A COUPLE OF PEOPLE have inquired as to why The Weekly Rader has shied away from reality TV, citing American Idol as an example of the intersection of media, pop culture, and the arts. True enough. Idol is like no other show on television--or better or worse--and it is an odd melange of commerce, criticism, and camp. I've not written about it in part because I don't keep up with it as religiously as one might if he, say, wanted to come off as an expert, but I have been following this year's competition, mostly because of David Cook.
Though David Archuleta seems like one of the sweetest closeted boys ever to come from Utah (and that's saying something), he really brought very little to his songs except his big voice. In general, his renderings of those songs were pleasing, but vanilla. He has no bite, no gravitas. On the other hand, Cook not only seems to know music and music history, he also clearly understands the art of arrangement. Every song he sang, he made his own. He, too, was a bit too earnest at times, but I liked how he tried to expand the range of what American Idol talent might be and perhaps even upgrade the musical palette of the loyal Idol viewer.
What I don't like about American Idol is how narrowly the show defines what "American popular music" is. Most of the singers are young, not particularly interesting, and almost entirely without edge. Nearly every performance, and the subsequent judges' comments, reward bombast over nuance, power over precision. What turns me off the show is the now ubiquitous closed-eyed, fist raised and clenched, I'm-so-overcome-with-the-power-of-my-voice trumpet blast of a singing. Who ever said such drama, such over-the-topness, is or should be American music? Belting out power chords may be American, but that doesn't make it good.
A critic at Entertainment Weekly recently said that one of the problems with Idol is what he calls its "forced spontaneity." That's less of an issue for me. What I object to is linking a powerful singing voice with being an idol.