American Idol

Last year my wife watched the American Idol show every week, ending up angry that the one she wanted to win, named Adam, lost to someone she thought inferior, named Kris.  At the time, a friend of hers bought 14 tickets to the American Idol concert in Portland Maine.   My wife bought two for the September 12th concert.

I said she should bring a friend and I could watch the kids so we didn’t have to spend money on a babysitter.  But ultimately she wanted me to go (reminding me of how I dragged her to see the Canadian band Rush in Quebec back in 2002), so I went to a concert where I recognized only a few songs, didn’t know anything about the performers, and stood on the floor surrounded by screaming fans, disproportionately females under 18.   Now, from this description you might think I didn’t like the experience, but that would be a wrong guess.  While the music and performances were often bland and boring, I found it an interesting piece of American culture.

First, I thought I got permanent ear drum damage from two girls behind us who screamed louder than I thought possible every time Adam’s picture was on the screen.  It was the first time I’d been to a large concert where there was not even the smallest wiff of pot in the air.  Not being a pot smoker, concerts are usually my only opportunity to try to achieve a second hand smoke high.   No, here it was Aquafresh mineral water and soda.   Yet the fans were interesting.  Mostly female, but a wide variety of ages.  From the women aged 50 something who were standing and dancing the whole show, to the older woman behind us who held up a sign, “Adam – A Shame U R Not My Son,” to the parents there with younger children, it was diverse.

Some older couples were there — fans of the show no doubt, who wanted to see the talent live — and the crowd was extremely active and energetic.   It was all as poppish as the show — choreographed, clean, and commercial.

To the show itself.  Contestants 6 through 10 were not very good.  Each sang a couple songs, and none of them really showed the strength of voice or stage presence to even hope to manage keeping the interest of an audience for a full concert.   They’d no doubt do good performing live music at a local bar, but even with massive production help they were utterly forgettable.

Contestant 5, whose name was Matt, was one of the two I could imagine being a solo success.  He had a personality that connected to the audiences, was funny, and seemed versatile enough that I could imagine him doing a concert and keeping the people interested.  The only other one I could see that from was the one I would have made the winner if it were up to me (based only on Saturday night’s show): Allison, who was number 4.   She had fun out there, with a personality that mixed the band Heart (she did do Barracuda) with Janis Joplin.  Her voice was unique, but very strong, with an impressive range.

I was surprised at how boring number 3, Danny, was.  (My wife teased me for talking about them only by numbers after the show — but I had forgotten the names).   I guess he had a compelling story in that his wife had just died a month before the contest.  I’d have stuck him down around number 8.    Like number 6 (Anoop?), Danny was boring, but with a decent and pleasant voice.

The first two were interesting.   Neither struck me as obviously better than the other (and I saw both as weaker than 4 and 5 — Allison and Matt), but they had absolutely different styles.   Number 2, Adam, had a Freddie Mercury – David Bowie thing going, which was intriguing and clearly very popular.  He went for an androgynous look  and the closest hints to suggestive gestures that this youth oriented concert provided.   He was charismatic, but didn’t show the real personality that Allison and Matt had.  I think he’d be very good in a band, perhaps a lead singer in a band that had the style he displayed.   Kris, the winner, was of the wholesome boy band look.   Attractive, youthful, charming, and a solid singer, he made up for a lack of pizazz by playing various instruments and having fun on stage.   Again, his personality lacked some depth, he’d be better as part of something bigger.

We snuck out as the concert was ending, a rousing rendition by the entire “cast” of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.”   Most of the others ducking out a bit early appeared to be parents with children — willing to go to the show, but unwilling to wait the long period of time the building would take to clear out, or the traffic jams that would ensue.  We had a drive of over an hour and a half ahead, we bugged out early.   (To be sure, Natasha had us leave the Rush concert in 2002 a bit early too).

In all, an interesting evening.  Perhaps I’d have gotten into it more if I had watched the show, but it seemed very shallow and contrived, clearly more marketing than music.   Yet the people there had fun.   Whole families could share this night of rock music without drugs or alcohol (save a couple people I saw who had snuck something in to spike up their Pepsi).   Who am I to dismiss this as “shallow” when clearly it’s a fun night.   And as I celebrate my Vikings winning their opening against Cleveland, with Brett Favre successful and Adrian Peterson gaining 180 yards, can I really call someone else’s entertainment shallow and contrived?

I realize this blog entry is bland, with nothing profound or interesting standing out.   American Idol is clearly no Father Roy Bourgeois! But bland seems appropriate, since that is exactly what I thought about the concert.

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  1. #1 by Mike Lovell on September 14, 2009 - 16:08

    Clearly your wife owes you something here. Rush is far better than anything AI could put out, in my opinion. It seems to me that AI is stepping stone in fasttracking people to some amount of fame and money. Not saying that these people didn’t work hard, but it seems that this is more of an process of corporate america satisfying a more immediate gratification for some, rather than forcing the people to make it on their own, like those old “garage bands” who worked hard to get the local gigs and eventually won popularity on their own.

  2. #2 by Lee on September 14, 2009 - 16:26

    It was fun to read your take on this as I too am a viewer of AI and also wanted Adam to win. The Kris type singer typically is the winner as a sort of “bland everyman pop” seems to be what sells. LOL Some of the non-winners have done quite well though so the show serves as that springboard to expose to the masses some artists. Daughtry didn’t win, but I love his sound!

    • #3 by Scott Erb on September 14, 2009 - 19:59

      Yeah, Adam clearly had more natural charisma and potentially could be very good. They packaged Kris good, but ultimately he was forgettable. Adam definitely was not.

  3. #4 by ptola on September 14, 2009 - 18:48

    I think the question of how to regard AI is interesting; as you said, it reeks of shallow marketing and public pandering… on the other hand, such things are successful precisely because people like it and is IS fun. I got sucked into the end of last season (terrible excuse to not be doing classwork), and struggled to decide whether or not to admit to my friends that I even knew what AI was, much less that I knew who the finalists were, much less that I had a favorite. I did eventually mention it. Not a big deal – we all have our odd guilty pleasures; sometimes something doesn’t need to be profound in order to be worthwhile.

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