American Idol is only 8% down from last year yet critics and TV watchers are saying that the Idol gravy train may have finally derailed. “The bloom is off the rose,” is how one critic put it. Another blamed it on the boring contestants whose expert singing voices upstaged any sort of personality. Simon Cowell has also stated on the record that this year the lack of risk-taking made for too safe a show.
Why so much fretting? Idol may be down but it’s far from out. Perhaps the problem isn’t that the show itself has gotten old but rather that the show has become too concerned with turning out viable stars.
If the American Idol winner doesn’t shoot straight to the top it counters what the whole show is about. Those who do manage to make good careers out of their win, namely country music superstar Carrie Underwood and pop icon Kelly Clarkson, prove that Idol can launch phenomenally successful artists. Even those who didn’t win but still found stardom, like Clay Aiken or Jennifer Hudson, seem to validate the Idol process.
The judges and the producers seemed, this time around, to be truly in search of the next big star rather than allowing charismatic characters to emerge. It looks like they have found two formidable superstars in David Archuleta and David Cook. Both can sing; both have passionate fans and both will sell records and who knows what else.
But this dynamic made for a boring season of contestants doing almost everything right. There was no Sanjaya, no underdog like Hicks, no nude photos released on the internet – and to top it off, as Simon has said, they were all just too nice, as in, no one argued with his comments. While this positivity suited people like Brooke White, it doesn’t really suit Idol, which needs all the conflict it can get.
Also, it was one of the whitest seasons on record, with a lot of very pretty pop-star ready blonde girls. Gone were the usual soul singers who always make it to the top ten only to be unfairly voted out before the final four. The bland singers this year, while easy on the eye, kept the season on a slow simmer.
Ultimately, it is premature to call American Idol D.O.A. It is however, a good time for the producers and judges to take stock of just what it is about the show that keeps people watching. To that end, the producers have said they promise to “inject [Idol] with new levels of energy and new unpredictable twists and turns, and greater levels of storytelling.”
Idol has always been about someone achieving the impossible dream. It doesn’t mean much to us if we can’t relate to the people on stage. A Taylor Hicks or a Ruben Studdard, a Bo Bice or a Fantasia Barrino – these are the Idols who truly seemed to come from nowhere to realize their dreams. That makes for good television, whether they enjoy thriving careers beyond the show or not.