American Idol Is Back - But Does America Still Care?
The eleventh series of American Idol begins this evening (17, January 2012), amidst what can only be described as a tired fanfare. With last year's judges (Jennifer Lopez, Randy Jackson and Steven Tyler) returning to their seats once more, you would be forgiven for failing to distinguish this season of American Idol from any other season of American Idol. Or, indeed, any other televised singing contest. US audiences are spoilt for choice when it comes to watching scores of determined and ambitious singers vying for attention as they are put through their paces.
Simon Cowell exported Pop Idol from the UK over to the States in 2002, making sure he gave the show a patriotic flavouring in the process. He's done the same with X Factor and the reverse with America's Got Talent and the only pie that he doesn't seem to have a finger in is The Voice, which returns this month, with Christina Aguilera lined up once more as a vocal coach and mentor to the nervous contestants. America's Got Talent at least allows for some variety in the talent - it is not simply a singing contest alone. But substitute Carson Daly for Ryan Seacrest, Christina Aguilera for. um. Paula Abdul. and it could be argued none of the shows are stretching the templates very far.
The viewers sat at home watching these talent shows are rarely emotionally invested in the career chances of the vocal hopefuls that enter these shows. They watch for the first few rounds, to get excited about some genuine talent, though all too often the audiences are looking for someone to laugh at, with producers seemingly happy to audition those without discernible talent.
The winners of these shows, rather than embarking on the glittering careers that are dangled before them, sometimes join the 'Where are they now lists' before they've even had their full 15 minutes of fame. There are exceptions, of course. In the States, the very first series of American Idol uncovered Kelly Clarkson, who has had a phenomenal career since then and deservedly so. Likewise, Carrie Underwood, who continues to maintain a respectable career in the entertainment business. But how many of us remember Taylor Hicks or David Cook?
Leona Lewis and Alexandra Burke have done okay out of their wins but Matt Cardle, Steve Brookstein, Shayne Ward and Joe McElderry have all sat and watched their potential careers pass them by. Runners up JLS, on the other-hand, have gone on to have a hugely successful career, as has Olly Murs, who 'lost' to MCElderry in 2009.
It will be interesting to see what the producers do to keep viewers engaged in the talent shows, moving forward. Simon Cowell has admitted that he made a mistake hiring a Welsh guy (Steve Jones) to host the American version of X Factor - which no doubt pleased Ryan Seacrest as TV producers started to look to him as the God of Talent Show Hosting. Cowell will need to do something to impact on last year's disappointing viewer ratings; whether or not it's as simple as improving his choice of host remains to be seen. In the meantime, we shall tune in tonight for the new series of American Idol and perhaps, marvel at some genuine talent.