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The Idol EffectAmerican Idol has done more than subconsciously force the unwitting public to drink more Coke and buy Fords. The Idol phenomena has turned well over 30 million average citizens into somewhat informed music critics. Despite the boos and hisses at the notorious Simon Cowell’s comments, the public votes generally seem to echo his opinions, thankfully because if Paula Abdul were the barometer, American Idol would be similar to the Special Olympics where everyone gets a gold just for trying. Ignoring the irrelevant judge banter and disagreements, America has done a surprisingly good job of recognizing not only who can sing, but who has talent worthy of a career. By far one of the highest rated shows on television, American Idol has involved the public in the music business more intently than just purchasing albums. What probably started out as a ploy to push more records has somehow changed the public perception of singers and how we hear their music, introducing words like ‘pitchy,’ ‘off-key,’ ‘vocal tone’ and ‘performance quality’ into American vernacular alongside clear definitions and examples.

Kelly ClarksonThe most unexpected thing about American Idol is that the public selection tends to shy away from run-of-the-mill Barbie doll pop-tarts. Since it is genuinely a singing contest, lacking autotune and airbrushing, a contestant stands out purely on ability and personality. Season 1 winner, Kelly Clarkson, a chubby 20-something waitress from Texas took home 2 Grammy’s this year in the broadcast that had about half the viewership of the show that launched her career, proving that while they support their selections by buying the albums, the public interests are in selecting new talent. 2003 proved to be a good season for American Idol with heavy-set winner Ruben Studdard and effeminate country boy runner-up Clay Aiken, selling well over 5 million albums combined. 2004’s soulful songstress and single mother Fantasia Barrino has filled the gap in R&B, pun intended. Last year’s winner, Carrie Underwood, probably the most ‘Barbie’ finalist yet, took home a number of country music awards recently showing that she’s not just fittin’ in, but being respected in her chosen genre, although put there by a completely different demographic.

This year’s Idol is probably the most fascinating yet, with the finalists sharing little in common outside of a brilliant talent from a niche background. The average age of the remaining contestants is 24, with all of the remaining male contestants over the age of 25. The finalists are certainly unique, ranging from the classically trained beauty Katharine McPhee to the snaggle-toothed, diabetic, car mechanic with an inspired voice, Elliot Yamin. This year is also a first for rock music. Last year’s soft rockers, Bo Bice and Constantine Whateverhisnameis were embarrassing to rock fans, however this year Idol has struck gold with Chris Daughtry, who could have easily reached fame without the help of this show. Bumpkin Kellie Pickler, prodigy Paris Bennett, soulman Taylor Hicks and disturbingly pretty Ace Young round out the remainder, each putting their talents on display each week, despite the ‘theme’ curveballs that are thrown at them.

Elliott YaminIdol’s effect on the American music consumer is a significant one and one that should be paid attention to by anyone working within the industry. The public is learning how to hear music. They are being taught what is good and what is bad. They are figuring out who is worthy of their respect, and more importantly their money. To the surprise of many, age, background and physical attributes are playing little part in selection and support. Elliott, with his jacked up grill actually stands a better chance of winning than pretty-boy Ace Young for the simple fact that Elliott has an incredible voice and a ‘realness’ that Ace can’t touch. Husband and father, Chris Daughtry has been a fan favorite, simply because he is a better rock singer than half the artists currently on the rock charts. For A&Rs, I think this is interesting. Perhaps the public isn’t putting the same level of importance on the superficial attributes record labels have come to hold so dear. Idol gives the public the opportunity to see aspiring artists exactly as they are, flaws and all, and the public has been overwhelming in their support, pulling in around 35 million votes every week.

AJ, KOAR

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