American Idle

by Molly Kenney

“‘This is an album of love songs," he [Clay Aiken] explains, "but they are about all different kinds of love. Romantic love, Friendship, Unconditional love. There are a thousand different kinds of love; a thousand different ways to tell someone you love them.’” (www.americanidol.com) Thank God Clay Aiken is here to teach us about true love.

I find the whole American Idol concept so twisted and stupid. The FOX network handpicks the next potential “stars” of the pop music scene, accompanied by a few completely talent-less fools to make us further appreciate the vocal abilities of FOX’s wonder children. Add a screaming audience and interactive voting and blogging, and FOX is able to convince millions of viewers that they are choosing their musical taste.

It makes me angry that American Idol artists have so many Top 40 hits and that Kelly Clarkson is now frequently referred to as America’s “Pop Princess,” a modern Madonna and Britney’s replacement. I suppose my wrath is rooted in my desire to be anti-establishment. I resent the establishment’s influence reaching television, radio, and internet content, as well as cell phone use, simultaneously, and with such a poor quality product.

Why are the program and its fashionably dressed, wailing artists so popular? There is nothing particularly inventive about American Idol artists or their lyrics and music. Most of the songs are catchy, giving a danceable beat to the squeaky-clean expression of teen angst over love, family, and independence from both. Both the artists and the music are clearly mass produced.

And maybe that’s the point. I think most teenage Americans (and, I sheepishly admit, even myself sometimes) don’t want their music to be ground-breaking and unique. It’s too much work to seek out new, creative alternative music with stronger counter-cultural messages. It’s much easier to kick back, wearing the Sketchers you bought online at Carrie Underwood’s behest, drinking the Vanilla Coke Simon Cowell told you to drink, and flip on the episode of American Idol you Tivo’ed.

Even you haven’t bought into pop culture quite that much, sometimes crappy music is what you want. I don’t think I know one person, myself included, who won’t sing along to Kelly Clarkson’s “Since You’ve Been Gone” if it comes on the radio. Occasionally, it’s more fun to belt out a break-up song than to sit around pondering the philosophical meaning or socio-political message in the lyrics of a little-known rock song.

Maybe I’m completely wrong. Maybe American Idol and its artists are talented and important to America’s musical culture. Idol star Fantasia is starting a chain of beauty salons. Carrie Underwood just received four Country Music Award nominations. And according to American Idol’s website, “the White House last week announced that Clay Aiken will be one of 12 people that the President intends to appoint to the Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities.” I guess we’d all be stupid not to watch the show.

(The photo is Kelly Clarkson performing at the Lincoln Memorial in 2002. This photo is in the public domain.)

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