June 14, 2010
Entertainment Weekly has an excellent post up today: 15 Ways to Fix American Idol.
While I agree with all of their suggestions, I think there are some even better ideas that didn’t make the list. Perhaps this is why some ideas were overlooked:
CAST A MORE DIVERSE GROUP OF SEMIFINALISTS
Considering the stunning success of season 4′s Carrie Underwood, it’s baffling that Idol has done a lackluster job of casting country-oriented females in five subsequent seasons (not counting season 8′s tragically overlooked Mishavonna Henson, that is!).
Carrie Underwood is not the reality contestant turned superstar that should be used as the model to revamp Idol. The producers captured lightning in a bottle that season. A beautiful young woman with flawless vocal control and a clear understanding of who she wants to be as an artist? If it was as easy as an open casting call to find more like Underwood, there wouldn’t be a conversation about fixing Idol in the first place.
But there is an artist that could teach both American Idol and Nashville record executives three big lessons: Susan Boyle.
Lesson #1: Age Ain’t Nothin’ But a Number.
Idol’s insistence on capping the age of contestants below thirty means the Susan Boyles of our country can’t even get a foot in the door. Why was her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” so powerful? Because at age 47, she’s old enough to have lived it.
As Boyle proves, a reality show can provide a shot at stardom for those who’d never get the chance in the traditional way, as labels rarely sign artists who are older than thirty. Instead of limiting auditions to those who fit the traditional age range that record execs look for, Idol should open it up to those who’d never get a record deal the old-fashioned way, even if they deserved it.
No label honcho would ever look at Susan Boyle and think, “That woman is going to sell more albums than anybody else this year.” But that’s just what she did, moving 4 million albums in the U.S. alone. The audience saw her and fell in love. That can’t happen with more artists like her if we never get the chance to hear them.
Leson #2: Try a Little Tenderness.
One of the reasons Boyle’s audition struck such a nerve was the setup. We’ve been conditioned for years to laugh at the Susan Boyles. Idol’s audition episodes are top heavy with them. I’m one of many people who can’t even watch the early rounds anymore because they’re so mean. But when I did watch them, I was always hoping for the happy ending that never came.
Are there people who don’t have the talent that they think they do? Certainly. But what is gained by roughing them up for sport? The cruelty line was crossed long ago. I suspect that Idol’s lower ratings this season have a lot to do with that.
If you’re going to have a singing competition, just focus on the singing. If a singing hopeful has no chance at making it to Hollywood, give the screen time to those who do.
Lesson #3: Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder.
Most Idol contestants, along with most new country artists, are conventionally beautiful. There’s nothing wrong with that. But it seems hard to believe that none of the “not conventionally beautiful” artists out there have the talent to warrant an Idol slot or a record deal.
Consider this quote:
People might see me at a gathering and say, “God, she’s an awkward girl,” or “She’s not really a looker, is she? But if I sang to them, I knew I could outshine any girl in the room. – Pam Tillis, 1992
I personally think that Tillis is beautiful, but who knows how many doors didn’t open for her because she didn’t fit the mold. Would she even have a chance if she came on to the scene today? How many future legends will never be because of our narrow definition of beauty?
Susan Boyle didn’t fit the mold, but by some small miracle, she was given the shot to share her talent with the world. More artists like her need to get that opportunity. Perhaps if the top 24 wasn’t stacked with 24 year-olds every season, they’d have a better chance.