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03/08 EDITORIAL: "AMERICAN IDOL" MEETS THE NEW REALITY

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  • 03/08 EDITORIAL: "AMERICAN IDOL" MEETS THE NEW REALITY

    (Every month or so, a new editorial is posted in Sound, Studio, and Stage. Your comments and feedback are encouraged!)

    "AMERICAN IDOL" MEETS THE NEW REALITY

    By Craig Anderton

    Now in its seventh year, American Idol has been a ratings powerhouse for Fox, easily outdistancing other shows in its various time slots. Yet this year, ratings have dipped. Its opening show was down 13% from the year before, and down 10% compared to 2006. It drew a total audience of just over 33 million, a little over a 10% drop from last year.

    For musicians, American Idol is an easy target. First of all, and most glaringly, it hasn't produced any idols. It has produced people who've sold quite a few CDs, to be sure; but no one who graduated from the show has been a talent on the order of a John Lennon, Buddy Holly, Prince - or Ani DiFranco, for that matter. Second, it perpetuates the "we're gonna make you a star" mentality that has increasingly little to do with reality. Third, all the artists do cover versions - and maybe that explains why there always seems to be a disconnect between emotions and the songs being sung: They're not the artists' songs. Granted, they're allowed to play instruments this season. But that has the unfortunate effect of underscoring that their playing is as ordinary as their singing.

    Yet there's also something very positive about American Idol: It gets people talking about music, and performances. Simon Cowell, love him or hate him, makes some extremely astute comments that anyone who wants a long-term career in the music business would do well to heed. Same with Randy Jackson, who brings the mentality of an actual producer to the show. (The function of Paula Abdul, the remaining judge, seems mainly to make sure that none of the contestants slit their wrists after the show.) In an era when the musical landscape is shifting so much, American Idol represents one place where the American public shares a common ground - ironically something that the Grammys, with all their potential starpower, don't seem to be able to do.

    But what inspired me to write this editorial is that so far, I haven't seen any threads started about American Idol, and I wondered why. Then it hit me: American Idol is all about a record company going out, finding talent, signing it, and creating a star. And we all know that model is becoming less and less relevant. In today's world, the real American Idol is someone with 5,000,000 hits on YouTube, or who has managed to sell 10,000 CDs after gigs from the back of a van. Visionary '60s artist Andy Warhol was right: "In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes." But what a lot of people don't know was Warhol's subsequent quote, made over a decade later: "I'm bored with that line. I never use it anymore. My new line is, 'In fifteen minutes everybody will be famous.'" Bingo.

    And I think that might be why American Idol, while still slaying the competition, isn't what it once was: The star-making machinery it purports to feed no longer exists. It speaks to a different time - a time that is now becoming part of our past, not our future.

    It will be interesting to see if, whether in the years ahead, American Idol will be able to adapt and change to the new model of "stardom." Whether it will pick, say, the artists who made the Top 24 videos over the past year in terms of aggregate internet hits rather than holding physical auditions all over the US. Would you rather watch the guy who did "Shoes" on American Idol, or someone who could have a comfortable career playing the local Holiday Inn every Friday night?

    We'll find out.
    _____________________________________________
    There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

  • #2
    Going to be interesting to see the way it plays out. The times are always changing.

    Comment


    • #3
      Yet this year, ratings have dipped. Its opening show was down 13% from the year before, and down 10% compared to 2006. It drew a total audience of just over 33 million, a little over a 10% drop from last year.


      That's interesting. Last week was the first time I ever watched the show, and I actually kinda enjoyed it. But that darn Simon really gets my goat!

      I don't see anything wrong with AI's format. I don't see them switching gears and going for singer/songwriters from Youtube. Few people are good at everything. If you write great songs, you may not be much of a performer. They don't always go hand in hand. If the singers on AI don't seem to be feeling the lyrics, it's probably because they're nervous as hell about how the judges are going to react. Also most shows begin losing steam after 7 or 8 seasons. AI's just running it's course.
      Super 8

      In memory of our fellow drummer and forum friend, Cheeseadiddle-Nov 2008

      "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."
      -- George Bernard Shaw

      Comment


      • #4
        And if I ever have a top music video do you think they would ever pick an old geezer like me at a "young" 52+ ?????

        AI has always catered to the under 30's crowd.

        Dan
        http://musicinit.com/fastfingers.php An Experiment in 80's Technology

        http://youtube.com/techristian My YOUTUBE channel
        Music videos at http://musicinit.com/video.php

        Comment


        • #5
          I see what you're saying about AI catering to an increasingly irrelevant model, but I think its complete lack of relevance goes way deeper than what you're suggesting, and in that sense it was just as irrelevant the day it started as it is today. Whether the ratings have dropped because the public is finally realizing this, I couldn't say. I'm more inclined to think ratings have dropped just because people eventually tire of the latest TV fad and move on to something else. Just like Survivor or any of those other lame shows, eventually people tire of the same concept and it becomes played out.


          For musicians, American Idol is an easy target. First of all, and most glaringly, it hasn't produced any idols. It has produced people who've sold quite a few CDs, to be sure; but no one who graduated from the show has been a talent on the order of a John Lennon, Buddy Holly, Prince - or Ani DiFranco, for that matter.


          That's because nobody of that calibre would ever agree to appear on a show like AI, and more than likely wouldn't have even as kids. Therein lies its total irrelevance.
          What The...?
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          • #6
            Just like Survivor or any of those other lame shows, eventually people tire of the same concept and it becomes played out.


            I'd say that's about right.
            ...

            Comment


            • #7
              just read the editorial above and my 1st question was
              who the hell is Ani DiFranco?

              OK... so I looked her up on Wikipedia and now I know.

              Comment


              • #8
                Just like Survivor or any of those other lame shows, eventually people tire of the same concept and it becomes played out.


                Well, take the concept of people playing guitar, bass, and drums with a lead singer; that concept has been around so long that if we were dealing solely with something playing itself over time, that should have been gone a long time ago. But it hasn't, because it keeps re-inventing itself. And regardless of whether or not game shows are a lame concept, they keep surviving by re-inventing themselves...I don't know if Survivor is still on, but the concept of "voting people off the island" continues in shows that have re-invented the concept in different contexts, like the Apprentice and yes, American Idol.

                It's too easy to say that AI's ratings have dipped because people are losing interest. The ratings themselves tell you that. The far more interesting question is WHY have they lost interest. (The "lame concept" theory has merit, but I don't buy it as all there is. The concept was sufficient to attract huge numbers of people, so if people did drop off because they got tired of the concept, the show should have been able to attract new viewers who were not familiar with the show...it's like magazines, they don't always have the same 50,000 subscribers...they'll lose 5,000 in a year, but get 5,000 new ones).

                My theory for the drop off is because the show hasn't re-invented itself to reflect today's reality. Seinfeld's ratings didn't drop significantly over the years it was on, and I believe that had a lot to do with not only the quality of the writing, but because they continued to touch on contemporary themes. They kept to the same concept, the same characters, the same dialog, and the same schtick -- but they remained relevant because they were able to stretch within the box they had built for themselves.

                There are plenty of shows that adapted and survived (e.g., the Simpsons); my point is whether AI can adjust to the "new reality." What strikes me as most interesting is that it now seems quaint, as if addressing some bygone era.

                But on a different subject, from the standpoint of a network wanting ratings in order to sell ads--which is the context of a show like AI--I don't accept that the concept is fundamentally flawed from a commercial standpoint. Game shows have always been popular, so has karaoke...AI simply combines the two in a family-friendly format. As I've said before, AI is primarily a game show that happens to revolve around music. To expect it to deliver the same kind of punch as, say, a good concert is unrealistic. But AFAIC, anything that exposes the public to music on prime time TV is a good thing. That doesn't mean it couldn't be a FAR better thing, but remember, we ARE talking about American network TV so don't expect Shakespeare. Or NIN, for that matter.
                _____________________________________________
                There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

                Comment


                • #9
                  I gotta say one more thing...the same musicians who consider AI crap are very often the same musicians who feel the lowest common denominator record-buying public wouldn't recognize good music if it collided with them, which is why the charts are ruled by disposable blonde singers with large breasts who are auto-tuned to death. Not that I disagree with that

                  Yet here's a show that has a bona fide non-musician A&R guy, a respected record producer/bassist, and a...uh, never mind about that one...actually trying to provide constructive criticism to performers about what's good and bad about what they do, and I do believe that some of those comments are not just relevant, but insightful. So we have a show reaching tens of millions of people that, mixed in with the game show/karaoke element, is trying to educate people about what is and is not a good performance.

                  It's too easy to look at it from an elitist working musician perspective and see it as hopelessly elementary. But there are millions and millions of people who don't play an instrument, don't know much about music (we can thank the morons who cut art out of the schools for that one), yet are being exposed to the thought process of evaluating a musical performance. How can that be such a bad thing? People have to start somewhere. AI isn't aiming for people like us as its target audience; we have movies like "Derailroaded" for that.
                  _____________________________________________
                  There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    just read the editorial above and my 1st question was
                    who the hell is Ani DiFranco?


                    The reason why I "idolize" her has to do with how she was one of the first to kiss the record labels goodbye and do her own thing -- not because she couldn't get signed so she HAD to create a label, but because she stuck to her convictions and wanted to do things her way. Her music's okay too, but it's everything she's surrounded herself with that gained my admiration.

                    I would consider Trent Reznor an idol, too. He may not have the big numbers, but he has the devoted following and an ability to keep pushing the envelope.

                    No, you won't see either one on American Idol. Apples and oranges.
                    _____________________________________________
                    There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Well, take the concept of people playing guitar, bass, and drums with a lead singer; that concept has been around so long that if we were dealing solely with something playing itself over time, that should have been gone a long time ago.


                      Well not every idea peters out over time. The good ones last, the lame ones fade away. Or get recycled in 20 years when the "nostalgia wave" rolls around and everyone's had 20 years to forget how lame it really was.


                      It's too easy to say that AI's ratings have dipped because people are losing interest. The ratings themselves tell you that. The far more interesting question is WHY have they lost interest.


                      Well yeah, it's an interesting and valid question. I just don't know that there is a good answer... then again, I'll be the first to admit that I don't understand why some of this stuff gets commercially popular in the first place.


                      My theory for the drop off is because the show hasn't re-invented itself to reflect today's reality....What strikes me as most interesting is that it now seems quaint, as if addressing some bygone era.


                      Well, OK but do you think Joe Middle America even realizes that "today's reality" is different? Sure, WE know because we're musicians. But all those people who only buy Top 40 major label records and listen to mainstream radio - and there are a lot of those - don't have a clue. They still believe in superstars and stuff.

                      So... I dunno if that's it. I'd like to think that longtime viewers of the show came to the realization that the show's format really isn't conducive to exposing real talent, but who knows.


                      But on a different subject, from the standpoint of a network wanting ratings in order to sell ads--which is the context of a show like AI--I don't accept that the concept is fundamentally flawed from a commercial standpoint. Game shows have always been popular, so has karaoke...AI simply combines the two in a family-friendly format.


                      Well... OK, except that 1) music isn't a game or a contest, and 2) karaoke is popular in large part because of the participation aspect. Does anybody actually go to karaoke bars just to watch? Maybe some people do, but I can't imagine. Most people are there to wait around for their own turn to perform, then wait around for the winner to be announced. Maybe a few people are there to egg their friends or relatives on. But I can't imagine lots of people going to a karaoke bar and watching a bunch of strangers... same thing with watching it on TV.

                      So it seems to me that AI is like karaoke without the most important part (participation), combined with a game show involving something that inherently isn't and shouldn't be a contest (music). So... I don't get its appeal at all. But I don't claim to be any expert on cultural trends.

                      But AFAIC, anything that exposes the public to music on prime time TV is a good thing.


                      I dunno. If it shows music in a bad light it could be a bad thing. And I think presenting it as a contest of elimination is a bad light.
                      What The...?
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                      http://www.facebook.com/whattherock
                      http://www.myspace.com/whattherock

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                      • #12

                        It's too easy to look at it from an elitist working musician perspective and see it as hopelessly elementary. But there are millions and millions of people who don't play an instrument, don't know much about music (we can thank the morons who cut art out of the schools for that one), yet are being exposed to the thought process of evaluating a musical performance. How can that be such a bad thing?


                        That in itself isn't a bad thing. It's mainly the "contest" aspect of it that I think is a bad thing. Music isn't a competitive sport, and the things that ultimately define talent aren't necessarily readily on display in a contest.

                        I'll tell you what might be a cool idea for a show, though. Remember WKRP? All about the inner workings of a radio station? That was a great show and it was very popular, too. I think there could be a show like that about the music biz. Only it shouldn't be a friggin "reality" show. It should have actual writers and be a fictional show with characters that are developed, although it can feature actual unknown artists. There can be evil A&R guys who want to rip off the musicians, and good A&R guys who are trying to do something for a band but the label doesn't care. They could show the trials and tribulations of a young indie band trying to "get signed" vs. another trying to make it on their own. There could be a producer who has to evalute new talent and in the process describes how he picks the acts that are ready for prime time vs. those who aren't, and what he does to try and develop young talent. The show could follow the A&R guys as they go to clubs and check out unsigned bands and evaluate them. It could follow bands and solo artists on tour and in the studio, and the producer in the studio explaining to a band why one arrangement is better than another, or coaxing take #57 out of them because "we haven't done 'the one' yet". It could be like the "Mixerman Diaries" on TV.

                        I think that would be not only a really entertaining show, but educational both for audiences and anybody considering becoming a musician who thinks that you get signed and then hit records just fly out of your ass. OK, so I just talked to a producer friend yesterday who walked away from a project because the young band apparently really did think that and had no work ethic and thought they just showed up whenever they felt like it, did one take and he'd fix the rest in Pro Tools, and a hit would result. So maybe I'm a little pissed off right now. But still. People really don't get how much work it is, and as you say a lot of them don't know much about music or how it gets evaluated. I think this would be a way cooler way to show that than AI.
                        What The...?
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                        http://www.facebook.com/whattherock
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                        • #13
                          Well - if 33 million viewers means it is dying then it s going to have a very profitable and protracted death.

                          THe positives mentioned re: providing a focus on music that many people share as a common experience really is a positive. I see this a Clives attempt to revive the old model and keep it alive. Its not dead yet.
                          Its genius getting a large audience so invested in /involved with an "artist" even before they have a release.

                          Another thing it brings to the fore is the value of a good song- the songwriting - the song selection.

                          It also demonstrates the sometimes subtle diffrence between good stage presence and not so good.

                          Having said all that - its simply becoming a bit old,
                          'Ho many times can you hear the same comments.
                          "Yo dude you were a little pitchy in spots but you really got it together"
                          Psst... Wanna check out some free tunes?
                          http://www.broadjam.com/artists/home.php?artistID=3448

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                          • #14
                            So it seems to me that AI is like karaoke without the most important part (participation), combined with a game show involving something that inherently isn't and shouldn't be a contest (music). So... I don't get its appeal at all. But I don't claim to be any expert on cultural trends.

                            I dunno. If it shows music in a bad light it could be a bad thing. And I think presenting it as a contest of elimination is a bad light.


                            Well, there is participation. The participation comes in the form of allowing the public to vote for their favorite contestant. Also, I think a lot of people sort of live vicariously through their favorite contestants; part of the appeal of the show is that it allows the average person to think, "That could be me." Not to mention the freak-show aspect of the initial auditions (which is the part of the show I can stand the least, but many people I've talked to say it's their favorite part.)

                            And I agree that music shouldn't be a contest, but I don't assume the general public feels the same way. I think most people like competition (as evidenced by the plethora of Red Sox fanatics where I'm from), and they like music too. So here's a show that combines both.

                            Really, I think the reason for the show's declining popularity is just that it's been around for about eight years now. We kind of live in an ADD culture. Once something new comes along, everybody shifts towards that. And there's only so much re-invention a TV show can do without becoming an entirely different show. My prediction is that the general public will move on, but the show will still retain a sizable chunk of loyal fans which will keep the show on the air for a while to come. It'll be a gradual decline, rather than an abrupt one.
                            ...

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                            • #15
                              (The function of Paula Abdul, the remaining judge, seems mainly to make sure that none of the contestants slit their wrists after the show.)


                              Quote of the day!
                              Here's a tip - if you put out some horrible lo-fi recording that sounds like a Gorilla banging an antelope while using a vacuum with a bad belt drive to suck up a floor full of marbles and silverware - and folks don't line up in mass numbers to hop on your wagon... maybe it ain't us who don't "get it". - THX1138

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