I know, I know, I know…another “American Idol” post? So soon after the last one? I promise this isn’t turning into an “American Idol” blog, especially since there’s actually only three weeks of this magnificent mess left. For some reason, ABC has decided to burn through the part of the show that’s actually interesting, the part where the viewing public gets to vote, in lieu of…what? Making room for the premiere of “The Bachelorette”? A “Dancing With the Stars” spinoff featuring only “American Idol” castoffs? Another show where a quirky magician/dog groomer/doula is partnered with a cop so they can use their unique skill set to solve crimes? It doesn’t make sense that they would make such a big deal getting “Idol” and spend so much time on whittling it down to the top 10, the number that used to mean everything in earlier seasons, only to then knock off three a week like it doesn’t even matter. That being said, it might actually be for the best, given how things have gone down in the last two weeks.
When “American Idol” ended its 15-season run on “Fox” back in 2016, a part of me was relived. Even though I loved the show and was sad to see it go, I had grown frustrated with the people that ended up succeeding and thriving on it. They were all largely the same: male, generically handsome, permanently affixed with an acoustic guitar and overwhelmingly white. Some of those guys I liked, (I called Phillip Phillips’s “Idol” victory from his first audition and was totally on-board with it) but many felt incredibly unoriginal. The music industry is already chock-full of hunky white dudes with acoustic guitars, is it really smart to try and make another one happen? But it didn’t matter how I felt. It didn’t even really matter who I chose to vote for, even if I did spent hours plugging in the numbers. What mattered was what the rest of the viewing and voting public thought, and that’s often ends up being the problem.
I’ve said it before in so many words and I’ll say it again: “American Idol’s” voting audience is no longer conducive to selecting an actual superstar. It was in the earlier seasons, when wide, diverse swaths of the country were watching and making their selections. That’s how we got people like Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard and Fantasia Barrino. While Clarkson would likely thrive on the show now, it’s unlikely that she would win the title. Studdard and Barrino wouldn’t even be in the running. Because now the “Idol” voter demographic has clearly shrunk to a very small, very closed-minded group. Don’t believe me? Look at the comments on any “Idol” Facebook post about Ada Vox, the now unfortunately eliminated performer whose vocal range and talent would give any of the previous 15 “American Idol” winners a run for their money.
I had hoped that this new iteration of the show, with its willingness to allow openly gay contestants like Vox (real name: Adam Sanders) and Jurnee to be open on the show, and its support and promotion of talented contestants of color, would possibly avoid the pitfalls of previous seasons but it became clear that things had not really changed when the decision-making finally fell into the hands of the viewing public last week. It was stomach-churning to watch as white contestant after white contestant made it to the “safe zone,” voted through by the viewing public, while any contestant showing an iota of diversity was ushered to the “danger zone” where they had to hold out hope that the judges who fought for them would continue to do so and select them for the final four slots in the top 10. And luckily, they did: Jurnee, Michelle, Dennis and Ada were all saved thanks to Katy, Lionel and Luke. But they couldn’t save them this week.
Once again, the contestants bringing some of the most unique and affecting performances were on the chopping block. In fact, it was the same four that were saved by the judges last week who ended up vying for the final spot in the top 7. Jurnee was the one to get it. She and national treasure Michael J. Woodard are the only contestants of color left in the competition. It was deeply upsetting but not entirely surprising, given that only four “American Idol” winners aren’t white and only eight “American Idol” final two match-ups featured a person of color.
This isn’t to say that the other contestants still remaining in the competition aren’t talented and worthy of their time on this show (although I am getting real sick of Gabby’s decision to constantly slap a faux-country affect over her perfectly fine vocals and Caleb is a charming personality, but I liked his deep country bellow better when Scotty McCreary, who is still out there making music, did it back in season 10), and it’s not even to say that the show necessarily needs to be diverse if the talent just isn’t there. The problem is that that talent was, and in select cases, is, there; it’s just getting voted off at an alarming rate.
Looking at who’s left, I’m starting to wonder what kind of chance most of them really have once they win and start some semblance of a music career. A quick look at the current Billboard Top 100 songs top 10 showed that half of them are performed by artists of color. That number grows even bigger as you move down the list, showing that there is an audience seeking out more diverse and varied musical tastes. That’s just not the audience watching and voting on “American Idol,” which is ultimately the show’s fatal flaw.
The only way that “American Idol” will be able to produce an actual superstar again is if they find some way to truly broaden their audience so that the voting public will be more representative of the listening public. They’re certainly not helping their case by having a Disney-themed night or by making each episode a one-and-done, where people have to vote during the episode so that the results can be tabulated and eliminations made by the show’s 10 p.m. EST cutoff. It certainly didn’t appear to help poor Dennis, who went last and had mere minutes for people to judge his excellent performance’s vote-worthiness.
My initial belief that this season would be different has started to show its cracks. While I like to believe that Michael’s inherent charm and booming vocals or Jurnee’s astounding natural talent and presence will propel them to the top, it’s starting to seem less and less likely. I hope that I’m wrong, but “Idol” has yet to show signs that it can weather this storm. It’s not even really their fault anymore. They might have made this monster, but they’ve now lost all control. I don’t know how they can take back the reins, but they have to if they want to prove that bringing back “Idol” was a relevant and worthwhile decision.
What do you think? Have you been disappointed with the voting public’s decisions on “Idol” so far? Did you see “Mean Girls” the musical this past week? No? Well, I did. And it was great. So I guess all movie-to-musical adaptations aren’t entirely questionable. Share your thoughts in the comments. And, of course…