The Auditions are always the calm before the storm or the appetizer before the main course, and the new Season of American Idol got under way last week at a time when some- many outside of America- are starting to wonder if the Fat Lady has sung for television singing contests.
Of course, while we wait for every new Season of Idol, many of us go through these same doubts as we’re often left with The Voice and its swirling chairs- and an inconsistency to it all.
Perhaps it’s just me, but very few of the contestants really knock me out and from everything I know, I have never ever heard of even one artist from the show having made a record- and even if they have, none have been hits.
The Voice remains an easily forgettable show with no winners to take the brand from one season to the next.
As for the X Factor, I have no idea if it’s even still, well, a factor in the States- having a Kardashian as a host gave my mental state the wobbles- though the brand has solid legs in the UK, Australia and a number of other countries whereas the show’s driving force- Simon Cowell- has proven that despite the seemingly never-ending news of his impending fatherhood- the man knows a hit when he sees and hears it. His idea to put together One Direction comprising individual X Factor dropouts going nowhere was a brilliantly commercial move though letting the absurdly named Harry Styles and his raging hormones loose on the female showbiz population.
With all this in mind and hundreds of other copycat shows, the Idol franchise remains the big daddy of all television talent shows and with an audience showbiz President Obama would love to have.
Sure, there have been many television talent shows over the past five and six decades from Opportunity Knocks with Hughie Green to Mickie Most’s New Faces, but, from the time Simon Fuller created Pop Idol for the UK before taking it Stateside and launching American Idol with Simon Cowell cast as the acerbic judge- the person everyone loves to loathe- it was all about the contestants and their talent, yes, but also the business side of sponsorship and- key- the voting system bringing social media into the equation.
Of course, Idol is also the show that brought has-beens back into the limelight and gave them a new platform- choreographer and Minnie Mouse-like “singer” Paula Abdul- Sheila E was also considered- some guy who had played bass for Journey named Randy Jackson, an unknown pom and Ryan something-or-another as co-host with someone no one remembers- Brian Dunkleman???- four individuals who appealed to different viewers and age groups.
Ironically, apart from Carrie Underwood and Jennifer Hudson who only made it to the Top 5, these four remain the biggest winners to emerge from the show.
Think about it: How else would the Simon Cowell brand have been launched in the US?
American Idol was and still is all about appealing to as wide a consumer group as possible and with this judging panel having, at times, worked- and failing disastrously at other times like when Kara DioGuardi and Ellen DeGeneres plus Cowell made for a horrible pot pie, and, last season when Nicki Minaj was badly miscast alongside the self-conscious and gooey Mariah Carey whereas Deputy Dawg Randy Jackson’s Use By date had happened a few years before his final exit from the building with Elvis.
This Season- Season 13- the star power of Jennifer Lopez returns along with Keith Urban plus Harry Connick Jr along with Ryan Seacrest whose role in the success of Idol is very underrated. He is the glue that has always held the show together.
A game some of my friends and I played before knowing about this new judging panel was an interesting and often bloody funny one where each of us put together our own fantasy panels which could not include anyone from previous seasons.
Ozzie Osbourne, Kanye West, Rihanna and Miss Piggy? Really?
Axl Rose, Slash and Taylor Swift?
Mine was a panel comprising Gwyneth Paltrow or Alison Krauss- or both as I worship at the feet of the women- and Pharrel Williams.
As for this Season’s judges panel, Harry Connick Jr adds some much-needed reality mixed with credibility and levity.
His self-effacing humor masks a real musician- and very underrated actor- and parent who totally understands what the business of Idol is all about and how to “think young”- but in an intelligent and mature way.
What Connick also brings to the show is a passion for music and the ability to cut through the bullshit factor and not be easily impressed by vocal affectations.
Even during these early days, his refusal to be impressed by unnecessary vocal gymnastics, his lecture on the pentetonic scale and dislike of terms like ” jazzy” and “pitchy” is refreshing- something first heard a few seasons back when Connick was one of the best mentors the show has had.
The ageless Jennifer Lopez with her very broad fan base that includes the Latino and gay markets and the easy-going and fantastic guitarist-singer Keith Urban who have worked together on Idol are a tight and likable duo. The duo make for “comfortable” viewing.
Connick gives the judging panel not only a new face, but a sense of importance and the ability to offer real guidance and not trite soundbites for television audiences.
He’s not will i am, personally, one of the most overrated people in music today along with Robin Thicke.
As for the contestants seen to date and who have won their golden tickets to Hollywood, well, these are early days, but those who have impressed is one of the twins, a girl from last season, a guy who’s an average singer, but has the ‘looks’ and the potential to improve, the kid diagnosed with HDAT who waited eight years before deciding he was finally ready for the show, the girl who wrote the song called Another Angel, and the stage mom and her Bieber who sang Titanium.
Of course, there were others- many between 15-17 including one blonde stunner- and the usual geeks and freaks like Muscle Man who sang in one of the weirdest voices heard in a many a full moon, a flower child who went through as he’ll make for good television, some guy who sang in three different voices etc.
For myself who keeps my expectations regarding the singers in check ever since the wins of the universally annoying Taylor Hicks and Fantasia and the bland but beautiful Katherine McPhee, American Idol is entertainment- something different to all those formulaic crime series with that “sexual tension” between the male and female leads- and something to be watched and studied from a marketing and business point of viewing.
And if the numbers for these auditions are anything to go by, this sure looks like being Lucky 13 for American Idol and where it might all come together to truly live up to the term known as a musical idol.