feel like I really missed something, even though the entertainers mentioned are not on my Ipod. I feel like I should have watched. Yet, to truly appreciate American Idol, I suspect you have to become a constant participant over the (how many?) months of sturm und drang. In addition and unfortunately, my family provides all the dramatic pathos I can stand. My brother says is because there are so darned many of us, which is probably true. Perhaps the American cultural phenomenon that is Reality TV is the result of people having smaller families. You bring those other people and their drama into your living rooms because there are not enough real people there. For me, that kind of vicarious catharsis constitutes an emotional overload.

I expect, if I get out today, that I will be hearing about this everywhere I go. I heard it here, first, which just go to show where NLT really stands on the matter of popular entertainment.

It was an injustice, but hardly a shock. Cowell is wrong to claim that it is a "singing competition." It may be in the early stages, when the judges determine who stays and who goes, but once the decisions is turned over to the viewers it becomes purely a popularity contest. Danny and Kris had been splitting the all-important adolescent girl vote (he's so CUTE!) for weeks; once Danny was gone there was little doubt that his votes would go to Kris (who has a nice voice, and seems like a genuinely good guy, but is eminently forgettable).

I hope that someone does a serious study in a few years of how successful AI winners end up being in the music world; my hypothesis is that the viewers are terrible judges of who has what it takes to make it. How many of those, for example, who voted faithfully for Taylor Hicks week after week actually went out and bought his CD?

Simon's claim is the expert's claim. This should be all about singing, and, darn it, I'm the guy who knows singing. (He is, in fact, competent to judge singing.) But the American people are free to reject his judgments for whatever reason pleases them. They aren't great judges of singing; they might be better judges of something else. Kris is a lot better than Taylor Hicks, although I kind of agree w JM generally. Kate, Thanks for the usual wonderful comment.

I think part of what Peter says above and most of what John says is true. Adolescent girls are a big part of the vote but, unless I am mistaken, I think they are also a big part of the music buying population. So there is probably some real connection between their votes and the relative success of their choices. But the show really isn't a singing competition. The title of the show is your first clue. The fact that the public votes is the second.

Having said that, I also think that Adam was a bit over-rated as a singer. . . even by Simon--who, I agree--is generally a competent judge of singing. He is less a singer than a performer. His outrageous antics sometimes out-shined his voice and, sometimes, were necessary to make up for its shortcomings. He shrieks too much, for one thing. And sure, when you're doing KISS, shrieking may be called for . . . but he did it in most every song. Further, his dark persona was very often over-the-top and campy--and therefore sort of creepy instead of edgy. His first song in the finale was terrible, I thought. Simon was absolutely right to criticize it as being too much like a musical version of Twilight. (I was thinking Lost Boys: the Musical, but that's a generational thing.)

In any event, losing American Idol after coming this far will be the best thing ever to happen to Adam. If he had won the perception of him would have been something more akin to the truth about him, as I described above. He would have had to sing that stupid song they wrote for him (the one that neither Adam nor Kris could sing) and release it as his first single. The entire image that he has been trying (too hard, in my view) to create for himself would have fallen apart as the handlers for AI would have made him into even more of a cartoon. Now that he appears to have been "wronged" he gets a certain kind of aura as a result . . . it legitimates his status as a rebel and an outsider. It makes him seem to be much less a "sell out" to the corporate office at AI and it frees him from their binding contracts. He will be able to do what he wants now and there will be plenty of people lining up willing to help him do it. He would have made out alright if he had won the competition, I think. But there is no doubt that now he will be the Clay Aiken to this year's Reuben Studdard instead of the reverse as it would have been if the coronation had proceeded as it appeared to be planned. For those who have not followed AI as long and pathetically as I have, this means that Adam will make a hell of a lot more money than Kris. And he'll certainly do better than Clay Aiken (whom I even admit to over-rating at the time) too. Reuben was the presumed champion from the beginning of Season 2 . . . and he won. People have a way of resenting that kind of thing, it seems to me. Now the only time we hear much about Reuben is every May when people ask, "What ever became of past Idol winners?" Adam, more like Chris Daughtry before him, won't suffer from that fate now.

Not a fan or viewer, but anything that gets us closer to hunting and killing "convicts" on live television like the Running Man movie is great.

After what was the worst season of American Idol yet, the ending is a bit anti-climatic. The over-indulgent Adam vs. the underwhelming Kris. Despite all the accolades heaped on Adam (including those above) I suspect that actually listening to him screeching for 45 minutes straight on a CD will get extremely tedious very quickly. It is a shame that Broadway and Hollywood musicals are dead, as that is where he should be. In short, Adam has a great voice but no taste. But, yes, Kris is forgettable.

I can't let an Idol comment go by without venting on one matter. Years ago, someone opined that every time Bill Walton spoke while commenting on an NBA basketball game the network should put a picture of Bullwinkle the Moose in the corner, informing viewers that they should hit mute only to go back to sound when the Bullwinkle picture disappeared. That's how I feel about Kara DioGuardi. She almost made the show unwatchable with her desperate attempts to say something profound for each contestant. Her mode of action seemed to be to just keep talking in the faint hope that eventually something interesting might finally come out. Sadly, it seldom did.

Speaking of NBA basketball games the Cavaliers took one on the nose from the Magic.

They might be the best team, and King Lebron the best player, but sometimes this expectation itself can be a pretty potent motivator.

In any case the master-slave dialectic is still at work, only it works on nearly infinite levels.

If Simon really cared about the best singer winning could he change the outcome by appearing to favor the opposite?

In other words there seems to me to be an interesting dynamic between comment 4 and 5.

If Dr. Lawler is right about one being the favorite of the american people, shouldn't Dr. Mosier be wrong about the future economic viability of the artists?

Aggregating those who vote with a phone, yields a different result than aggregating those who vote with dollars(a higher level of interest/required effort)? And if you look over time a higher level of sustained interest as opposed to the bubble/hype behavior of the time?

Only over a long period of time does truth win out, and only then if attention spans are long enough, and in the long run we are all dead?

But long run studies are weak because the artists might actually improve/decline, but the judgement used would only be based on the first impression.

You could also try to get data on how often people who bought the CD played it. I mean teenage girls might buy a CD and then toss it on a large rack of other CD's, a question might be repeated listening vs. number of possible alternatives for listening.

This is why Apple and other corporations pay people good money to mine Ipod data.

Of course once you go this far for the "truth" no one really cares and you are even more of an ass than Simon is.

Plus, even Lebron looses sometimes.

Lots of good comments. Kara lacked self-confidence and class and should be fired. That song she cowrote was unsingable and a terrible burden to put on those guys. Adam is a Broadway guy with uneven taste, but as far as I can tell he really does have a great voice. His career, about which I can't speculate, will in fact be aided by losing, as his strength will be being somewhat "countercultural" in the artsy-fartsy sense. The last girl to be eliminated--whose name I forget at the moment--is the one most likely to have a memorable musical career.

Will it really be counter-cultural if we know it will be counter-cultural? Won't it just be because he is best? Of course to be fair you said "aided".

How about some unseen events like racy pictures(you know the stuff we can't make up)? One of them dates Meghan McCain, the other one dates Chelsea Clinton?

One of them gets the Colbert bump, the other one shows up on the Daily Show?

Of course neither myself nor Brutus nor Kate watched american idol...in fact I always post counter-american idol, be it Ultimate Fighter on Spike or the Cavaliers game(usually opposed because ultimate fighter is outlet for wrestlers and NBA for basketball)

Funny how telivision programmers split manliness demographics by opposing the dominant show on telivision, fight the wife for the remote?

I wonder if domestic dispute call volume increases on nights when American Idol airs, my guess is yes.

Just a thought: Do you think America's love for Adam (despite his ultimate loss) combined the huge popularity of artists like "Lady Ga Ga" and things like High School Musical, Wicked, and even the show that premiered after Idol on the night of the performances, Glee (which really wasn't bad, and also about Ohio)--to say nothing of Idol, itself-- do these things combined suggest a kind of mourning for the loss of Broadway style productions in America? Is it possible that there is a latent and now emerging demand for something more akin to good-old-fashioned musical theater? I'm no expert, but I wouldn't be surprised. Broadway, it seems to me, died or is dying because it began to take itself too seriously. It got weird and full of messages where it used to be all about having a grand time and being thoroughly entertained by the most talented people in the business. It would make you cheerful to watch it too--and maybe that's the kind of thing people need when the economy does not make one cheerful. I am noticing a growing trend among my friends out here to seek out local theater company productions of old-time musicals and also a rise in the number of people who attend dinner theaters (as I will do tomorrow with my mother-in-law and daughter to see a production of My Fair Lady).

I don't know what this means or if it means anything at all. But if I were in the music and entertainment business, I'd probably stand up and take notice.

In response to Julie: I agree, the crap that gets sold to us is bad and I have suspicions that it serves to dumb people down anyhow. Here is a great example, Bollywood outsells Hollywood worldwide and their films remind me of old timey musicals.

Julie,

Maybe what you are really getting at is the lack of what was once called "variety" on television. American Idol isn't so much musical theater (as obviously there is no story) but a musical review, a series of songs and stories not necessarily tied together by an overall theme.

One thing I have noticed is how often Idol must go to the 60s and 70s (and a bit of the 80s) for music. Is this not a tacit recognition that very little good popular music has been made in the last, say, fifteen years? Also, perhaps the 70s and early 80s represent the last time there was truly popular music, namely music that appealed to a wide swath of the American public. So to play music that they think will appeal to everyone and that most everyone will know, they must go back three decades. By the 1990s "popular" music had become utterly untuneful. A good barometer of a song is whether you hum it while fixing dinner. One of the many strikes against Kara's dreadful song is that one cannot (or will not) hum or whistle it while chopping onions.

I hum smells like teen spirit all the time. But, after early 90's I agree it is pretty much crap. Tweens in skimpy clothes who's voices are distorted via mixers, base lines that negate even having lyrics; country has not changed much but admitting to liking that probably would make you all seem a little too red state and not postmodern.

Nirvana fan Brutus? That makes us Gen X right? I have to say that I catch myself randomly singing partial bits of Plateau, the Man who sold the World+Lake of Fire. But I must protest that Country music has changed quite a bit.

Take Kenny Rogers Coward of the County or the Gambler. Take Johnny Cash now that is depression era country music with soul, the one and only man in black. Take Faith Hill Mississipi girl. Or Carry Underwood, before he cheats. A far cry and a country mile from Al Rogers at the grand ole opry, or pie plant pete and harmonica joe.

In terms of what I would bother humming why not this triffecta? America the beautifull, La Marseilles, God Save the Queen, followed by some college football fight songs like Hang on Sloopy of OSU and the Victors of Michigan...then play the sound track to Braveheart by the London Symphony Orchestra.

FREEDOM!

I've yet to see an installment of American Idol, but somehow I just can't imagine any of them are better than uniquely talented girl.

god save the queen? you should be tared and feathered for that bit of loyalist nonsense.

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