Wednesday, February 13, 2008

American Idol: Send in the pros from Dover

Some thoughts on the "American Idol" Hollywood episode and the ringer epidemic that's either the worst or best thing to ever happen to the show coming up just as soon as I dismiss the band...

How about that? Two hours in Hollywood with none of the pointless soap operatics involving the group singing (which never had anything to do with the competition), or partying, or people sitting in rooms, or any of the other BS usually associated with Hollywood week. Just people singing and getting praised or slammed. Very nice. Even the melodramatic moments, like Josiah's aforementioned meltdown where he couldn't get along with the band (and blew off the vocal coach's invitation to get extra rehearsal with them), had to do with the performances.

Now watch: as always, it'll be the lowest-rated episode of the season, because people would rather watch the freakshow.

So here's what I'm wondering: where do all of you stand on the ringer issue? If you've somehow missed all of this -- and the show certainly has gone out of its way to avoid discussing it -- a lot of this year's contestants either once had a major label record deal, or did well on another competitive reality show, or dated Britney Spears, or all three. (Vote For the Worst has a pretty good summary of a lot of these semi-pros backgrounds.) If you believe the leaked list of the top 24 contestants (which I won't link to here, but it's easy to find), then at least 11 of them would qualify as not just plucked off the street at random.

Now, none of this violates the letter of "American Idol" law. Many past finalists have either self-released their own albums (Taylor Hicks) or previously had record deals (Tamyra Gray) or had lots of performing experience (Bo Bice). But a lot of people feel the presence of someone like Carly Smithson -- who was the subject of a failed multi-million dollar marketing push by MCA -- violates the spirit of "Idol" as a discoverer of amateur talent.

My feeling is that I'd rather watch the best singers possible -- and many of the best performances last night were by the semi-pros (like the Aussie rocker who sang "Bohemian Rhapsody") -- than suffer through another year of Sanjaya and Chris Richardson and Haley Scarnato. I just want the show to be honest about it. I want the biographical clip packages to discuss their backgrounds, even if it's to frame it in sappy "Idol" terms ("Carly couldn't achieve her dream the first time with her record deal, so she's back again"). Let the audience know and decide for themselves what kind of contest they want "Idol" to be. Would they rather have the most polished singers possible, or would they rather suffer through a Sanjaya or a Scott Savol if it means that a real unknown like a Kelly or a Clay has a better shot to go far?

What does everybody else think?

25 comments:

Matt said...

I actually have a copy of "Carly Hennessy: Natural High" sitting at home (I won it, along with a bunch of other CD's, at a law school public service auction some years back). How much is it worth on eBay?

Adam said...

It will be interesting to see a season without much cannon fodder; still, I do want my share of less-polished Chris Slighs and Leslie Hunts in the Idol world. Also, Josiah The Street Urchin.

Am v. excited for the annual Wacky Dancing Finalists Parade.

Bobman said...

The singing is really the only reason I watch Idol (well, that and the freakshow first part), so I don't care if they have failed pros in the mix if it ups the quality of vocals.

There's a lot of reasons a music career won't take off, and a lot of the time they have nothing to do with the artist, but just the public. With so much coming at us every day it's tough for a no one to really get noticed and make it big, so I think it's perfectly within the spirit of Idol to take those same no ones and give them a stage that could really make them successful.

Also, I'm really intrigued by Josiah. He's obviously very fragile and mentally unstable, I can't imagine (assuming he makes it) him actually surviving the big stage of the later rounds.

I do like the passion in his singing though. He reminds me of Chris Martin of Coldplay kind of.

Nicole said...

Having preferred Rockstar over AI when it was on, I don't have a problem with the contestants having some training or past performance experience. After all, didn't Kelly Clarkson almost have a record deal before season 1?

BigTed said...

I would prefer "American Idol" to remain a purely amateur competition, if not for the fact that in past seasons so many contestants who made it to the later rounds have been pretty lousy. If this is what it takes to find a dozen kids with real talent, I'll take it.

Between his unique style, his song choices and his emotional fragility, Josiah is the first genuinely "emo" contestant. Way to jump on a trend, show!

KC said...

They should not pretend 'professional' singers and former 'has beens' are on equal footing with the newbies. Full disclosure is in order but to pretend that some are 'new' talent doesn't seem right. They have a huge pool of talent which they make such hoopla about having to cut every year that finding 24 decent amateurs shouldn't be that difficult. I would ban the ringers, or have a separate category.

Dan said...

I would rather poke my eyes out with sticks than watch another segment on Josiah. If he makes the final 24 this show is rigged.

That said, I loved the new Hollywood week. It was much more interesting than the freak show from years past. Some good performers this year.

TiVo Queen said...

The implications seems to be that Carly is being placed and promoted on American Idol by the producers, not that she's a past failure gunning for another chance at stardom of her own volition. I can see how the former would be an undesirable step for the show to take. Using AI to parade previously signed talent that producers haven't managed to squeeze enough profit from reeks of setup.

caryl said...

I'm confused. I thought contestants were NOT supposed to have had a record deal in the past. Obviously that's not the case. Did they change the qualifications? Taylor Hicks' previous CDs were self-produced. He never had a record deal.

Alan Sepinwall said...

The rule is you can't currently have a record deal. Again, contestants going back to the very first season (Tamyra) had deals before auditioning but weren't under contract at that time.

caryl said...

Gotcha. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I will happily "suffer" through another year of a Haley Scarnato.

Bobman said...

I would rather poke my eyes out with sticks than watch another segment on Josiah. If he makes the final 24 this show is rigged.

Or, you know, people have musical tastes that differ. Either way :)


I will happily "suffer" through another year of a Haley Scarnato.

The mute button could always use a good workout.

Anonymous said...

I quite enjoyed Chris Rich. The season would have been sh*t without him.

Kristin said...

I think most 'good' singers are going to be in the profession of singing already. If you are that skilled, you will find a way to make that a part of your life. So most of the decent singers who could actually do well in the real world after AI is over probably would have come close to getting a recording contract, have released some music on a minor label, or have a failure like Carly.

The true amateurs are ones who probably could not have made it on their own because they really aren't good enough. We've seen enough mediocre top 12 talent over the years to know that is true.

I don't mind semi-pro type people. The industry is so darn competitive, I'd rather have the chance to hear music performed by a singer who couldn't break through than some 16-year-old who sings in her school's madrigals and thinks she's awesome.

As for Josiah...I love that kid. I think his story is completely heart-wrenching. I think over the course of a year he has learned how hard the world can be, but doesn't have the courage to admit to his family they were right...he should have at least finished high school.

However, I think that kid is honestly talented. When he got up there and sang with the keyboard, he was completely about the music. Not about the judges or the fact it was AI. That is the kind of performer I can really get into. A kid who is born to sing and can't do anything else but.

The mistake he made with "Stand By Me" just shows his immaturity. I'm hoping he can overcome it to make it to the finals.

Anonymous said...

Just out of curiosity, how many current Idol fans (or contestants, for that matter), are going to get that reference? Donald and Elliott could be grandpas to most of these kids.

Rob Rogers said...

Hey, Alan. Did you notice in last night's episode (or tonight's for that matter) that several of the singers had green tongues? What's up with that? Was someone passing around mouthwash or something?

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Rob! My husband thought I was crazy when I mentioned the green tongues!

Sunny said...

I was laughing at the aqua colored tongues too.

I was mildly disappointed Josiah was not sent to the top 24. He was interesting. I enjoy the ones who are 'different'. Many of the ladies seem rather interchangeable at this point. I like Aisha Epperson quite a bit.

Regarding Matt, and his Carly gear, I'd hang on to that a little longer...

Nicole said...

I was annoyed that there are several guys we saw very little about. Instead of focussing on Josiah or Carly for the umpteenth time, how about a little blurb for that Luke guy , or the other two I can't even recall names for. This creates a serious imbalance for those contestants.

How about ensuring that all of the 24 get a short bio and then fill the rest of the time with the "almost made it"s.

Bobman said...

Did you notice in last night's episode (or tonight's for that matter) that several of the singers had green tongues? What's up with that? Was someone passing around mouthwash or something?

Well, it's Hollywood, my guess is pot popsicles.

lungfish said...

Did anyone else's DVR cut off the last minutes of the show? I'm not sure who made it between the plus-sized model and the other girl.

AndyW said...

Plus-sized model made it

Alex said...

I don't care that there are ringers or semi-pros in the bunch this year. I'd rather hear more good singers than have to put up with BS like Sanjaya and Hayley and that's why I'm so glad that Kyle got cut. Wasn't looking forward to Covais II.

I just wish that they would acknowledge Carly's former contract instead of going back to the Visa issues debacle every time. She's got like, double backstory, then! If she's good, she'll get votes no matter what.

Anonymous said...

Kristin, it just isn't the way it works anymore that the talented ones will have already become pros with deals. The music industry has changed radically and there aren't many record deals to be had anymore. And also, I agree with you about Josiah.