Wednesday, February 8, 2012
"AMERICAN IDOL": IS THIS THE BEGINNING OF THE END?
This week, there was an intriguing combination of entertainment news stories that separately, aren't particularly related. Together, they kind of represent a past, present and future, of the tv shows that showcased music. It was all kinda strange. iit started off with the sudden death by apparent suicide of legendary "Soul Train," host Don Cornelius. Then, word came that "The X-Factor," fired practically everyone. (Fired, quit, there's a few different interpretations of what actually occurred) Just as everybody was still grasping both of those events, the Thursday night ratings came in, and for the first time in a long time, "American Idol," actually lost a ratings battle head-to-head, as "The Big Bang Theory," just barely edged out more viewers. Yesterday, one of the sub-headings of the Super Bowl ratings, was "The Voice"'s ratings after the game, which made it the highest-rated entertainment program in six years! No personally, since I wrote a blog a couple weeks ago praising just how much better "The Voice," is compared to the other shows, I want to take full credit for it's performance, but of course, not that many people read this blog yet. It did feel like something strange was happening though. A changing of the guard if you will, and a significant one at that. This signifies that a gigantic shift in the television landscape could be occurring. "American Idol," has been #1 in the ratings for 7 straight years, a record. Those who projected that it would be Simon Cowell's appeal that would lead to similar ratings for "The X-Factor," were proven wrong, by that show's luke-warm ratings, which fluctuated, and at times bordered on the dismal side. (As did the show). No wonder Cowell is revamping ASAP.
Still, the timing of all this happening at around the same time is odd. The past of music, the present of music, and the future of music on TV, all making major headlines in the same week. One era beginning, another ending, and the last remnants of a longago era, passing away. I suddenly hope that nothing happens to Dick Clark after I post this blog. You know what's kinda interesting is how all these shows actually not only found future superstars of music, and basically began their careers. Yeah, they're different kinds of shows, and each is more a symbol of its own era, even though "Soul Train," was on for what-seemed-like forever, it's critical and cultural importance remains firmly in the past. Just from a purely sociocultural standpoint, it's odd that all these events occurred days within each other. But, since it all did coinside, I'm wondering if something has changed in the interests of America and Americans that have lead to this timely shift. I always wonder about people who discuss such things as "what a tv show/movie's popularity" says about the time period in which its produced." Like how "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," became revolutionary to some because of how it showed a working single woman during the time of women's civil rights and the rise of feminism. Sometimes, I want to shake those people and tell them, "You know, it doesn't hurt that it's porobably one of the ten greatest shows of all-time, you know? Maybe that's why it was popular, too!" Except no sane person would rank any of these shows on that level, and they shouldn't either, so we do have to look at other factors for their popularity.
So, let's figure this out, what exactly is/was the appeal of these shows, and why? Shows like "Soul Train," "American Bandstand," and the dozens of their copies are easy to determine. These shows started practically at the beginning of television, and while the music they showcased is certainly culturally important, the biggest appeal of those shows is that, it was the first time, young teenagers were shown on TV. Not just any teenagers either, real teenagers, dancing to their own music, and not their parents', and being themselves. It didn't hurt that they showcase a multi-cultural world as well. There was novelty in the show. They were also the only shows of their kind of TV. That's one of the reasons the genre has essentially died out, there's dozens of channels and places for teenagers to find themselves on TV.
"American Idol," is one of those places now. Not the only one. It's not even the only one that showcases young people who are willing to make themselves look like complete morons. That's one of the appeals, another is this fascination over finding such diamonds in the rough. The ability to say, "I saw that person when..." or "I knew right from the beginning he/she..." Simon Cowell is certainly appealing, in his own way. What exactly is that appeal? He's vicious and cruel at times, but he's also brutally honest in his opinions, and perhaps for awhile, that was refreshing. You can just look at the recent political past to understand that appeal. Bush lying about the reasons for invading Iraq, and before that, Clinton, lying about his affairs, and practically everybody opponent of his, lying about their own family values, while criticizing Clinton for his. There's something refreshing about truthtelling, no matter who it may hurt. It's no wonder, on "America's Got Talent," a show which Cowell produces, one of the new judges this season is Howard Stern; they have the same appeal from both people who love them and people who hate them: "They want to hear what he'll say next."
That's not the appeal nowadays however. Cowell isn't there, and he's moved onto "The X-Factor," where, he isn't as honest. He's still pretty honest with his opinions, but he's also got a stake in the winner as he coaches some of the contestants, and it's no longer a simple unbiased opinion that he projects. Hopefully, that show will be revamped. One of the reasons cited for the firings of Nicole Scherzinger and Paula Abdul is that the salaries were lackluster compared to the ones NBC gave it's judges on "The Voice". Saying that, all they're judges are not only big stars, outside of the show, but big music stars that are currently on the charts. Nothing against Abdul, but she hasn't been big in twenty years, and Scherzinger was a Pussycat Doll, maybe the most disposable of all pop groups. Maybe that's something that appeals to people, the way major artists, with names that people outside of the industry know, helping out young talent? Their experience and track record are certainly inarguable, but perhaps we like to know the thoughts of famous people moreso than the B or C-listers that might be more famous behind the scenes. I know my reasons for considering "The Voice," preferable, and I've spelled them out in my earlier blog, but there could be other reasons why audiences are watching it. Maybe because the opinions are more honest. Think about it, the judge has to vote for the artist, and by doing so, they're putting their own name and reputation on the line. Hey, Simon Cowell can easily be completely wrong someday, as anybody could, but it's a lot riskier to say, you're really good, I can help make you better, and then, actually make them better. One of them picks a William Hung or a Sanjaya or whomever, their career can suddenly be questioned. No matter what Simon Cowell says or does, there's relatively little risk to him. Maybe there's the fantasy aspect of having the star you've looked up to all your life be the one to play with. It's nervous playing for idols and with idols, until you actually meet them and work with them, they're simply celebrities that are just, on a different plane of existance for most, and the fact that some might be talented enough that they would want to work with you, that's definitely a fantasy. Wish-fulfillment works tend to thrive during times where things are hard, and for many, it's still a recession, and to many "The Voice," might be a way out, especially for those who confuse closeness to fame with success, which is hardly uncommon these days.
That's the one thing all these shows offer, a dream come true, or better than that, an opportunity. Even "Soul Train," was an opportunity for many people. To show off who they are, and what they can do, and become famous, or more famous. You gotta realized the cultural importance of "Soul Train," is how African-American youths, and musicians, many of them are now legendary artists, were first introduced into many American homes through that show. It certainly expands their fame. Of course, it seems like everybody actually does get there fifteen minutes nowadays, so, maybe "The Voice," is a better fifteen minutes, because it's with people who have stretch those fifteen minutes into ten or fifteen years, and probably longer.
It can be any/all/none of these reasons. Maybe we're just sick of "American Idol," maybe people just prefer "The Voice," maybe more people are willing to go out of their way to watch "The Big Bang Theory," than they are willing to watch "American Idol"? It wasn't like that before though, so we ask why now? There's many people in the industry who's job it is to come up with the answer to questions like that, and I guaranteed that they're just as confused, baffled and unsure as I am. I never watched the show on a regular, go-out-of-my-way-to-watch basis, so maybe I'm not the best judge to ask, but maybe it's just it's time. All good things must come to an end; and while I'm not somebody that typical refers to "Idol," as a "Good Thing," maybe it's time has finally come. I'm not even sure what that means even though. It might mean that it's gonna end on a high note, never to return, maybe it'll take a couple year hiatus, and then come back, maybe it'll remain for years past it's expiration date, with fewer and fewer ratings..., it might even still find one of the next major music stars or two, but it won't have the same influence, popularity or power that it once had. Maybe Paula and Simon shouldn't have left, maybe Steven Tyler and J-Lo are mistakes to bring in, or maybe it wouldn't have mattered anyway, or, one of a hundred other things that could explain why it's demies are starting now, and not five years from now, or five years earlier or whenever. Either way, it seems a major shift is occurring right now on the primetime TV landscape. How it's gonna play out eventually, will be analyzed for years, that is a guarantee. When "Idol," came onto the air, it was the biggest shift to the television landscape up until then. Now, it's demies will become the new biggest, whether that's today or tomorrow, I can't say, but it looks closer to tomorrow than ever before.
Posted by David Baruffi at 1:52 AM