Monday, June 02, 2008

Essay: Idol Thoughts

David Cook won American Idol! My guy won! Woo-hoo!

Wait a second. Did I just say that?

I used to scoff at American Idol. I didn't much like the style of most of the singers, and I thought the bits in between the songs were often cheesy and tedious. Tuning in for the last five minutes before House was plenty; I could keep up well enough with the recaps to have a conversation about it at the water cooler.

This year, however, I did something I never thought I'd do. Not only did I watch, I voted. For the finale, which I TiVo-ed, I voted over and over (the lines were open by the time I sat down to view it, so I just hit redial as I watched). I did not want that Star Search junior winner David Archuleta to win. His "gee-whiz" persona is sweet and he has a good voice, but he sings like a robot and has an awful stage dad. I genuinely thought David Cook was the best throughout the season, and he has the better story. A bartender who came to the audition to support his brother, good looking and humble, his American Idol journey is the stuff of the American dream.

But how the heck did I get to the point of even thinking about David Cook? Perhaps the biggest reason is the writers' strike. A friend and I always watch House, and when we found our favorite show unavailable, we started watching American Idol.

I guess I wasn't alone; other adults have also been tuning in. The average age of the show's viewers this year was 42, and some pundits attribute Cook's landslide win to the age factor. Forget the screaming thirteen-year-olds who always seemed to be at David Archuleta's feet, we middle-aged viewers wanted to see a rocker win.

Now I even find the idea of going to an Idol concert appealing. When a friend got hooked in season five and rooted for eventual winner, Taylor Hicks, she went to a concert and loved it. I thought it was going a bit overboard. Could I actually go so far as to pay to participate in the franchise?

It'd be a bit much to swallow. After all, the show is as much a commercial as it is a contest. The judges have the Coca-Cola cups on display, every "guest artist" is there to promote a new album, and this year the contestants made Ford commercials that were shown as a part of the show. At least with Star Search you could tell the difference between the program and the commercials.

If the premise weren't compelling, though, American Idol would not be as popular as it is. Not only is it a chance at stardom for the contestants, it has that staple of reality TV fare — competition. Best of all, the audience gets to choose the winner. Aside from the Super Bowl, it's probably the most far-reaching cultural activity in America today. People of all ages watch it, all the major news outlets cover it, the winners are even getting their pictures on postage stamps, for goodness sake.

And people vote, in the millions. One can vote as many times as one wishes, which is a difference from the electoral system the size of Mount Everest. But isn't it interesting that a television show can figure out how to get people involved and leave them feeling like they can make a difference by voting? If the American Idol producers wanted to change to a one person/one vote format, they would find a way to make that work, too. Meanwhile, back in Florida (and the rest of the country), people are still being disenfranchised when it comes to voting for the elected officials.

Like in government, getting elected America's Idol is not a guarantee of success. So good luck, David Cook. I hope your album kicks butt and goes platinum (or whatever metal is best). As for me, I'm going back to watching House. (Unless there is an actors' strike!)

NB: This was posted to Blogcritics on May 25. It garnered 8 comments, two of which were nasty because I dissed David Archuleta. For the record, I think David A. is very talented, he just doesn't appeal to me. Also, I am going to see the American Idol show on August 9th. So much for not participating in the franchise!


Claire said...

Dear Nancy--

It may well be, that Stan and I are the last two people in America who have never watched "American Idol", at least for more than five minutes at a time. When desperate for TV, Stan always goes for those manly shows like "Dirty Jobs" or something abut battleships.
Lately we've been keeping up with those food shows about eating strange food in out-of-the-way places like insects or really smelly fruit. He even did a piece on lukefisk and interviewed a lady who talked frighteningly like your mother-in-law. But I digress.
It seems that the "American Idol" attraction is for feeling of community; it gives you the experience of being part of a unified purpose, of getting behind the underdog and cheering him on to victory, like what democratic elections are supposed to be.
The thing is that this kind of energy does go on, but the emphasis now is toward the negative. It's not what someone stands for, its what they stand against, (or don't stand for)--hence our current state of affairs. this is also why I don't watch TV news.
As always your thoughts are always interesting, "Idol" or otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Nancy-- This was interesting! I, too, got "into" Idol, though I have watched it off and on during each of the seasons. It is sort of interesting to "water-cooler" about. But my big question is: with whom are you attending this concert? I think I know who it is not. He will probably be on a Mahler crawl anyway. See you soon! PAM