It seems fashionable these days for “legitimate” music artists to bash <insert country here> Idol and similar reality TV singing contests. Björn Ulvaeus from ABBA is the latest to make his thoughts known.
I guess I can see where the criticism comes from but it is quite a generalisation though. There are some artists who have used the Idol franchise and spun off a reasonable career even if the majority haven’t. Will Young from the UK has his fourth album coming out in September and Kelly Clarkson from the US is working on her fourth album too.
I think one of the problems is that people need to get it out of their head that it is a talent contest or a singing contest. It isn’t. I’ve always said that with Idol, they take these talented kids and beat the talent out of them.
Many of the Idol viewers are serial reality show watchers. They enjoy picking their favourites and cheering them on and even more, they enjoy picking their villians and booing them whether it’s Idol, Big Brother or whichever reality show it is. There’s nothing wrong with that of course. At the end of the day, it’s a TV show set up for that purpose.
The first clue to Idol not being a credible music contest is that the viewers vote for their favourites. Often this is not based on musical talent. Look how far Jason Castro got in American Idol. He had a couple of good moments throughout the series but clearly had a weak voice with lots of missed notes and pitch problems. What saved him was that viewers warmed to his personality and charming smile. A similar thing happened with Marty Simpson in the last Australian Idol. Viewers liked him as a person and got behind him even though he was clearly not suited to an Idol-type contest.
I realise that success in the music business has never been based on singing talent alone. The ability to interpret a song, own it and then sell it to an audience is just as, if not more, important. Image comes into this as well. But at the end of the day, you have to be able to sing as well.
Another problem is that viewers can vote as many times as they like. The TV show producers are happy with this since it generates a lot of income for them. But there is no way that this can be called a fair contest. In last year’s Australian Idol, there were people on the fan forums proudly boasting that they voted for Natalie 100 times a week (I dread to see their phone bill). Natalie ended up being the winner but quite probably because she got the most number of votes and not the most number of people supporting her. As it was, not many people went out and bought the single and the album. She became the first Australian Idol winner not to have a number 1 single and number 1 album. The album dropped out of the chart like a rock.
I also have major issues with the format of the show. Contestants are forced to sing songs matching a particular theme or style, even if that is not their prefered style. Contestants who dare to be individual or different are criticised since Idol is all about conformity which ends up making it more of a glorified karaoke contest. The problem with a contestant being an individual is that while there may be many viewers who love that, there are also many viewers who hate it. It splits the voting. It is better to be bland and inoffensive. Look how quickly the talented Amanda Overmeyer got kicked out of American Idol. Carl Riseley may have attracted a lot of criticism in last year’s Australian Idol for sticking to his own big band style throughout the series but he did end up with a record contract and a successful album.
My favourite Idol contestant ever would have to be Bobby Flynn from the 2006 Australian series. A very unique talent with a solid music background. Viewers either loved him or hated him because it was very clear what sort of artist he would be. If he had been bland and strictly followed the show’s format, he may have lasted longer but it would have been harder to translate that into a record contract.
This isn’t a criticism of the Idol franchise, more of a reality check (excuse the pun). Idol is a TV show designed to entertain and involve a TV audience and it does that very successfully. However, it is not a music talent contest which will necessarily sell albums. Sure, there may be those who can launch a successful career but they are the exception, not the rule.