Unique to Season Five, we saw five contestants score record deals. A brilliant move for the show's marketing team, and a godsend for the new recording artists, a win-win for all concerned, you might think. Flipping the other side of this shiny coin, while as a viewer you may revel in the success stories of these fortunate few, it dampens the effect and glamour of winning this show.
Compile this factor with the focus on Simon Cowell and his obvious delight in fostering the feel of continued competition, aspiring contestants should think long and hard about the personal costs. Now six years into the show, it feels like American Idol is much more Survivor or Big Brother than Star Search.
Of course the music industry is rife with competition, top of the charts is where it's at – the common conceptual image of prestige and success. That said, the pressure and emphasis levied on the American Idol success stories seem amplified, magnified, and a more oppressive force than found for artists who find their way to stardom outside the show.
The contestants on American Idol are locked into a perpetuating cycle revolving around comparisons against one another. Is American Idol on its way to shooting itself in the foot by the very concept it is founded upon – competition? It looks, as the seasons pass, that the contestants are contracted into an infinite circling competition, thrust into a rivalrous miasma trapping them inside that pulsing blue virtual hamster wheel of contention against their fellow contestants. Profiteers to this situation include the producers, 19E and of course, Simon Cowell.
In this recent article from People Magazine titled, "Simon Trashes Jennifer Hudson and Taylor Hicks", Simon says, "As for Taylor Hicks, who won season 5's competition, they (Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson) loved him. I couldn't stand him. I didn't get it," Cowell snapped, adding that "at the end of the day you have to find a bona fide recording artist. Just because you win the show doesn't mean you will sell a lot of records. Chris (Daughtry) is the one who sold the albums, not Taylor."
This man digs his barbs into the meat of the most profitable area of Idol. Controversy. By Mr. Cowell's very contentious nature he creates buzz for the show and that creates viewers. He is an intelligent, savvy man who innately knows how to butter his bread. Commentary about Taylor Hicks, whether positive or negative, gains immense attention which is Mr. Cowell's main role on the show.
Hudson, who may have only finished 6th in 2002 on the show recently has won an Oscar for her acting debut in the movie Dreamgirls. Cowell's commentary in this recent article, attributes Idol for her success. While the show may have served to assist her in gaining attention, credit should be placed on her shoulders for the advancements she has made for herself.
This People Magazine article emphasizes a continuing prime news making example, Mr. Cowell continues to link Chris Daughtry and Taylor Hicks, and in this piece, in the same sentence. Apt commentary regarding Chris Daughtry's sales and success, would be more in-line to compare his CD, Daughtry and how it is selling against Nickelback's All the Right Reasons. (Daughtry is currently at number 2 on the top 200, All the Right Reasons at number 15.) By meshing and comparing apples with oranges, Simon keeps the in-house competition alive, and the American Idol wheel turning.
So Bice and Taylor Hicks certainly played their part in opening up the Idol cage to a wider field of aspiring artists, gaining acceptability outside the tried and true Pop Star image originally in the show's prospectus. This season I'm seeing several of these new contestants monkeying Idols that have come before. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but too much of 'seen that, heard that,' becomes a bore.
One example I'm talking about is this season's popular contestant, Chris Sligh. He entered the show bringing attention to his curly afro, and in his own blog had said his fan base should be named the 'Fro Patro' (no that is not a typo). He mentioned in his first audition to the judges that his goal was to "make Hasselhoff cry." Hasselhoff, apparently touched, shed tears on camera from the audience as Taylor Hicks was crowned the winner last year. The second week of competition, Mr. Sligh performed one of the songs that was a stand out hit for Taylor Hicks, Ray LaMontagne's "Trouble." He's being obvious in his attempts to travel ground already trodden, to jump the Hicks' train to attract viewers. His saving grace is the guy's got a great sense of humor.
Watching Simon Cowell I can tell he already has a sweet spot for at least one of the contestants. He also seems a little more acid tongued this year, as do Randy and Paula. That may lie in wake of the really limited standout performances we've seen so far from this year's crop of Idol Wanna-Be's. Might this shed any light on the condition we are seeing with this season? More attention is being garnered by one of the girls in the show becoming a household name by racy on-line pictures being submitted by past pals, and a disgruntled former boyfriend over some of the girls with superior singing skills like Melinda Doolittle. One of the guys in the competition, through no real action of his, has gained notoriety for being supported by Vote For the Worst, a site that proclaims they are dedicated to revealing the truth as they see it behind Idol.
My point, the singing this season is being eclipsed by the behind the scenes machinations and negotiations. Yes, truly this show is looking increasingly like Big Brother or Survivor with on-line participants 'virtually' included in the show (VFTW). Last year at this time we were reeling from the singing performances, this year the show is becoming steeped in manipulations and alliances.
Last season's fourth place finisher, Chris Daughtry is discovering first-hand it's not as easy to shed the Idol chain as it is to switch his wallet chain. In an interesting article written by Michael Endelman of EW.com, he interviewed Daughtry while the singer visited Children's Hospital of New York-Presbyterian. Shockingly Mr. Endelman wrote that Chris Daughtry canceled the Question and Answer session that had been planned, then proceeded to critique a collage of snapshots from American Idol designated for the hospital scrapbook. He wound up signing it, commenting, "How did they get all these cheesy photos?" (Nice commentary.) According to Mr. Endelman, following an introduction by the hospital administrator as "Chris Daughtry from American Idol,"
- the tightly wound singer snaps. He turns discreetly to a member of his entourage and whispers, 'Are they even going to mention the album? Are they even going to talk about the band? It's just Idol,' saying the last word with special disdain.
Considering that the show is using his song, "Home" off of the CD, Chris Daughtry is going to find that wheel's gonna keep on turning.
Simon Cowell's jabs at Hicks being outsold by Daughtry have legs only when spoken within the Top 40 Nickelback rock boundaries. Chris Daughtry's sound is in a more popular genre. What Taylor Hicks proved successfully last season (along with his fans), is that the coercion techniques that Simon Cowell, the King (apparent) of Opinions That Matter can be defeated. The Idol cage could be infiltrated by one other than the 'chosen' or should I say, ideal contestant. His obvious manipulations to influence the show's outcome can be overturned. Simon Cowell with his ego will never forget that.
What has also been seen and proven in the media, and in the marketing of the Idols is win or lose, American Idol runs somewhat like in The Wizard of OZ, the contestants and viewers are are subject to the 'man behind the curtain.' Should viewers get too wise to the man behind the curtain, this juggernaut hit could be on its unwitting way to creating a self-consuming monster.
Regarding The Soulman's CD, referring to units sold, those numbers don't carry an accurate assessment of the fan base Taylor Hicks has developed. I prefer Taylor Hicks in his natural state; no I'm not referring to him in the buff, I'm talking about him being sans the overproduction trappings cast into his CD by the producers, i.e. Matt Serletic. Hicks carries naturally that throwback vibe, he is not Pop mainstream, nor does he want to be.
Regarding his fan base; I don't think it is a matter of it diminishing, I do think that many who became fans enjoyed Taylor Hicks the natural musician. The man thought to have distinctive choices in music. The man possessed of a growly, raw vocal sound. The man who delivered Ray Charles' "Georgia" heard on-line last year, in a manner that would have made Ray proud. By Serletic selling Hicks on the concept of broadening his fanbase, it weakened the potential of the product. One thing Taylor Hicks needs to remember: that Idol wheel may keep on spinning, but sometimes the hamster has to jump off. Bo Bice has picked up on that and eventually so will The Soulman. Now if we can just get the keys away from that man behind the curtain.