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American Idol 2007

As readers of Notablog no doubt know, I'm a big fan of "American Idol," which begins its 2007 season tomorrow, January 16th. (In fact, for me, with the premiere of "24" and "AI" this week, it's like the new TV season has just begun! Virtually all of the new shows I started watching this Fall are now history... but the old ones keep chuggin' along...)

A really nice article on AI appears in today's New York Daily News. Written by David Hinckley, "Why 'Idol' Outshines Its Rivals" brings attention to what I think is the essence of the series: It's a talent show! And it's part of a long tradition that stretches back to the Golden Days of Radio and TV; it may not match the track record of Amateur Night at the Apollo, but it's clearly an aspect of a larger talent show tapestry:

At its core, "American Idol" is really no more than a slick version of the Major Bowes and Ted Mack amateur hours of the 1930s, whose alumni include the likes of Frank Sinatra. Moreover, if "Idol" lasts 100 years, it's unlikely to produce anything close to the roster of winners Apollo Theater amateur nights have been delivering since 1934 - artists like James Brown, Michael Jackson, Gladys Knight and Luther Vandross. However much fun it is to hear Simon Cowell turn snarky, chasing tuneless singers back home was even more entertaining at the Apollo, where Porto Rico ran on stage in funny suits firing a starter's pistol.
No matter. "Idol" has become the most lucrative amateur night of them all, brilliantly promoting and marketing itself into a package far richer than the sum of its components.

So, I'll be watching tomorrow night; first, however, I've got to get back to watching last night's recording of Jack Bauer's explosive new adventures...


Well, well, well, it's ba-a-a-k!

I watched the season premier last night that featured the auditions in Minneapolis last night--and found out that Prince must be an anomoly. An anomoly in that he has genuine musical talent.

Those auditions...17 kids out of 10,000 were judged talented enough to go on to Hollywood, and some of the ones chosen as worthy didn't have as much talent as the average teenager in a public high school choir.

Let's hope the talent shows up soon! :-)

Hi Chris,

I wonder what you think of some of the criticism that American Idol is receiving...namely, being too harsh on the talentless and cruelly televising the worst of the auditions rather than the best and almost-good-enoughs (a view propounded by Rosie and others on the View, among others). I sympathize with this view a little but can't help thinking that most of the talentless hopefuls are delusional and need to be shocked into reality by the likes of Simon Cowell.

I think it's wrong of them to make fun of appearance issues over which the candidate has no control, as in the case of the kid Simon described as looking like a forest creature. OTOH, I have no problem when they criticize how they're dressed, e.g., the Apollo Creed guy, the "urban-Amish" guy (wtf?). And of course, Geoffrey's remark above is exactly right: a lot of these people are literally delusional about their signing ability, and this is a good wake-up call.

I, too, find it wrong and cruel to make fun of a contestant's physical appearance. At least the young man that Simon compared to a monkey met a buddy, and both he and his new friend seemed to have enjoyed their Idol experience.

Chris, I am proud to say I have never watched a whole episod of American Idol. I have to wonder about all these people who think they are talented and are willing to be abused when they are told they're not. In the 1700s the upper classes would go down to Bedlam an insane asyelum to make fun of the crazy. I see watching some of the losers on American Idol to be at the same level.

I love American Idol, but the "audition" episodes have always left me feeling...uncomfortable, and somewhat unclean.

There are some auditioners that are obviously pulling a prank to have their fleeting moment of fame (like Aeon's aforementioned Apollo Creed guy and the Urban-Amish fellow) and I have no problem laughing with them.

But....then there's the auditioners like that first kid from Minneapolis who had a complete meltdown after her rejection. Yeah, she had no talent and maybe that was her wake-up call, but that kid has to go back to school or a job and face the world after her very public humiliation. Watching that whole little drama unfold left me feeling...well, like a dirty voyeur.

As to the poor, touched kids in Seattle--the kid Simon compared to a monkey and his large friend...well, at least the two oddballs made a new friend out of the deal, but they had to be utterly delusional to think they had a chance in the first place.

I feel ambivelent about whole series of audition episodes. These people chose to audition and must have had an idea of what they were in for, but.... (shrugs).

By the way, I'm blogging again.

Well, I've been holding off on commenting because I'm way behind in my seasonal TV viewing; I finally saw the first two installments of AI (still have to see last night's), and I can at least speak from more knowledge at this point.

First, I sure do hope, with Peri, that the talent shows up soon. And, like Peri, I too feel a bit "unclean" watching some of the early installments each season.

With Geoffrey (and glad you're blogging again!), I do sympathize with the view that the show televises a bit too much of the "delusional" contestants. And I feel very uncomfortable when the focus moves away from the talent (or lack thereof) of the contestant to the contestant's looks. And, quite frankly, through the years, I've seen a bit of sexism from Simon, for example, when he points to the weight of a female contestant, while never pointing out the weight of a winner, like Ruben Studdard.

I do think Simon is over-the-top with his "bush baby" comments (which Mick alluded to), but these kinds of put-downs have become a part of the entertainment that AI provides, especially in the early installments of each season. And I do agree completely with Aeon, of course, that criticizing people for their dress, etc., is appropriate. AI sells a voice, but it also sells a package. And some people are totally delusional when it comes to how they present themselves.

And Chris G., I think you will find that it's the early installments of the show that are most like the asylum; things do get better as the season progresses. Some of my own siblings and friends, who watch the show, don't even start watching until the final 24 or the final 12 are presented.

But let me put all of this into a bit of perspective.

My sister-in-law is a great jazz singer, and a truly wonderful private voice teacher. She's had a number of her own students audition for AI, when it swings through NYC. And the truth is that these kids get up in successive rows and sing to off-camera judges for a few seconds. The judges are often not interested in booking talent; they are interested in booking people on all ends of the talent spectrum because they know what sells. Part of what sells is the oddball, the over-the-top, the delusional. So a kid with a good voice may be totally passed up for a kid who dresses like Apollo Creed. Some of those outfits are worn by people who may know that they are not really talented (except as practical jokers). They just seem to be seeking their own 15 minutes (well, maybe 3-4 minutes) of fame.

So the early off-camera judges are the people who set up the whole spectrum of auditioners who actually get the chance to see Randy, Paula, and Simon. Those three do not see 10,000 auditions in each city. They see only a select few, and have to wade through quite a bit of sludge before hitting the crystal clear waters of real talent.

I confess, however, that while I do love the later segments of the show (especially those segments that depend upon the voting public), I also like watching the early segments, in the hopes that I might put my finger on the one or two contestants who, I sometimes predict, will make it to the Top 10. It's kinda nice watching some of these contestants enter into the competition, and even nicer to watch them grow over the whole season.

Chris, I didn't realize that you were such a fan of American Idol. I've enjoyed it as well but have avoided the early audition shows in previous seasons for many of the reasons mentioned above.

My favorite people are those who overcame some obstacle to get there, like the girl last night who skipped school and her negative father to go to New York and audition, who then sings great. There was the singer who had always been in the background but who had a voice that should have been up front.

In the Seattle auditions there was a guy who had come up from Oregon and slept on the street. He had a beautiful voice.

I agree that wake-up calls for the delusional constructive, but also felt they really descended into something more sadistic with some of the contestants. Given that they tape a backstory first, one that includes all the contestants hopes and dreams, I have to believe they were set up to be made fools of.

I much prefer to watch the talent than the delusional, but do enjoy when obnoxious people go down with a thud.

Thanks for the inside story on how they audition so many people. I knew they were being pre-screened by producers for Simon, Paula and Randy, but wasn't sure exactly how it was done.

You'll have to let us know if one of your sister's students gets on.

I also enjoy when somebody who doesn't win finds great success--like Jennifer Hudson.

Enjoy the rest of the season! Looks like there will be some good people.

Chris, thank you for your information on the audition process. I suppose we should always keep in mind that while AI is a talent show, it's also a "reality" show--a "reality/talent" show hybrid, which is part of what makes it so compelling. It's shaped to tell stories as well as to display talent.

What I've noticed this season is that they've shown a lot more of the talentless oddballs rather than the truly talented individuals than in past seasons. When the show finally progresses to the "Hollywood" rounds, most of the contestants will be unknown to us. There's a few we know about: the two BFF Jersey girls, the painfully shy and amazingly talented former backup singer, the skanky-looking young woman with the sultry voice who patterns herself after Rocky, the crazy-looking Fidel/Jesus guy, the roly-poly curly-headed kid with the wry sense of humor (who reminds me of the type of smart, funny, geeky guys I had wild crushes on in Junior High), and the Southern Gothic girl who out-Picklers Kellie Pickler--well, maybe we DO have quite a few stories to follow already, now that I think about it. Still, it seemed to me that we saw a lot more freaks and a lot less talent during the audition rounds this season, compared to seasons past.

Hey, Peri, you are so right... I have had the very same thoughts you've had... though I'm still a bit behind in my Idol shows.

I'll be up to date soon enough!

So, Chris, have you caught up with the shows? Do you have any favorites? On the whole, I was less than impressed during the audition round until I heard Tami Gosnell. Not much of a name but what a voice.

Surreal Grammy moment: Ornette Coleman presents Carrie Underwood with a Grammy.

For additional AI discussion, see here.