Sunday, January 29, 2006

The American Idol Effect

American Idol is back in full swing. I can't say I've ever watched a full episode of it myself, and the bulk of what I have seen is in this early stage of the show, when they go from town to town auditioning anyone with a day off work to become the 'next American Idol.' Supposedly this is the hook, that you watch to see the god-awful singers get told they're god-awful and then end up watching the drama as the singers you saw as one of the herd work their way to the final competition.

But it's the god-awful ones that make me twitch. Not because they're god-awful, but because when they come out of the room where they've finally been told they're god-awful they have friends and family there comforting them and telling them that, "No, they're crazy-you're wonderful. How could they not see it?"

When I worked at the record store every once in a while we'd get consigned CD of someone who had to have had the support of people that should have known better. While there is an Ed Wood-kind of joy that comes from Elijah Mahumbia or Blitzenhammer I'm a little scared by this phenomenon.

Friends lie. It can't be that they don't hear how bad these singers are, they lie. For a while I was the best saxophonist no one had heard. There where plenty of people who where ready to sell my playing to others, who would then sell my playing to still others. I don't know that they think they're lying, per se. They where just taking everyone's word for it. Even though no one had heard me play. They want me to be good. I want my friends who are artists to be good. We want to be encouraging, and that's not a bad thing necessarily. But where the line is drawn is difficult.

Even when I was doing dramaturgy at the college and would get handed a play that was god-awful I couldn't tell the person, "Sweet crap dude, why'd you give this to people to read? What's wrong with you?" I'd have to find the good in it somewhere. ("Well, it does contain sentences. That's good") I'd have to encourage them to keep trying even though they probably shouldn't. My professor started to comment on my ability to pull meaning out of my ass for some god-awful plays. I couldn't be Simon to them. Face to face with someone it's hard to find that line between being an ass and lying and saying that there is something there.

It seems a little shallow, a little insecure, but there is a desire to gain the admiration of strangers. It's not because I want to be famous, or that I need the adulation of the masses, but because honestly, even if people aren't as mean spirited as Simon, they are more prone to that kind of honest appraisal of someone's work that they don't have to face. Even if it's in the form of a rejection letter or a horrible opening weekend. Granted, I'm not going to listen to the first hundred or so rejection letters and will say right now that I will blame the bad opening weekend on everything from the weather to a grand conspiracy.

There would be something to be said about performing art in a vacuum, to have my own little studio in the middle of nowhere where I made movies for me and a select few. But I would always wonder if I was that god-awful singer auditioning on American Idol, listening to friends who are too much my friends to say, "Seriously. Stop doing this immediately and learn a trade."


  1. I watched some of the show for the first time last week. I laughed like hell when simon laid in to some of those idiots. I don't know what the hell they are thinking. The same thing is going on with K-fed. You have to winder who the hell is sitting there going "Yeah kev, that shit is hot!"

    I can think of dozens of similar examples from my days as a record weasel. I threw away literally a ton of shitty promos when I moved. Shit that would detract from the job i was trying to do. Shit that wouldn't sell if any buyer actually listened to it.
    "you can always return what doesn't sell" I'd say. Then we would get 15% on the restock.

    Navarre corp made all of their profit from rescocking fees, taking back records from artists whos friends and record labels lied to them

  2. Ah Navarre. I forgot to include that what would normally be the 'filter' can also lie.

    I guess the real watermark, and R. will back this up as it really has always been his goal, is critical peer response. He, and I more or less agree, wants the artists we respect to recognize our work.