Wednesday, January 18, 2006

American Idle

January is here and that means it's time for Fox to roll out another installment of American Idol. All the regular players are back. Pretty boy Ryan Seacrest is vamping on the street with the latest batch of wannabes, Paula looks as plastic as ever, Simon is surly and Randy is dropping street vernacular with the ease and mastery of the whitest country bumpkin. Yo, dog, that was hype. Note to Randy, when you look the black version of Woody Allen, the hip jive comes off as forced.

Of course the plants are back. You know what I'm talking about. Those hopeless buffoons who come out for no purpose other than to act as comic relief. For some it's the best part of American Idol, but for those who actually enjoy normal cerebral function the plants are painfully obvious. It's almost as orchestrated as the outlandish antics of professional wrestling. Even Simon's comments seem scripted, and Paula Abdul's schtick as maternal empath is tiresome.

Make no mistake, the show does round up some talent and through the next few weeks the vocal tests will reveal some strong singers, but eventually the contest will fall victim to the subjective nature of the members of the viewing audience who actually take time to vote. Tween-aged girls will see to it that hunky boys and non-threatening girls climb to the top regardless of true vocal talent. People with good judgement aren't going to waste an hour of their lives voiting for their favorite.

Over the years American Idol has not produced the inspiring acts it promises to deliver. With the exception of Kelly Clarkson, who didn't really take off until she whored up, the finalists have not exactly burned up the charts. Part of the reason is that the level of talent that makes it into the finals isn't that good, part of it is thanks to lousy management from the American Idol team and the primary reason the contestants fail is that they simply don't have the intangible to make it in the business. A big part of making it in the music business is having the courage to bust your ass, most of the kids heading for the American Idol auditions want to make it big in what really amounts to be a sweepstakes. It's hard to compete with people who live their music 24 hours a day when you broke through because you hopped off your couch to win a popularity contest.

The exception is Kelly Clarkson who does have talent and charisma. Once she shook off the shackles of her American Idol contract and delved into a slightly darker version of cookie cutter pop, her presence became obvious. She's not breaking any ground, but she's putting out some hit records and should be able to sustain her career for a few more years.

I was certain that Bo Bice had the chops to knock the socks off the charts. He has that old school rock vibe going and it would have been easy to cover some classic rock hits, slip in a few original offerings and cash in on his popularity. To date I haven't heard a peep out of Bo. Maybe he's hammering out some sort of contract, but if he doesn't get cracking the ship will have sailed and he'll be back on the forklift loading trucks in Alabama.

Last year's winner had no business winning. She's just a little hick girl with one of those twangy country voices. Carrie Underewood's got some talent, but let's be honest; she won because she's just a cute little corn-fed white girl who doesn't offend anybody. We haven't heard much out of her yet, but she'll undoubtedly pop up in the country music scene opening for popular redneck attractions such as mega-skank Gretchen Wilson. Yahoo.

Inxs struck gold with their foray into the nationally televised casting call. The audition featured seasoned performers who were vying to become part of an established band. The show focused on music and left the trivial human interest garbage at the door. Each night was a cranked up rock show and even the elimination episode stayed true and gave the audience musical performances.

I don't know how the new front man will workout for the band in the long term. He's a great fit because he brings that sleazy Jim Morrison-like quality to the stage just like the previous lead man, but J.D. Fortune is not just some Michael Hutchence wannabe. He's got enough of his own charisma to give the bad a new identity. Sadly, I don't know if the band is good enough to stay relevant. They'll squeeze out a few hits on the strength of the television exposure and J.D. Fortune's sexuality, but musically speaking this is not one of the great bands of all time. Can they adapt to the current market, or will they get stuck in that late 80's Euro-trash mode they made a name for themselves with?

A nifty idea would be to bring current pop performers into an American Idol type stage and see how they stack up with each other. Who's got real talent and who is faking it (Ashlee Simpson, your vocals are ready.)One thing's for certain, a lot of the top acts out there today seem as thought their looks have more to do with their success than their vocals do.

This visual era of musical entertainment is killing music. Video killed the radio star. There's no way musical legends like Janis Joplin or even Aretha Franklin would have topped the charts had image been such a major factor in music back in the day.

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