Why I Strongly Dislike American Idol
David Archuleta's dad, Jeff Archuleta runs a company call Arch Music Group which has "spent the last 5 years working with American Idol and Star Search performers as well as young up and coming singers and songwriters who want to compete in the top 40 arena." As if David didn't already have the previous connection where he met with Idol producers during season one, now his dad has been working with show contestants.
â€śThe latest news is that Syesha Mercado has appeared in a recent Ford Sync commercial. And of course Ford is one of the sponsors of American idol! Is there a connection there?â€? (http://the-moviebuff.blogspot.com/2008/02/american-idol-controversy.html)
So American Idol sucks. I could have told you that long ago. I guess making fun of semi- and untalented singers is fun to watch, but the finalists may have been pre-chosen for talent and connections. Color me aghast. Or not. Actually, not. Not aghast, not surprised, not caring.
Our next assignment is a critical response to a musical production, but this assignment is going to be of a similar sort; not as professionally developed, not as clearly articulated, not as concisely written, but a criticism, nonetheless. A criticism of the blight which is American Idol.
As an English teacher, I am concerned with art. I am responsible for the teaching of literary arts and language arts. As such, I work to have my students interact with art on various levels. First, I want them to be consumers of the art. I assign readings, I give quizzes, I assign basic, level-one reading comprehension type assignments to assure that they are at least looking at the art. Secondly, I urge critical thinking about said art. I ask deeper, probing questions which require thought â€“ sometimes deep thought â€“ about the implications of this art. (What does Hughes mean when he says his soul has grown deep like the rivers? What is the significance of Yeatsâ€™ rough beast, slouching toward Bethlehem to be born? Why is it that Macbeth attempts to kill every child within the play? What is it about Ethan Frome that sucks so very badly?) Thirdly, I encourage my students to partake in the art themselves. They can write critically, creating another sort of written art. They can write creatively, emulating the art we have read and discussed. They can read one anotherâ€™s works, once again partaking and consuming the written art of language. Any lessons I teach about music will follow this same pattern. Music is simply language art in an alternate format. Literature and language arts are about critical thinking: how to â€śreadâ€? othersâ€™ thoughts, and how to articulate your own thoughts. Music does that, too.
Show business is sometimes in the business of creating and disseminating art. Other times it is simply in the business of making money. Oftentimes this money-making is popular, even entertaining. This does not necessarily make it art. I would argue that good show business does both â€“ creates art and makes money, that is. American Idol is not good show business.
American Idol is a business. They are creating ratings â€“ early in the season by showing embarrassing acts which the viewers mock, later in the season by producing some genuine talent. There is also the archetypal subtext of the American heroâ€™s journey. Poor kid makes good. Cream rises to the top. Talent will out. Anyone can succeed in America. They create ratings, sell ad time, create a profit. The performers become another product to be managed. Their careers are, by and large, already mapped out by agents and production companies. American Idol turns people into commodities. It makes money, but it creates no art.
The songs are written by someone we seldom (or never) see. The songs are then â€ścoveredâ€? by artists who donâ€™t do as good of a job as the original singers. The songs do not belong to the singers, and the singers make no claim upon the songs. There is no creation, no art. There is only a dog and pony show, with a popularity contest attached to it.
Good music (and all good art) is like gourmet food. Bob Dylan and Mozart and Ray Charles and Johnny Cash are the musical equivalent to filet mignon and caviar and gourmet cheese and good red wine. The â€śartâ€? touted by American Idol is a greasy Macdonaldâ€™s hamburger. If I am in the business of teaching art, I will not use American Idol. People donâ€™t go to gourmet cooking schools to learn how to make a Big Mac.