After 10 hit seasons, the top TV singing talent search, “American Idol,” has launched its 11th edition with more of the same – auditions in several cities in which thousands of young hopefuls sing their hearts out to get their once-in-a-lifetime shot at musical stardom.
To make the search more dramatic, a number of newcomers are individually profiled, particularly when they have unique stories to tell, like this season’s young hopeful, who was born without ears!
The youth’s gruelling journey from deaf baby to a boy who was painstakingly taught how to hear, speak and sing is the stuff of which the mushy “Idol” melodrama is made.
Less-than-inspiring tales of lousy singers are also featured – as weird combinations of comic relief, objects of cheap and raucous derision, and resident clowns and court jesters who tolerate the abuse just to savor their 15 seconds of fame (without the fortune).
“American Idol” has been around so long – too long, in our jaded, sated view – that these clever and facile ploys have lost much of their ability to genuinely entertain, move and inspire. So, why is the show still being produced, even as its viewership ratings have been dropping from year to year? Because a couple of million fans less is still a lot of viewers, more than enough for the show to keep turning a tidy profit, despite the competition provided by newer talent tilts like “The X Factor, US Edition.”
Another factor assuring the continuation of the annual “American Idol” tilt is the audience and entertainment industry’s continuing hunger for new stars to “Idol-ize” – especially the total unknowns who represent the faceless (and heretofore hopeless) masses who feel an empathetic thrill and power when their cumulative votes bestow stardom on their latest batch of anointed faves.
This, in essence, is the appeal and magic power of “American Idol,” and explains why millions view it each season despite the fact that it has precious few new surprises to offer.
It’s like watching and participating in a kind of ritual with a beginning, middle and end that everyone knows by rote but goes through again anyway, for the psychological perks and sense of power and choice that it provides.
For the faceless millions and minions who feel powerless in their own cog-like and “pixilated” existence, that’s something.
From a show biz point of view, tilts like “American Idol” are urgently needed, because the public’s thirst for fresh thrills and surprises needs to be serially quenched, for profits’ sake. Never mind artistry, there’s an entire industry to feed and keep plump and profitable.
The search for new talents has become even more urgent of late, because some “Idol” finalists have been making it, not just as singers but also as actors – like Jennifer Hudson some years ago, and Katharine McPhee this season, as the star of her very own TV drama series “Smash” (opening February 9 on 2nd Avenue.). She may not have won the top prize on “Idol,” but stardom has many phases and faces.