Thursday, May 21, 2009

American Idol thoughts

Ok, so I came back to watch the finale last night and I'm glad I did. This post is going to focus on my love/hate relationship with the show and my thoughts on watching the finale. There's not a lot of insight on the winners and losers, there's enough of that out there on the web.

Let me give some background on my love/hate relationship with American Idol. I've watched the show every since the last couple episodes of Season 1. Each year I seemed to stop watching with about 3 or 4 episodes remaining usually becausee I became bored or just didn't care about any of the contestants anymore. This year I only made it through the auditions and only casually watched some performance shows, I was a bit burned out on Idol. My wife still watched though and I became familiar with the contestants as she watched the show as usually I grabbed the laptop and worked during the show. It was nice as I saw some of the good performances but really didn't get invested in a performer.

In the last couple of years I've become a bit jaded with some of the production of the show. I've also become disgusted with some of the voting results (Taylor Hicks I'm speaking about you). It's also bothered me that more and more of the "amateur" contestants have turned out to be has-beens that were previously signed and bombed with albums (hello David Cook). It also hasn't helped that in some years the talent has just stunk across the board. I'm also not a big fan of younger contestants, while I can appreciate the talent most are a bit too raw for my preference. These issues aren't huge, but this year I decided I'd try and give myself a break from the show.

Anyway, so I broke my Idol addiction this year, but I did see some performances and I followed a good portion of the buzz on the web. I do find it interesting that the finalists over the last 2 years seem to have had more talented men/boys then girls/women, which is a direct opposite of the first 4-5 seasons. (Save possibly Season 2) That's not to say there haven't been talented guys during those years, just overall if you took the top 20, women typically outweighed the men in talent, at least in my opinion. Which brings me to last nights finals.

I loved the production of the show last night, in my opinion it was a well produced fast paced show. Kiss, Fergie, Black Eyed Peas, Santana, Cyndi Lauper, and a variety of others that I can't remember were all guest performers and there was a strong mix of old and new music. From a TV music perspective I'm ready to anoint American Idol as the new standard. MTV and the Grammys should take note for their award shows (which have become tiresome and over-produced and do a poor job of showcasing music). I'm a bit amazed that I enjoyed the show so much, since I wasn't really invested in any of the contestants. (I was pulling for Adam as I liked his uniqueness and talent, but sometimes his theatrics seemed broadwayish to me, which turned me off a bit)

I turned on the show last night as I knew my wife and her mom would want to watch. I was intrigued but not really expecting much, when I've watched the finales before they seemed to be one long commercial waiting for the results of the show. It's also become such a hyped show that it's almost impossible to surf the web or watch any kind of entertainment news without hearing about it. So I grabbed the laptop to finish some work and thought I'd sort of casually watch it. About 15 minutes in I found myself watching more then working and by 30 minutes, I had pretty much given up on work for the night.

As I said earlier, from a production standpoint I have to give it an A, blending the established artists with the idols worked in most of the segments, although Smooth by Santana with the whole Idol group reminded me of a bad Brady Bunch episode and the Steve Martin bit was a bit weird. It was interesting and fast paced and did a great job of focusing on the music and theatrics for television.

Idol producers also have done a great job of incorporating their Idols and judges as minor celebrities, bringing a change of pace to the established musicians and making it feel like a jam session of sorts. It reminded me of something you'd see at a Rock and Roll hall of fame induction ceremony (think Axl and The Boss doing Come Together). I believe they did a great job of focusing on the music rather then the musician. Old songs that might be considered tired had a jolt of change to them that made for interesting TV. The industry as a whole might want to take a look at when they start designing their next awards show.

Having the judges as minor celebrities also lead to the highlight of the show for me, when Kara DioGuardi came out performing behind 'bikini girl' and severely outclassed her singing it was one of the best ideas I've seen on TV in a long time. The producers set it up beautifully showing the background from the auditions when 'bikini girl' dissed Kara's voice and Kara telling bikini girl the next time she performs she should just do it naked. So while Kara came out and blew her away with her singing, she really put the final nail in the coffin when she finished the song, as she ripped open her dress to reveal her own bikini . The look on bikini girl's face when she first realized that she wasn't going to be performing solo was priceless and caused her to stop singing halfway through the song, the clothing reveal at the end was pure icing on the cake. In my opinion that was some fantastic production and reality TV at it's finest. It was worth watching the show just to see that part. (audio's horrible on this clip, but definitely gives you a chance to focus on the reactions).

All in all, it was an enjoyable two hours and focused on music, something I haven't seen in a long time on an awards show. As most know by now Kris Allen won, and I've heard a lot of buzz about it. Every morning news station and website seems to have an opinion on why Adam didn't win, whether they are true or not, who knows, in my opinion outside of Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood (and possibly David Cook), the most talented idol hasn't always won, which is why I'm a bit surprised that people are in 'shock'. Maybe I'm a bit jaded from the year Chris Daughtry and Elliot Yamin were bounced early and were the most talented (in my opinion and historically shown to have greater record sales then Katherine and Taylor). There are all sorts of pundits that like to come up with conspiracy theories on this (American homophobia, all the right wing leaning Gokey voters moving to Kris, etc, etc). It makes for great watercooler talk. If there is any conspiracy theory that I'll buy, it's that Kris benefits more from winning Idol as he gets a boost in sales where Adam likely doesn't need it.

I expect Adam to have a much more successful career then Kris. Obviously, time will tell, but I think Adam is more talented and benefits from being unique. Kris looks good and has a nice voice but unless his producer is able to secure a truly unique song or do something to make him stand out, his sound is average at best and he could easily get lost in the pop music shuffle.

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