May 8, 2006

It’s Not A Singing Competition

It aggravates me when people talk about American Idol, and how they’re upset that the “best singer” got kicked off early, or that the “best singer” didn’t win, and they always invariably say, “I thought this was supposed to be a singing competition?” And the answer I give (and the more I watch the show the more I become convinced of this) is that is not a singing competition. It never has been, not since the first day. It’s a lot of other things, and singing is a definitely part of the show, but that’s not the reason people watch, and that’s not what people are judging on when they vote. Even if they think they are, they’re not. But usually that’s where my ability to express myself stops, and I’m not able to explain the whole equation any further than that. But that’s why I love reading the American Idol recaps over at Television Without Pity, because they don’t just give you a scene-by-scene rundown of what happened on the show, they dive deeper and really look at all the underlying stuff that’s hidden between the pixels. Especially the recaps that are written by Jacob, who is not only my favorite writer at TWoP, but most likely my favorite writer period.

Anyway, his new American Idol recap came out today, all about last week’s show, and right on the very first page (out of 17…yeah, it’ll take you a while to read it all) is the most awesome explanation of American Idol that I have ever seen anywhere, and it’s so golden that I just have to quote the whole passage.

I want to tell you about a conversation I had this week. It went like this: I was discussing the show with a friend, and the question came up about how come you never hear about Clay, or Ruben, or Fantasia, or anybody really, and why is that. And it occurred to me that my friend thought this show had something to do with music, that it somehow intended to locate and promote the “superstar” of its title. Now, I know you and I know better, but it weirded me out to think about that, and trying to get the message across that this television show is…a television show turned out to be really difficult. Perhaps you’ve made the same mistake, of trying to sell such a vulgar point of view. This friend of mine is very intelligent, and it’s like…that the producers don’t care about what happens to these kids afterwards any more than, say, I do. Obviously. The CDs and videos and magic music that they make is roughly the same as a WWF keychain or mix tape or commemorative chugging mug — it’s souvenir merchandise that the show is churning out, so you can remember watching the show, so that you’ll tune in and watch the show some more. It’s a t-shirt you can listen to. The focus is on ratings, like with all other TV shows, and on the soap opera that keeps us all tuning in, and the way that those contestants are dropped into the hopper every year and the judges and producers push it this way and that way and it’s very compelling television, but it occurs in a bubble, and spending all this energy on the imaginary future of these kids is just a waste of energy, because they’re on a game show, a stupid TV game show, and the most we can hope for is that Elliott’s voice will get noticed, or that Anthony Federov will do some porn now that he is all grown up. That the reason it took Kelly Clarkson four years to make an album that was more than half awesome was because all she got from the show was networking. It’s an itsy-bitsy, tiny leg up in the scheme of things, and all it does is get you face time — and the contract you sign is so fucked up that you can’t even really act on your own interests or get the payoff of that.

Can’t add anything to that but Amen.

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