It’s that time of year again. I’m not talking about football season or going back to school, but something else – something that will dominate pop culture and the lives of Americans until next summer. Yes, gentle reader, auditions for the fifth season of Fox’s American Idol have begun.
Six cities are hosting auditions for the next few weeks. Fox will tape hopefuls either demonstrating their singing prowess or embarrassing themselves on national television. The show has given us Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard and some other truly memorable people. I, for one, will never forget where I was the first time I heard what’s-his-face sing “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” by Sir Elton John.
More upsetting than so-bad-he’s-apparently-talented William Hung, who released three albums after embarrassing himself in auditions, is the procession of talent-discovering shows American Idol has spawned. Television shows like America’s Next Top Model, Nashville Star and So You Think You Can Dance? have turned the performing arts into one-third talent show and two-thirds high school popularity contest.
These shows have twisted the idea of success. More people strive for 15 minutes of quasi-fame and become, “That American Idol guy” or “That girl who sang that song” while fewer strive for a lasting career. One album and one or two songs in the top 40 has become an established musical career. “Instead of building a career, they make the money and then fade away,” said Meg Stoltz, a junior voice performance major.
These shows insult the diva who studies Italian, German and vocals for 25 years to make it into an opera company or the dancer who pirouettes for hours on end and sacrifices every toe on her feet for her art. These shows are even more wounding to the scores of people who train, study and work their entire lives and never get into a company or cast in a role on Broadway.
Initially, Stoltz found the show insulting, but is now amused by it, “Some of these singers are talented,” she said, “But I’ve heard lots of people who are as good or better.” Stoltz said shows like American Idol give people the wrong impression of what good and healthy singing sounds like. She admitted to ripping apart every contestant who appeared on stage with her friends. Stoltz, who aspires for a lasting operatic career, began playing the piano at age six and began studying vocals at age 17.
This fall America will call in and text message their votes until their fingertips are numb and crown their American Idol. Confetti will fall and the winner will sing a pretentious song about his or her dreams coming true.
Others will practice one movement relentlessly until it is perfect, one dance move until it is beautiful beyond words, or the lyrics to a song until it truly expresses the complexity of human emotion.
They are the true artists who strive for more and will not settle for contrived acclaim. It’s time for actual talent to make a comeback.
Carolyn Steeves can be reached at email@example.com.