Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Nice Nice Bo Bice: A few thoughts on American Idol

Well I was going to blog throughout the show tonight, but my daughter kept ripping my phone chord out (that's right, I have a dial-up). It's now 8:45 CDT, and we're about to find out who the idol is. The lead-up was actually quite impressive: it was a medley of five songs featuring all twelve finalists with "their idols." It began with Carrie Underwood singing "God Bless the Broken Road" with Rascal Flatts, featured George Benson with Scott Savol and Nikko Smith on "On Broadway" and ended with Bo Bice fronting Lynnard Skynnard on (what else) "Sweet Home Alabama." I voted for Bo (actually I could only get through the busy signals once), but the judges seem to be hinting that its Carrie (their praise of her was much more generous today than yesterday, as was their criticism of Bo. They all claimed to know it was her from the beginning, but last night they were non-commital with a strong tilt toward Bo. They're not supposed to know, but they're such insecure whores, I'm sure they insisted on knowing just so they could sound smart.)

Well, it's Carrie. Now I know the judges were warned. She will not have the career that Kelly Clarkson has had. I think 19 Entertainment will exercise its option and sign Bo as well, and I think Clive Davis will produce his album (Clive was visibly impressed last week). I think Carrie's limited appeal will actually work to her benefit: 19 won't work her to death like they're doing with Kelly Clarkson, nor will they try to change her like they tried to do with Clay Aiken (Aiken of course, was able to weasel out of his contract, I would guess, because it was found to be unconscionable. 19 is both manager and record label, which presents a conflict of interest).

Poor Kelly's voice is almost gone, just as she's getting really good songs to sing. "Since You've Been Gone" is one of the best on top 40 radio. The New Yorker reported that she insisted on the punky, Pretender's-esque production, which the magazine cited as an example of her asserting her independence. I wish I could believe that. I think she's going to be sharing a bunk with Mary Kate Olsen if she doesn't somehow convince 19 to let her slow down. (She got four days off between world tours.) She could get out of her contract claiming unconscionability (there's a strong public policy reason not to let 19 destroy her voice) but she probably wants to hold onto the dream.

Well I want to say something profound about why we still love American Idol, but my throat hurts and I should get to bed. I will just say this: although it started in England, American Idol is a perfect microcosm of the American capitalist ideal: everybody acts out of self-interest, everybody wins, and nobody takes their own feelings too seriously (it's just business after all).

The contestants get to sing on TV. If they're really bad, like William Hung or the girl that opened tonight's show with the national anthem, they become a national object of ridicule and can make a career out of being good sports. They're better off than they would have been without it.
If they're good enough to make the final 12, they may have to endure a few harsh comments and ultimately get voted off, but they still end up in a much better position than if they had to build a career the old fashioned way. That's why there are no hard feelings after they leave, and they willingly come on subsequent episodes and a national tour and sing their hearts out.

The judges, too, get to be in the limelight. Paula Abdul would be relegated to VH1 "where are they now" without the show. Randy would stay in the liner notes of hundreds of CDs and would have had no incentive to get his tummy tuck. Don't even get me started on what the show has done for Simon Cowell.

The songwriters and artists who created the songs sung by the contestents get ASCAP/BMI royalties and more exposure than they could have ever dreamed. Rascal Flatts can thank the show for making him (them?) a crossover artist. George Benson played his butt off tonight for probably his widest television audience ever in his redition of "On Broadway."

Of course the biggest winner is Simon Fuller's company 19 Entertainment. It gets: the number 1 show with the accompanying multi-million dollar contract, a management contract with an automatic star, a recording contract with an automatic gold record and a bargaining position that allows it to get way more than its share. It's only a matter of time before the contract gets declared null and void and we lose Idol. (Actually, Bo might be the most likely to challenge it in court). Oh well. Let's enjoy it while we can.

Rick

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