Mervin Malone
This is a place — a BLOG, if you will — about music, film, culture, the arts and whatever else co-exists and generates popular culture. Enjoy!

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Sunday, February 18, 2007
American Idol: Aria's Perspective...

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingWell, another season of that star-making reality series, American Idol, is off to a full start. Yes, American Idol – that oft-contrved ad-space marketer disquised as "the greatest talent show in the history of television" – has returned for its sixth season. A great many things have happened since 'Idol's Stateside inception in 2002 (the show is a spin-off of Britain's Pop Idol): the show's first season winner – Kelly Clarkson – has since shed the show's cookie-cutter, safe-pop image to carve out a critically (and commercially) successful career for herself complete with two Grammys;  season 2 and 3 winners – Ruben Studdard and Fantasia Barrino respectively – have both had successful albums; season 4's winner – Carrie Underwood – has garnered a recent Grammy win and is second only to Clarkson in sales. More, runner-up contestants like Season 2's Clay Aiken and Season 5's Chris Daughtry have since went on to surpass their respective season's winners in sales and popularity.

If ratings are any indication, American Idol has only has only grown in popularity since its beginning. Indeed, rival networks often plan their programming around the AI juggernaut so as not to compete with it; rumor has it that CBS recently cancelled "Armed and Famous" – another so-called "reality show" that placed D-list celebrities in the roles of cops-in-training  – due to the show's inability (and the network's unwillingness) to compete with American Idol.

And what keeps bringing the viewing public back to American Idol season-after-season?

Well, the answer would seem to be multi-fold and involve more the television aspect than the actual talent show component. An overwhelming amount of the American Idol viewing public tunes in to hear Simon Cowell's (often) brutally honest criticisms of 'Idol hopefuls and/or finalists. This is given credence by the fact that fellow judge Paula Abdul's (mostly) positive critiques are often positioned to be counter to Cowell's denunciatory remarks – a sort of tug-of-war for the masses, if you will; judge Randy Jackson would seem to be a balancing point between the two of them. As far as the talent aspect goes, much of the viewing audience more often seems captivated by personality than outright musical aptitude; Taylor Hicks' win last season is proof of this, as many have argued that Hicks was the most popular from his season – not necessarily the most talented. Hicks' current slow music sales could be seen as an affirmation of this. [This is strangely analogous to the John Stevens phenomenon of a few seasons ago, wherein the then-teenage crooner outlasted a far better singer – Jennifer Hudson – and went on to secure a major recording deal with Maverick Recordings; his "popularity" didn't translate into sales, however, and he was eventually dropped.]  

This year, 'Idol's sixth season has been somewhat overshadowed by the successes of one of its more underappreciated alumni –  season 3's Jennifer Hudson. Hudson is currently the proverbial American sweetheart, with a successful musical big screen debut – Dreamgirls – and a record deal with none other than Clive Davis to boot. More, her beautiful visage is soon to grace the covers of Vogue and Life magazines. Jennifer Hudson originated from the same season as winner, Fantasia Barrino – a moderately talented singer (at best) with a commanding stage presence. Jennifer Hudson's time on the American Idol program was wrought with controversy. In the early stages of the competition, Hudson –   despite her obvious talents – was often relegated to the bottom 3 by the American voting public (?). More, she [Hudson] was a constant victim of judge Simon Cowell's vitriolic remarks, whom – oddly enough – seemed to favor raspy-voiced Fantasia Barrino's stage image to Jennifer's potent four-octave abilities. Also, Jennifer Hudson was one of the three "divas" relegated to bottom 3 status on the infamous April 21, 2004 results' show broadcast (the others being Barrino and Latoya London, another multi-octave singer who rivalled Hudson vocally). The April 21 episode ended with Hudson's ouster (London would follow on an equally controversial May 21, 2004 results show, which saw her receive fewer votes than the considerably less-talented Jasmine Trias).

There have been many theories put forth concerning Simon Cowell's downplaying of Jennifer Hudson's abilities during 'Idol's third season – all of which have – with the advent of Hudson's meteoric rise to multi-media star – again come to the forefront. Many have speculated that Simon Cowell found Jennifer Hudson's somewhat fuller figure less-than marketable. Cowell's all-too common assertion season-after-season that certain 'Idol contestants look "commercial" would seem to support this. Indeed, this is further substantiated by the successes of the negligibly talented Carrie Underwood from Season 5, whom the judges – especially Simon – complimented even in her most unspectacular performances (not to mention Cowell's selection of the very talentless Carmen Rasmussen as a so-called "Wild Card" in Season 2). I suspect something more sinister to have been in Cowell's dismissal of Jennifer Hudson, however; I believe he [Simon Cowell] already had his mind (and marketing machine) geared towards Fantasia Barrino and wanted no deviation from his goals of making her the American Idol. Jennifer Hudson – with her powerful 4-octave range – presented a threat to Cowell's plans, so he proceeded to sway public opinion of her [Jennifer] as often as he could by verbally undermining her performances.

In fairness, much the blame for missing the "It" factor inherent in 'Idol contestants like Jennifer Hudson and Chris Daughtry must be placed squarely on the voting public. Many of the problems in garnering support faced by Jennifer Hudson were also experienced by Kimberley Locke the season before; people often make the 'Idol voting process a popularity contest, giving little or no consideration to talent.

In its defense, American Idol – despite its obvious flaws – can serve as something of a generalized character study of the American viewing public. It has confirmed – time and again – that people do see things in terms of race, sex and attractiveness. I remember visiting the official AI message boards during Seasons 2 and 3; I was awestruck by some of the comments  posted on them by the show's fans about their favorites (and non-favorites). For instance, many of thes show's self-professed white viewers ascribed a "diva-like" personality to Jennifer Hudson (?) and categorized her vocal style (as well as those of Fantasia Barrino and Latoya London) as "too black."

"She [Hudson] screams too much," they would say (?) – the same criticisms dogged Kimberley Locke the year before. Of course, I was put off by such remarks – especially when I reflected on the probability that many of these selfsame white fans loved Clay Aiken, who sings in a rather non-subtle (loud) dramatic tenor, but isn't criticized as "screaming" (or "yelling").

When all is said and done, American Idol has its place. You aren't likely to have a singer/musician with a real edge emerge from the 'Idol series – winners like Kelly Clarkson, and finalists like Jennifer Hudson have since achieved their greatest successes divorced from the 'Idol machine – what 'Idol can (and does) provide is entertainment (not necessarily art).

Here's hoping for a less formulaic "search for a superstar" this season!

Categories: ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ;

Posted at 02:27 am by Mervin Malone

M.E. Grant
February 20, 2007   05:18 PM PST
I do believe you hit a nerve with this post, Mervin. "Negligibly talented" - ouch! To this day, I'm convinced that Frenchie Davis was booted because she was simply unbeatable. Why watch an antire season go by, anticipating her inevitable win? For me the show just regurgitates the ideas Americans have been made to believe are a standard in music. This is made even clearer once the public gets to vote for their favorites...
February 20, 2007   10:09 AM PST
Fantasia singing moderate? You must be on something. By next year we'll all be asking where's jennifer hudson.
Clay fan bitches, PUHLEAZE!
February 19, 2007   12:31 PM PST
To say or even imply Clay fans are racist have been a sore point to the claymates, but unfortunately TRUE.Clay have (that I know of), TWO African-American fans that were vocal (ONE still is) about their love for Clay, that's it. They are their token fans so to speak. I used to read back then a lot of racist remarks about Ruben, Kim, Fantasia and especially calling Ruben all kinds of nasty names. YES! all of it at Clay sites. Now conveniently, they blame Clay "hatahs" as posing as Clay fans and writing the hate posts, sure.

It's been four years since, but they will NEVER erase the hurt they brought with their hateful comments simply because the "affirmative action idol" (that's what they call Ruben among many other names) won the competition. To the defense brigade members who posted above, STFU you've done enough damage as it is. Give it up. Your glorified kareoke singer did very well thanks to your campaigns. Don't be bellyaching now because he screwed up. Ruben is STILL performing all over, Fantasia is STILL performing all over, Kimberly Locke is STILL performing all over,so don't hate because Clay is relegated to lame Jimmy Kimmel Show and to an unknown talk show co-host gig. Don't hate. You all help Clay be where he's at.

To the owner of this blog, prepare yourself for the onslaught of hate mail you will get and REST ASSURE Clay "hatahs" will be accused of being the creators of it. Claymates like Clay,NEVER EVER, do any wrong, yeah right!
February 19, 2007   06:49 AM PST
Last year AI pimped Chris and did not want Taylor to win......but Taylor did win because millions loved his voice and charisma....AI knew Chris would fit the bubblegum genre of music and Taylor did's all about $$$$$$ for AI....and did you ever hear of payola to the radio stations...maybe you should investigate that....yeah, it's all over the internet......falsifying record sales and payola do sell cd's......get yourself a ticket to one of Taylor's concerts and have the time of your life listening to good music....oh wait, the Venues are practically all sold out.....better hurry maybe you will be lucky to get one.......
February 18, 2007   03:09 PM PST
I don't think you should judge an artist by the records he/she sells. Taylor Hicks is different; as Simon Cowell said onece on the show, "He is interesting." He's not the "run of the mill". I would agree that I do enjoy watching him perform more than just listening to his CD. When he has finished his tour, you might feel different about his talent. By the way, I understand that he has sold out on most of his concerts. Please give him a chance.
Jewels Richardson
February 18, 2007   08:32 AM PST
While your assertion that this contest is not all about the talent, and does ride on popularity and often Simon Cowell's commentary about contestants holds much truth; your inference that much is about race is faulty.

Last year it was proven Simon Cowell can be defeated as the winner crowned was not his selection, he could not speak out against the man often enough.

The internet is a powerful tool regarding this show, and is playing a larger role than ever. During Season 4 when Underwood won this tool wasn't as prevalent as it became last season. I really think that's how Hicks won the top spot. Writers on-line such as myself championed him, and set the fan sites afire with support.

Regarding race, that's the wrong card to lay blame upon. This show can be likened to any reality show game and the aspiring winners simply need to learn how to play it. (It doesn't hurt to have a few on-line writer's help 'push' them either.)

I like your writing style and techniques - blog on. ;)
February 18, 2007   08:07 AM PST
Clay does NOT 'yell'. Fantasia 'YELLS'. Clay has just about the most powerful voice of anyone who competed in AI. And Simon's terrible comments to Clay did NOT sway the voting public, one whit. Clay received EIGHTY percent of the vote every single week (and has proven that many times over). Clay did NOT 'lose' to Ruben. Why would the public all of a sudden vote more for Ruben that last night when he was receiving less than 20 percent of the vote all the other weeks??????? And Clay's rendition of Bridge Over Troubled Water even had Simon proclaiming-That could win this competition for you (in which it did!). Clay's overwhelming millions of votes were way too much for the one measly line-and only two hours alloted to vote-to handle. Ruben's mother got in 200 votes for him. Clay's mother was able to get in only two for him. Need any more proof??? Exact reason why they increased the phone lines and amount of time to vote THE VERY NEXT YEAR. Doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that one out. And the producers realized that, too. He has been invited back to guest perform more than any other ex-AI alumni. HE was the Emcee of the AI2 Xmas special-NOT Ruben. Clay has fans of all colors, races and ages. I have been to many of his concerts and have seen that. I bet the majority of celebs out there would give their eyeteeth to have Clay's fans; whether they are 3 years old or 80 years old.
February 18, 2007   07:24 AM PST
Not this racist carp again. Clay has legions of fans of all ages, sizes and races. So does Jennifer Hudson and Kim Locke. This article comes across just as pedestrian as it accuses the public of being.
February 18, 2007   03:15 AM PST
She screams too much," they would say (?) – the same criticisms dogged Kimberley Locke the year before. Of course, I was put off by such remarks – especially when I reflected that many of these selfsame white fans loved Clay Aiken, who sings in a rather non-subtle (loud) dramatic tenor, but isn't criticized as "yelling".

Clay's white fans? wow so you can tell what colour someone is by thier posts? what colour am I? you might be surprised.. I never heard Clay YELLING, Jennifer had a wonderful voice, but this blog has some serious flaws

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