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It’s not always about ratings.

As American Idol enters its fourth season, the unexpectedly excellent Nielsen numbers have stunned the Fox Broadcasting Company. (For the week of 2/28-3/6 American Idol Tuesday was # 2 with 17,164 million households watching and American Idol Wednesday was # 4 with 15,752 million. In 5th place was…American Idol Monday with 14,818 million. And after a recent glich in the on-air voting phone numbers caused the show to hastily add an additional episode, the on-line voting reached a record number of 31.5 million.) The network was expecting to see some erosion in this edition of their show, and told the press so before it premiered. But while the network is celebrating, the seams are starting to show, and not even good ratings can hide them. 

Even loyal viewers who have watched every episode since Idol began have got to be asking, to borrow a line from Marvin Gaye, what’s goin’ on?

Check out the chat on the internet, and you will get a taste of the unhappiness among Idol fans as the early eliminations became meaner and more manipulative. Even Ryan Seacrest got dinged in the backlash. “Seacrest…out” pretty well describes what a lot of viewers were feeling when Ryan told one hapless contestant he was safe, only to be told…nuh-uh. (But c’mon, people, give Ryan a break. You don’t honestly think this guy is free-forming it out there, or that he has a say in any of the creative decisions, including the torturous timing of when he throws to commercial?)

Am I the only one asking what some of the judges are hearing when they praise renditions of songs so painfully out of tune that I use my TiVo to speed through them? If these semi-finalists really represented the best talent out there—and I am using the word loosely -- should post-Kelly, Ruben and Clay Idol call it a day?

Am I the only one a little tired of the Paula and Simon show? Were you watching recently when Scott was out there singing for his life? Afterward, Simon remarked snidely, “Your choreography is amateurish. You should stick to what you’re good at.” To which Paula responded, “I’d like to see you do that!” Or when Travis Tucker did his thing, Simon said, “It’s appalling.” To which Paula responded, “I disagree.” To which Simon replied, “You would.”(Okay, it used to be entertaining, but now it just seems like a contrivance to ensure a PEOPLE magazine cover) And don’t we all know that Simon Cowell is not as mean as he is right? He still has to pretend to be the bad guy, but if he won’t tell the contestants they would be lucky to cut it on a cruise ship or a theme park, who will?

Also, I have a really big concern, something that has been eating away at me since day one. What happens to these kids with Hollywood dreams after their fifteen minutes are up? If they are lucky enough to get that ticket out of St. Louis or Cleveland or Atlanta, if they are fortunate enough to make it into the semi-finals, or to be whittled down to the more tantalizing final 10, who is there to pick up the pieces when they are sent packing?

The truth is, in the real world, most singers trying to make it don’t get scooped up and pulled along by the American Idol machine. Shortcuts are nice, but they don’t make you tough. Most singers who opt not to take the Idol route pay their dues, and learn all about hard knocks and rejection the real way – by working for what they want. 

Thanks to American Idol, in what translates to the TV version of a blink of an eye, somewhere in Middle America, a kid is standing on line to audition one minute, and the next, that same kid is singing in front of 17+ million people. That kid is living in a mansion, being told what to do, where to go, what to wear…and then that kid is either winning a record contract or being told to go home. Where’s the preparation, people? Who is there to remind these kids that their dream is ratings fodder, no more, no less, and when it’s over, it’s over.

This is the new millennium, baby, and Idol is no Queen for a Day. In the 50’s, game shows got it right. Those women who got the sash, the roses, the crown and the washing machine understood because the truth was right there, all laid out in the title of the show – for a day they mattered, and then they took their washing machine and their new living room set and went home. I’m afraid that these Idol kids think “15 minutes of fame” is just an expression…when instead, it’s actually an exaggeration for most of them.

Of course, some Idol losers may prevail. Those kids with real drive and real talent will want to prove to Idol and the rest of the dialing American public that they got it wrong. Those kids will work at getting better, will study and push and knock on doors and some of them may even have careers.

But it’s the other kids I worry about. What happens when they all fall down, and who cares? / Issue 45 - September 2018
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