It was a special night in our household – the first night of the new season of Fox's American Idol. I've been an avid fan of the show since the very beginning, which is not always the easiest position to be in and still remain credible as an entertainment journalist it seems.
There are a lot of naysayers out there, talking about how the show is fake, a sham, and an insult to "real" musicians, but I can't help myself. The situation is getting better and the show continues to grow as a viable showcase for talent. I'm not talking just about the contestants either, although of course, they are a major part. The music business 'suits' are more interested in A.I. each season, too. You see Idol has become a credible marketing tool for already established artists as well.
In April of 2006, Sandy Cohen wrote for the Associated Press reporting "Barry Manilow's ‘Greatest Songs of the Fifties’ soared from No. 24 to No. 4 on the pop charts — a sales increase of 140 percent — following his March appearance on the program." Cohen went on to note that celebrity performances on the show weren’t the only thing boosting sales. Just being a guest judge or allowing the contestants to sing their material is generating new interest.
It may have started off with classic pop performers like Rod Stewart and Barry Manilow, but even newer music superstars are reaping the benefit of Idol exposure. Others, like Mary J. Blige, Toni Braxton, Live, and Shakira have appeared on the show and seen for themselves how important it can be. In that April 19th, 2006 article Sandy Cohen said "Shakira's new album, Oral Fixation Vol. 2, jumped 11 spots on the Top 40 charts after her hip-shaking Idol performance." Media outlets as varied as the U.K.'s New Music Review, VH1 and the Internet Movie Data Base are chiming in with their two cents worth on the subject.
The most notorious tie-in must surely be Prince, who was scheduled for a performance at the end of last season. Conflict came into play when it seemed that interacting with the remaining contestants was not something he was willing to do and the producers planned to go on without him. Prince did show up at the very last possible moment. He did a quick tune and left even faster. It was a double-edged sword – great for ratings and Prince's record sales, but a bit of a slap in the face for all the aspiring singers on the show who'd gotten a chance to work with the other guest performers.
Despite the Prince brouhaha, A.I. continues to soldier on. Superstar Diana Ross told late night talk show host David Letterman that she'll be appearing on the show in season six as well as touring to promote a new album. Other big-time artists are in the works also and two of the names being bandied about are Sir Paul McCartney and Mariah Carey.
Add on that the American Idol head honchos are actively seeking to make the show even more audience-interactive than before. From the official website, you can post your own rehash on the Message Boards and if selected, that recap will be the official show post of the site. There's been talk about a songwriting contest too, the winning tune to be sung by the two finalists.
Fox Broadcasting is also doing their part to shake up how they market the show. College Viewing Parties have been set up in selected audition towns through January 23. While not much is being said about those on the website yet, you can be sure that plenty of marketing novelties will be handed out.
We may not have the fancy viewing parties and whatnot at our house, but we have a great time watching the show and spewing out our own two-cents worth along the way. Nobody else's opinion has been able to change that. They never will.