Thursday, February 12, 2009

Unwrapping the Rhapsody, part 1: American Idol Killed the Video Star

Blogger's note: I'm updating this post to include commentary on this season of American Idol in general, and to kick-off a series of posts about music.

I heard a piece of David Cook's new single on Good Day L.A. last week, and I was extremely disappointed to think the tune was actually something by Creed or Nickelback before I saw the American Idol's name on the screen. Yes, American Idol has produced another completely unoriginal superstar, much to the dismay of this viewer, one who actually watched last season avidly and excitedly. Releasing this single in the midst of a new season has turned me off to the show now, as I'd rather not invest in another of anything. I want to hear something new, or at least distinguished from something else on the radio. Raise the bar, American Idol, don't just meet it!

Conversely, that night TMZ showed a clip of David Archuleta playing his hit "Crush" in a shopping mall parking lot. At least he's embraced his status as commercial mascot. The punishment fits the crime.

However, these season seven developments pale in comparison to the injustices of season eight, particularly the latest installments featuring the Hollywood week elimination process. Hollywood week, also dubbed "Hell Week" by no one except American Idol itself, is oft forgotten in the shadow of the freak show of the series' now infamous audition episodes and the top 12, viewer vote driven countdown to super-stardom. During Hell Week, contestants are assigned to groups, then allowed to play instruments and sing solo, so the judges can whittle them down to the aforementioned dozen. During these second-tier auditions (lest "going to Hollywood" becomes confused with "becoming Hollywood"), the show openly admits that performers operate on maybe two hours' sleep and spend much of their time in wait for their precious two minutes onstage. When winners and losers are divided into large waiting rooms, they're denied furniture, literally leaning on each other before the judges descend to announce their fate. I haven't seen any catering tables in these rooms, either, which makes me wonder what kinds of conditions these contestants really endure to become the music industry's flavor of the month.

Honestly, I've seen news footage of child sex trade operations with better accommodations.

Last night was the last straw, as Simon and company demanded that contestants "sing for their survival." As the four of them sat in their mansion atop large red thrones, they essentially demanded the royal court bring them monkeys to dance for their amusement. (Aside: I have a problem with the newest judge, as well, as she serves only as a dark reflection of Simon's rampant arrogance and testosterone. She has no problem condemning his preference of the "pretty ones" while instantly dismissing Bikini Girl for her self-induced exploitation, as if that isn't judging the surface, either. I miss the illusion of the judges as a trinity, with Simon the father, Randy the approachable Son, and Paula the consumer of holy spirits.) Contestants that made it through praised and thanked their captors, completely oblivious that they aren't perceived as artists or musicians, but dollar signs. For many, getting dismissed is the best thing that can happen to them.

(Interlude: To "Norman," or whatever your real name is -- You are a good singer, and every time Simon questions your identity, you should insist that Paul McCartney, Garth Brooks, and many other top selling musicians have produced albums as different "characters." Andy Kaufman's Tony Clifton is a great example, as is perhaps Joaquin Phoenix, too, if his latest foray into hip hop is really the publicity stunt many assume. Further, it's not like American Idol isn't already a false-face construction crew; look at how many incarnations Kelly Clarkson, their first and best, has exhibited in her nine year career!)

The sad, ultimate irony of American Idol is that the latest music star is being produced via television, and that's how I'm hearing their winner's hits first. This months' long look at their respective climb to celebrity doesn't hit any hit notes, either. What are these singers aspiring to when their very grasp at the music industry is slowly but surely choking it to death?

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