American Idol is easily one of the most popular shows on television, and it's not difficult to understand why -- there's nothing else on. At all.
Okay, there's probably more to it than that. Those kids and their damn drugs.
First, a quick skim through history: American Idol was created based on a similar British show, Pop Idol. Using the idea of the show and combining several elements and concepts from other competition and reality shows, the two producers (Simons Fuller and Cowell) sold the format, renamed "American Idol: The Search for a Superstar, " to the only company that showed interest in it.
It, of course, became a summer smash.
There was certainly a breath of fresh air in its earlier seasons, with the judges' personalities complementing one another and the huge amount of discovered talent on constant display. Plus, and get this -- you could VOTE for who you wanted to win! It was a show made for the audience, for constant engagement in a game they actually had say in. It was for the players of the game, to prove to themselves and everyone else that they had what it takes.to make or break them. It was for AMERICA, to give us the idols we wanted as opposed to what critics suggested we need.
As the show went, more and more networks caught a sight of Idol's success and molded their own show out of it. The formula was simple -- it's a contest, right? And there is this likable, borderline douchebag host. These three judges who critque the performances, each one having to be either crazy, British, black, female, or somewhat interesting. The viewers get to vote on the winner, and blah blah blah. Yeah, turns out American Idol was a trendsetter.
But as time wore on... well, it got a little stale. The premise was tired and overdone by that point, since EVERY OTHER SHOW basically ripped off the same format a billion times over. Idol tried its damndest to stay relevant -- you don't become #1 for 6 years straight for nothing! Guest appearances, special performances, charities, controversies, it's all been done over and over the last 10 years. And... who cares? While there are still the devoted, the hardcore, the addicted, there people who say that somehow it's lost its way. Can you name more than a handful of contestants from the last few years?
Personally, I don't even remember who won last year. It was a blond guy who sung a U2 song, that's it. And I have families who pay attention, how do I not know this?! I'm certain after this summer, I'll forget who was even ON this season. Even the cute ones.
Aaaand that's reason enough for me. You see, tonight as the 10th season draws to a close (a season I hear from as far back as '05 may be its last), I'm going to (sorta) take a look back and remember some of the most noteworthy characters who broke through because of this phenomenon
This... is American Idol.
And we start with the first ever winner, Ms. Independent herself. The luckiest girl-next-door ever. She's may still be the most successful Idol graduate to date, having two of her four albums becoming bona-fide successes and dozens of hit singles safely tucked under her belt. Hell, she's even made an "artist's album" to sort-of kind-of break away her record label. Easily her highest point, though, was 2005's "Since U Been Gone," a not-quite break-up anthem that rang out to popsters and hipsters alike. She sure has come a long way since "From Justin to Kelly." Eh, at least she's not Justin Guarini.
The important of host Ryan Seacrest cannot be understated. Who else can smirk that smirk when he has to put off the results for the umpteenth time because there's a "message fro the sponsers?" Okay, so "Seacrest, out" is a lame catchphrase. But still, there had to be a reason why the other original host disappeared to make room for Ryan, full time. He's a pretty busy guy, since he makes time for not just AI, but radio gigs and E! News. It's easy to fall in love with him, because he's fallen for himself too. (Also, I love his voice)
Of the original judges, Simon always stood out. He was the anti-Seacrest, the REAL reason people tuned in. "Talent, shmalent -- let's hear what that Cowell guy has to say next!" Simon Cowell was one of the producers of the show (also, interesting to me, he produced the original Power Rangers theme -- whoa), and his way with words -- blunt, to the point, sometimes even insulting -- made wonderful "controversy" in the news. If another show had a British judge, more than likely they'd try to have their own Simon. With extra "asshole" added to the mix. He left after the 9th season, but don't worry America. He'll be back this fall. You know, in yet another show where he critically judges wanna-be singing stars. Hmm. He needs a new line of business.
The second biggest star to come from Idol, and really. Look at her. Listen to her. is it really that surprising? America loves country music (or do we?) and cuties who sing said country music. That she's blond doesn't hurt a bit. Three albums in, she's still on top of the country charts and has had just enough crossover success to still be relevant. While her biggest hits come from her fiery feminine side (also, I swear they sound extremely similar), she's still got a tenderness that comes out in songs like "Jesus, Take the Wheel" and "All-American Girl." Also, she's married to a hockey player. Badass.
The biggest guys from season 5 wasn't "Soul Patrol" Taylor Hicks. No, he didn't make us proud. It was instead bald (okay, shaved) rocker Chris Daughtry, who with help from his label pulled together a band under the pseudonym of his last name. He worked with some of his rock heroes and was able to craft a sound *just* rocking enough, *just* charming enough, *just* cheesy enough to appeal to about everyone. Of course, he's only two albums in... and already he's run out of tricks. Will he evolve his sound, or will he continue to dish out the same ole' music he's always done? Only time will tell.
Paula Abdul was crazy. Way too crazy. And Kara was just boring. It was season 9, and we needed another breath of fresh air to liven up the damp spirits of Idol. Enter Ellen DeGeneres. She was already a bright-eyed hit on her own talk show, and had a pretty busy career over the last decade and beyond (you may know her best as Dory from Finding Nemo). Her wit, contrasted with Simon's bitterness, made for Screw the competition -- we turned into this weekly Super Bowl for what was in between the action. Sadly, she left after this one season because it "didn't fit her right." Boo. If we ever want to come this close to Idol greatness again... we need Oprah for season 11.
Partway through the sixth season of American Idol, Jordin Sparks pulled out a heated, melodramatic performance that helped the spunky teenager pull apart from the bland pack. Before then, Sparks had seemed like little more than an enthusiastic amateur, a teenager who loved to put on a show. Turns out, she was Idol material. She was the youngest winner, until this season. She made a decent sized splash on the charts upon entry, and while she hasn't quite disappeared yet... her... spark's.... fizzling out? Hahaha. Haha. Ha.
Davids Cook and Archuleta
Season seven had some big scores and big bores, but nothing was more astonishing than the two Davids going head to head. David Cook, a singer-songwriter who was just waiting for a big break, and David Archuleta, a fresh-faced youth who charmed the hearts of tween girls worldwide (think... Bieber fever), were fierce competitors all season long. The finale results, and subsequent reactions, was probably one of the biggest. And that both Davids were equally successful is no small fear either. But... c'mon. Cook is totally a cheater. He recorded an album before Idol. Let the underdog win for once, bro :(
This season is so bland. I mean, it's all well and good and almost interesting, but my God. The judges aren't even trying! Randy Jackson traded in his "dawg-to-dawg" honesty for "yeah, yeah, you were real tight dawg" on some sloppy karaoke failures. Jennifer Lopez, back in the spotlight for the first time in ever, is trying desperately to be liked by everyone and falls each time. The only reason to watch anymore is the underdog, the one no one thought would be any good -- Aerosmith frontman Stephen Tyler. His eccentricities, his way with words, make him likable. He'll sing right alongside you during the auditions, and he'll tell you if you suck or not. Simon Cowell he's not, but then again why would you want him to be?
Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken
Ruben Studdard was a husky gentlemen who could SSSAAANNNGGGG. He was the first black male (first black AND first male, too) to win Idol, but... he disappeared shortly after. He made a cameo in Scooby-Doo 2, had a day named after him in his hometown, was nominated for an award with his idol... but he was pretty much gone before he started. His runner-up, Clay, faired slightly better. He literally came out of the closet on the last episode, and moved on to Broadway since then. I personally think it's only fair to remember this pair together... take that as you will.
She never won American Idol, but she's made a name for herself and the show. She's had hit albums, hit movies (with Beyonce, OMG), become a spokesperson for Weight Watchers, AND has earned the title of "friend" from President Obama. That's she's gone through personal tragedy and come out the other side makes her all the more admirable.
Kris Allen may have won, may have had some pretty early adult alternative success, but he hasn't left that much of an impression in the long run. But Adam Lambert has. He's over-the-top in the best way possible, he's glam, he's rockin', he's absolutely FABULOUS. He's only controversial because people need controversy. Oh well, big deal. Listen to him sing. He's the reason American Idol exists.
Who cares if he's a slightly-racist novelty act? Pfft, as if there were any other kind. Sing your heart out, Hung!! That's why we love ya!! "SHE BANG, SHE BANG... OH BABY, SHE MOO, SHE MOO"
EDIT: Congrats, Scotty. No surprise. Also, wtf am I doing paying attention to Idol?