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Friday, March 21, 2008

Idol Fever!!

It's America's favorite guilty pleasure but, like me, no one seems to feel guilty for watching. Every season starts with the hilarious auditions, most of which are made up of people who just want to be on TV and know they have no chance. By the time the early finalists get to Hollywood, most of us have already picked favorites, even predicting the next winner.

If there's one thing that I've noticed most recently, it's that the talent each year has significantly dropped, which is exactly opposite of what the announcers and judges say to get us excited about watching. Two years ago, Taylor Hicks was crowned the American Idol and was since dropped from his record label after lackluster sales. Personally, I loved Taylor's Cocker-esque approach and I think his album is a nice departure from the pop standard that Idol winners have adhered to. Behind him was Katherine McPhee, who seems less interested in making music than just being seen, and Chris Daughtry who is undoubtedly the most successful non-winner. I've heard him called the best Idol loser, but there's nothing about him that earns the title "loser" as he had the best-selling album of 2007. Last season belonged to Jordin Sparks, pretty much through the whole competition and there weren't too many others who have even been heard of since.

I feel that Kelly Clarkson is the most successful American Idol so far, closely followed by Carrie Underwood. To me, they represent what the competition is all about, which is finding a true unsigned talent and giving them the opportunity to prove that they have what it takes. Nobody can deny that those two have what it takes to be around for a very long time, as long as they wish to be at least. Even with Kelly's recent troubles regarding her album "My December" I think she will easily bounce back to the kind of success she found on her sophomore album "Breakaway". One thing that has to be admired, is Kelly's strong conviction in the way she stood by her album when record exes such as legendary Clive Davis, told her to rework the album. While Ruben Studdard's albums have not performed on the charts as Kelly's or Carrie's, I believe he was the clear winner of season two, deservedly so.

This season has been boasted by judges as having the most talented group ever, and I have yet to agree. Early standouts for me are David Archuleta, David Cook "the rocker", Michael Johns, and Irish lass Carly Smithson. I learned early in the season that Carly Smithson was previously a signed artist and that Idol will be seeking out some professional singers like her to add to the group, in hopes of raising the level of competition each year.

My prediction is a finale standoff between Carly and David Archuleta. My wife Kacy likes Dave Cook, and besides him being the rocker guy of the group I'm not sure why. The female rocker, Amanda Overmyer was the last Idol to be sent home, after another southern-fried Joplin-inspired take on "Back In The USSR". After a successful week of music from the Lennon-McCartney partnership, Idol decided to continue the theme of music from the Beatles for a second week. Unfortunately, the performances universally dropped from the first to second week of the same theme. Amanda was critiqued for always doing the same thing, as Paula asked her to try something more vulnerable and soft and Simon said that her typical approach was "boring". Amanda replied with "ballads are boring" and went on to say "I have a minute and a half to show these people what they'd see if they bought a ticket." Something about counting chickens is coming to mind.........weird.

Something that Simon said recently is a perfect statement to sum up the evolution of the show. He told David Cook after his performance of "Elanor Rigby" that if American Idol continues to be a talent contest rather than a popularity contest, he just might win the whole thing. Usually, most of what comes from Simon Cowell is just negative criticism and useless rantings which makes his presence look more and more like a ratings tool. However, I could not agree more with that statement. Despite my earlier comments, I think Taylor Hicks won American Idol because the "Soul Patrol" had his back. Sanjaya, from season 6, is a perfect example of popularity vs. talent as most viewers were more eager to see what his hair would be doing than his song choice.
One disappointing aspect of Idol is the annual display of prior "questionable" activity which is dug up on a few contestants, some of which have been eliminated as a result of their troubled pasts. The show is supposed to be a search for the next great recording artist, according to Simon. There really is no need to air out the dirty laundry of these aspiring music artists, except to feed the tabloid beast and its devoted followers. I'm wondering if Idol will ever get smart and start screening people so we can concentrate on the music rather than the pictures that may surface, featuring our next group of hopefuls in compromising situations.

Until then, we can watch David Archuleta charm us week by week and Carly Smithson school the others on how to give a flawless performance.

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