Let me start off this piece by telling you that I am not a cynical bastard just because I am too old to audition or compete on American Idol.
Yes, I am a serious music fan, and yes this show is a guilty pleasure. I do enjoy it because I like to spend time with my wife and watch it with her.
I also enjoy watching young people really do their best and try to compete for a population that is largely indifferent and fickle and be judged by people whose criticism ranges from somewhat helpful to vague to ridiculous, all hosted by a man whose teeth cost more than my house.
If you look at Idol’s track record, or any reality show for that matter, the fame and commercial viability of each contestant, winning or not, tends to fade immediately after each season ends. I personally can count the number of contestants that are now making hit records on one hand. It’s a tough pill to swallow, for sure. For the most part, the people that are on the show mostly come from humble stock. With the exception of a handful of contestants, most have not had even a marginal career performing beyond the odd talent show, pageant, or karaoke night. So to expect these individuals to be able to be pop superstars, winning Grammys, and doing all the things that they’re supposed to after 6 months of being on a reality show is a difficult task at least. There’s enormous pressure on them, and for the most part, they have little experience to prepare them for life beyond the gilded gates of Idol.
So I watch the show…I get goosebumps when the right “moment” happens on stage. I cheer the people I like, I boo the ones I don’t. All from the privacy of my own home, I might add. I cringe whenever the audience waves their hands back and forth, just because it’s “that kind of song.” And while the people are cheering for the individuals, for sure, they are mostly cheering for the concept…the system.
So I’m watching the show, and it’s down to 3 people. (This would be last night.)
And towards the end of the show, the Idol folks organize little “hometown visits” for the Idols where they go back to their hometowns, make promotional appearances (for the show) and do little concerts for thousands of screaming fans. Screaming fans that, mind you, lived in the same town with these people nine months ago and paid them no mind. The people that are returning home as conquering heros have not cured cancer, or built museums that house science and knowledge, or even made a musical recording of original content that has inspired people. They’re just normal people, from normal lives, that are on a reality/competition show.
And that’s what I’m afraid for. Afraid that it’s all going to come crashing down. Yes, these folks have won the 2010 reality TV equivalent of the lottery. Yes, they will be able to regale their families and friends for generations. I just don’t think it’s fair to them to build them up to be this “thing” with all sorts of expectations that mere mortals cannot hope to live up to.
I do hope that I’m wrong. I’m proof that even someone with no talent can make at least a minimal impact on the world of music, and I hope that even though these young people will be finishing their careers as television singers, they will be able to navigate through the waters of the worst music industry doldrums ever to forge a meaningful career and entertain people the world over for generations.