Right before the “Farewell Season” of “American Idol” began, I wrote a post highlighting five things that I predicted (or, at least, hoped) would happen in the final season. And guys, I did pretty well. Winner check-ins? Yup. Recreations of memorable performances? Oh yeah. As for the other three, a fully reunited judges panel, the return of Brian Dunkleman and my dream finale, they have yet to happen but I have high hopes that this coming week’s three night “Idol” finale will live up to all of my dreams and more.
Now that “Idol” is really truly coming to a close (at least until it inevitably gets rebooted), I’m starting to get a little sentimental about the show and what it has meant to me over the last 14 or so years. As I mentioned in my previous “Idol”-centric post, I was a serious fangirl back in the day and as much as I like to joke about it now, the show really did play a big part in my growing up. So I thought I might write a little about what the show meant to me, as sappily as I possibly can. Plus, I couldn’t think of anything else to write about this week (writer’s block is real ya’ll) so this will suffice.
To be honest, I don’t really remember the first time I watched “American Idol.” I’m not even sure if I ever saw the first episode. What I do remember is the first time I voted for a contestant in season one. Her name was Kristin Holt, and while I realize now that she was most definitely not the best performer of that first season (or even close, yikes), the fact that I could have a say in what happened to her and the other contestants on the show was exciting. In my mind I can see myself eagerly holding onto the phone in the kitchen, dialing the number and hearing that “Thank you for voting for contestant [insert number here]” response that I would become very, very familiar with. And even though I’m pretty sure Kristin didn’t make it much further after my single vote, I knew that I would be sticking around to see who did.
To me, that’s what was so genius about “Idol.” It made the at-home viewing public an active participant in the outcome of the show. It forced them to become fiercely attached to their favorite contestant, to consistently and dedicatedly vote for them until they were victorious. (Or, until they were tragically eliminated too soon. Not everyone could be the “American Idol.”) It also worked to keep people invested in these contestants, even after they had been eliminated or their season ended. While so many “Idol” winners have maintained successful careers in the entertainment industry, even more “Idol” contestants, people who maybe didn’t even make it into the top five, have stuck around and established themselves as successful performers who got that little push into the public eye that only “Idol” could offer.
After I cast my first “Idol” vote, it’s safe to say I became hooked. Much of the spare time in my then 7-year-old life was dedicated to watching “Idol,” thinking about “Idol” and trying to get anyone within a 1ft. radius of me to discuss “Idol.” As the title of my blog implies, I have always had a habit of getting obsessed (perhaps overly obsessed) with my pop culture fascinations, and “Idol” was one of the first big ones. Luckily, my mom got hooked too and together we watched weekly, once going so far as to switch hotels on a vacation because the one we were staying in didn’t have a TV (Also the hotel was really sketchy and everyone agreed. No diva behavior there). To top it off, I even dressed up as Kelly Clarkson in her winning moment for Halloween that year.
By the time the second season started, it was a known fact at my elementary school that I was a true “American Idol” fan, and that knowledge ended up benefiting me when “Idol” season two runner-up Clay Aiken brought a post-“Idol” Christmas tour to my hometown that was in need of a children’s choir to sing backup on a few songs. Somehow Aiken’s people got hooked up with my elementary school’s music teacher and we were chosen, and as the resident “Idol” nerd, it was inevitable that I would be attending. Even though I was a tried and true fan of “Idol” season two winner Ruben Studdard, meeting and getting to perform with Aiken, someone what had received comments from Simon Cowell, who had…*gasp*…touched Ryan Seacrest, was a real treat. It also helped that he was super nice and friendly to a bunch of hyper kids who had no clue what they were doing.
The promise of a new season of “American Idol” became a yearly treat for me. And when that treat finally came around, usually in January, I was always fully prepared. I had notebooks filled with voting numbers and contestant’s song choices, along with my own notes and thoughts. I made my winner predictions early, and adjusted them as need be throughout the season. I came to school every Wednesday and Thursday morning prepared to discuss the previous night’s events with my fellow “Idol” fans. And when the season ended, I would often attend the “Idol’s Live!” tour and scream as loud as I possibly could when favorites like season four’s Nadia Turner, season six’s Blake Lewis and season eight’s Matt Giraud took the stage.
But it wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine. If you’re a diehard “Idol” fan like myself, then you will have noticed that none of the favorites I mentioned in the last paragraph actually won “American Idol.” Needless to say, I had my fair share of “Idol” heartbreaks when my favorites were eliminated much too soon. Tears may have been shed. I may have stormed out of a friend’s house when Carrie Underwood beat Bo Bice in season four. (What? I was a very dramatic kid.) And to some, that may sound like the ramblings of a crazy person, part of it probably is, but it was because I cared. It was because another genius thing that “American Idol” did was it made you truly care about the contestants. It brought them into your homes and your lives and endeared them to you so much that you couldn’t help but root for them and follow them once their time on the show had ended.
Any time you bring up “Idol” these days, someone is bound to mention the biggest similar show to follow it, “The Voice.” And yes, I’m sure “The Voice” is lovely and all, but it’s clearly not about the contestants like “Idol” is. All advertisements for the show prominently feature whoever is a celebrity mentor (or judge or whoever sits in those absurd spinning chairs) that season, and continue to do so once the season begins and contestants have been chosen. Very rarely do you see anything promoting the contestants themselves. The contestants are put onto teams and when someone wins, the celebrity team leader “wins” with them. Because of this, people clearly don’t develop an attachment to the contestants the way they do with the ones on “Idol.” If they did, we would actually have a commercially successful winner of “The Voice.” Yeah, I said it. Because it’s true.
I’m also willing to admit that “Idol” isn’t entirely perfect. Once the audience went from just about everyone in the country to everyone in the country’s mom and little sister (and me), the quality of the contestants and winners went down in a major way. The never-ending stream of mediocre 15-year-olds and white guys with guitars got to be overly predictable and didn’t result in any excitement or fun. As much as it hurts to say it, the last few seasons of the show have been pretty dismal and in some cases unpleasant to watch.
However, I feel like this final, “farewell” season has brought back the talent and excitement of the early “Idol” years. I found myself truly looking forward to watching every week and for the first time in a long time, I’m really excited to see who wins. And if it winds up whittling down to my two favorites, Trent Harmon and La’Porsha Renae, (and it’s looking like it will) this will be the first time in my “Idol” history that I’ll really struggle with who to vote for. But, I can assure you that the excitement and joy that I felt when I cast my first “Idol” vote back in 2002 will still be there. And the corny, sappy, more than a little weird love that I feel for the show will be there too. Because I really am going to miss “American Idol.” I’m pretty sure it’s part of what made me, me.
What are your thoughts on the “farewell” season of “American Idol”? Have your own favorite “Idol” memory? Is it raining in here? I feel like it’s raining in here. Somehow it’s only landing on my face. Weird. Spill your heart in the comments. And, before I ask Keiran to dim the lights…