Every year in January the Fox Network graces us with the annual madness of American Idol. Last week the show rocked the premier of it's 11th season with a tarted up Steven Tyler, conservatively dressed JLo and jersey-wearing Randy Jackson. I tuned in for a few minutes to see what Ryan Seacrest (the MOST annoying man in the world) was up to and if places like Atlanta still had freaks galore when audition season rolled around. Of course I was not disappointed. There were tons of embarrassing auditions and a few sappy but heart-warming stories accompanied by hillbillies blessed with the voices of angels.
Although it seems American Idol is old news, for some reason, their format sticks better than the other talent shows on the air. Granted, the summer months promise the roudy America's Got Talent. Simon Cowell's latest endeavor, The X Factor, didn't quite stack up to the monumental ratings AI had seen when he last graced their stage and NBC's The Voice is definitely the step-child of the televised singing competition world.
Last season American Idol seemed to branch out in terms of legitimate, recognizable talent. I'm not so naïve as to believe the "judges" actually have much to do with the way the actual competition is steered but I'm sure the powers that be decided they'd lay off on the usual contestants-you-love-to-hate in hopes that their ratings would remain in tact what with the new judges and all.
Now, sadly, I'm old enough to remember the inaugural season of American Idol. I was a college student surrounded by aspiring musicians and songwriters and found the entire concept sickening. Who would pay attention to such tripe? To this day there really isn't anything like walking into a favorite local venue to watch skinny, unkempt kids try and prove they are gods who deserve a shot at greatness. There is also nothing like watching good friends make real strides in their careers as the venues they book get larger and music finally begins to pay the bills.
Kids who were eight and nine-years-old were watching that same first season are now almost 20. They've started popping up in these televised auditions saying they've dreamed of nothing but winning American Idol since childhood and becoming a huge star. Last season both the winner and the runner-up were high school kids with this story and mind-set. They'd never performed in a bar to a bunch of unfriendly drunk people who were there for the $2.00 wells or toured the Southwest in a van with no air-conditioning and malfunctioning windows. The lessons that make our greats, well, great seem to be sugar-coated in Ford commercials and Grammy-winning producers before they even sing their first song rather than prove over time that their work is worth taking as seriously as they themselves take it.
For all of my b!tching I do tend to watch the damn show. I hail it as my guiltiest guilty pleasure but last night even the way Steven Tyler still ogles blonde teenagers couldn't shake the feeling that this was old-hat. I'd seen it one too many times. Maybe as a culture we LOVE the idea of unknown talent being among us, that someone who made our latte or sold us shoes has the capacity to be adored by millions. Or maybe we just hope Jennifer Lopez is about to get naked.