I’ll Say it Again…..Jump the Shark

14 Jan

Back in 1977, that magical year, the writers and producers of Happy Days were worried about protecting ratings. So, they devised a stunt and a a three part episode to keep viewers tuned in. The magnetic and immensely popular central character, Arthur Fonzarelli a/k/a “The Fonz” would jump a shark tank on water skis.

Since then, this episode has been used as a label for many shows who tend to incorporate desperate story lines to keep viewers. I said, firmly, last year that American Idol had jumped the shark. Let’s face it, after Season 5, Season 6 was destined to be anti-climatic. Of the Top 10 in Season 5, SEVEN ended up with record deals, the 4th place finisher sold 2 million CDs and the winner was a gray-haired Soul singer.

I still believe that AI is on the down cycle. Can they and will they continue to make money with the American Idol franchise? Short-term, yes. However, as we saw with Season 6, it won’t be the sensation that it has been in the past. Why, you ask?

  1. American Idol is misleading. While the prospect of fame and super stardom is hyped via Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Network over and over again, the cold hard facts are that most neophytes in the music business don’t stand a chance at “making it”, even with 19E and Clive Davis’ promotion and positioning.
  2. Many people are tired of the “bullying” of the producers and the judges in the audition process and beyond. Each year, the backlash of making fun and laughing at people has escalated. They know if they move away from that format, they’ll lose needed peripheral viewers, but I don’t think you can minimize that they have lost viewers because of their treatment of those who are not serious contenders.
  3. Each year, it’s evident that certain someones are pre-ordained to win or go the farthest by the judges. America’s sense of fair play is compromised when the playing field is not level for everyone. After a few seasons, this becomes tiring and boring.
  4. The “prize” has been de-valued by AI’s greed to try to get the most of the franchise and signing those not winning. What’s the point of a contest if everyone participating “wins”. This ain’t kindergarten. Human nature loves competition. When there’s none, they’ll explore other options.
  5. It’s SOOOOOOO cheesy. It exploits people. Rather than make it a pure talent competition, it interjects demeaning activities and improbable “themes” utilizing the humiliation to attract viewers ” (See #2)

There are many other reasons but these are the top five. Regarding AI’s track record for producing superstar music icons, it’s spotty at best. Here’s a rundown/comparison on each season:
Season 1 – Kelly Clarkson — genre: R&B/Pop. CD sales – Breakaway — 5.9 million; Thankful — 2.7 million; My December 737,000

After much contentiousness, broke her AI contract after three years of servitude and dropped 19E for promotion. Had a significant run-in with Clive Davis on her latest CD, that was subsequently torpedoed by the label by lack of promotion and pay for play on radio.

Also ran: Justin Guarini – Currently signed on to provide runway commentary for Idol Tonight — Need I say more? (BTW, just how many idol also rans have a job with Idol Tonight?)

Season 2 – Ruben Studdard — genre: R&B/Gospel. CD Sales – Soulful – 1.8 million; I Need an Angel – $500k; The Return – 236k

Never fit the Pop “model”, but never really supported by AI or 19E. Recently dropped from the J Records label after five years and three albums. Opening a club in Birmingham, AL in 2009 and starring as Fats Waller in a production of Ain’t Misbehavin’.

His close contest with Clay Aiken produced some buyer’s remorse among the AI faithful. Clay sold an amazing 4.8 million CDs but his last CD is a flop. One trick pony.

Season 3 – Fantasia Barrino — genre: R&B. CD Sales – Fantasia – 501k; Free Yourself -2.0 million.

Another “out of the box” winner. Seems as though America wants diversity. If only she received the implied support and promotion. She is still on Clive’s label but fired 19E and disassociated herself from all AI intervention. Her CDs have been few and far between. She concentrates on acting — first, in a Lifetime movie on her life and most recently, to critical acclaim as Miss Cealy in The Color Purple on Broadway.

Also ran: Diana Digarmo. The worst in CD sales among the idols, selling 164,000 CDs. She did have a good run on Broadway, starring as Penny in Hairspray.

Season 4 – Carrie Underwood — genre: Country. CD Sales – Some Hearts – 6.2 million; Carnival Ride – 1.7 million.

The most “perfect” idol to date. Smartly, AI and 19E let Carrie go into the genre that was best suited for her and that was ripe for a new female Country artist. I often wonder what would have happened to Carrie had they pushed her into Pop. I mean, take a listen to this…whew.

Inside Your Heaven, Carrie Underwood

Also ran: Bo Bice. Whether caused by Bo rebelliousness or the overshadowing of Carrie’s success, Bo was pressured into making a CD that did not reflect his music. The first “rocker” on AI, I doubt that they really knew what to do with him. His health problems didn’t help his efforts either. Dropped by the label after his first CD, Bo released an independent CD, Witness, this past fall under his own label.  Word is that fans love the “true” Bo.

Season 5 – Taylor Hicks — genre: Soul. CD sales – Taylor Hicks – 700k.

Never the desired winner by “TPTB”, Taylor rode the underdog status to victory. Rushed to record a CD, his sales suffered at the hands of split promotion of runner up Kat McPhee and fourth place finisher Chris Daughtry. With seven of the Top 10 finishers releasing a CD within the first six months after the AI tour, the landscape was very crowded. Had Taylor won in a year that had fewer upper echelon performers, who knows? However, Taylor’s touring and live shows seem to be where he has a niche that the others don’t. Recently, Taylor and J Records parted ways after one CD although he had a three CD deal. Rumor has it that Taylor negotiated his way out of his contract to gain artist control of his work, citing lack of promotion and breach of contract.

Either way, the timing sucks for AI. Why would a record company trying to entice real talent to participate in the AI process to find real, new talent, drop artists that have won or were runners-up in the competition, i.e., Katherine, Ruben and Taylor? It makes no sense. Therefore, it leads me to believe that it wasn’t J Records’ choice.

Also rans: Katherine McPhee also fired 19E and is working on a CD with David Foster. She’s engaged to her older boyfriend and wants to pursue more acting. Chris Daughtry has sold 3.6 million CDs of his debut, Daughtry. Elliott Yamin has sold 482k as an independent artist.

Season 6 – Jordin Sparks — genre: R&B. CD sales – 371k.

The first under-age winner, Jordin has the dubious honor of producing the lowest sales total to date of any AI winner. The lackluster line-up and interest in the AI “cast” in 2007 has translated into very lackluster sales and will likely continue to do so. Jordin is a mediocre talent in a very crowded space. I don’t hold out much hope for her reaching any kind of star power.

Also ran: Blake Lewis. Released in November ’07, Blake has sold 200,000 CDs to date. I mean, beatboxing? How long can it last?

That brings us to Season 7. We’re already hearing that there are “semi-pros” who have had record deals and management previously. One specifically being mentioned is Carly Hennessy, a re-tread of the music industry that has been mentioned by Simon Lythgoe as a favorite to win.

Then there’s Simon Cowell, out everywhere talking about how he hates the auditions and how he may leave the show — yadda, yadda, yadda. He makes snide remarks about contestants and past winners so that he remains the “man everyone loves to hate”. That, too, is wearing thin. There are reports from Simon and Ryan that the show will get back to the backstories that were missing last year, so get ready for the drama. There’s supposed to be less mentoring and pimping of Sony recording artists and more concentration on “the kids”.

While I remain cynical and totally consistent with my belief that American Idol jumped the shark with the joke that was Sanjaya Malakar, I’ll be watching. However, I still don’t think anyone will EVER top this mind-bending performance:

The Tipping Point of Taylor

ETA:  Just had to add this fantabulous audition….it is truly the best I’ve ever seen on AI:


Posted by on January 14, 2008 in american idol


18 responses to “I’ll Say it Again…..Jump the Shark

  1. shrewspeaks

    January 14, 2008 at 11:54 pm

    From Snarky to Sharky…dial Just-fun-01

    I’ll watch..I’ll Tivo…but I doubt we shall see the mania of Season 5 again…heck I doubt we shall even see the musical intensity of the summer filler show American Band, Winners The Clark brothers.

  2. Rob

    January 15, 2008 at 1:33 am

    No one will ever top TH!!

    To bad AI didn’t show him the love. Something tells me that this is not the last we will hear from Taylor.

    Yeah, I’ll watch AI.. what with the writer strike on and all. But I will sit back and let TPTB chose their own Idol… they do anyway.

  3. littledeb

    January 15, 2008 at 7:56 am

    I’ll watch too. But, I’m almost dreading it. I so much want to have the excitement of really rooting for someone like Taylor in Season 5. It’s kind of like the “you can’t go back” thing. When you try to go back to something and recreate the feeling, it’s just never the same.

    Shrew, I LOVE the Clark Brothers. That’s what today’s music needs. Anyone know what’s going on with them? Any news at all? Several of their performances on the show just gave me chills. Even my husband was moved. With their musicianship, I’m sure they will all find work (Ashley was in Carrie Underwood’s band) – probably as session musicians or band members. But what a waste if they are not promoted and forced to split up. It was the chemistry of them together that moved me.

    O.K. back to Idol and the hope of seeing some magic again. Kind of like this.

  4. Jax

    January 15, 2008 at 9:48 am

    Imagine what could have been if TPTP actually promoted the winner.

    I will watch .. it’s a guilty pleasure but I doubt I will hear Randy say those famous words (even with the # of years changed)..

    “In five years there has never been anyone like you …I loved it when you walked into the room playing the harp .. man that was HOT”

    Happy New Year Music Maven!

  5. morewines

    January 15, 2008 at 12:15 pm

    Well I never did watch American Idol except
    for one time when I as held hostage by a relative I was visiting and forced to watch it. She is a fanatic. It just so happened to be Season 5. During the program I continually left the TV room going into another room as if I had something to do. All of a sudden I heard this voice singing. I walked back into the TV room and looked at the TV. I asked “who is that?” she said “that’s Taylor Hicks.” I looked again at the TV then back to her
    and said “how old is he?”. She said “28”. I said “he does look older than the others but
    he sure can sing.”.

    I never watched it again. Two weeks later after
    I got home from that visit I was reading the
    morning paper on the Web and on the front page
    was Hicks mug and an article about him winnning
    American Idol. Every Web page I was reading that day had links to Hicks’ win. His mug was
    plastered across the Nation on about the front
    page of every newspaper or news Website.

    So I finally read an article about him.
    It said he had recorded two independent CDs.
    I googled those CD titles and first link
    took me to the PBS radio station in Alabama.
    Hicks had been on their Tapestry program.
    They had three tracks from his “Under The Radar” CD. I listened and said damn he is
    good. Found out I could only buy it from
    Lasers Edge, which I did. Sadly I found out
    “In Your Time” was out of print. But since I was able to buy a copy while I was in Birmingham last year as well as some one
    back East picking one up for me at one of his
    concerts. I gave the other to a friend for
    a Christmas present.

    Have I watched American Idol again? No. Why?
    Because the cheese factor is way up there.
    Too much for me.

    But if I hadn’t been held hostage at my relative’s house and forced to watch it. I would have never known about Hicks nor purchased his music.

    I know. It’s a long story.

  6. music maven

    January 15, 2008 at 3:41 pm

    morewines — I think there were ALOT of people who “stumbled” upon Taylor. Unfortunately, I think that the residue of AI on Taylor has caused many not to pay attention to him.

    Hopefully, a distancing from AI will gain Taylor back some “street cred”. Personally, if he were my client, I’d advise him to take the “rebel” role. Play up the independence thing and the “I just don’t fit that mold” angle. Then, include some collaborations with the likes of Government Mule, Robert Randolph, Keb ‘Mo, Grace Potter, Sara Bareilles, Mark Broussard, Amos Lee, etc., on the new CD to properly set the tone for the REAL Taylor Hicks.

  7. shrewspeaks

    January 15, 2008 at 3:44 pm

    Amen sistah…can I get a gritty?

    I said…CAN I GET A GRITTY?

  8. middleclasslifeboat

    January 15, 2008 at 5:04 pm

    Just to let you know, Bo Bice’s 2nd album was released last fall. It is called Witness and the title song video was #1 for 3 weeks in a row on VH1. This is the album that should have been made. It is Bo’s album. His music, his voice, what his fans were looking for and missed in the 1st album. Check it out. It’s available at Walmart which has exclusive distribution. I gave a dozen cc’s for Christmas, everyone loves the album

  9. music maven

    January 15, 2008 at 5:32 pm

    @ Shrew – There’s gritty and there’s GRITTAY. heh heh.

    @ MCL – Thanks for that. I made the edit on the post. I’ll have to check it out and do a special post for Bo.

  10. shrewspeaks

    January 15, 2008 at 5:47 pm


    You mean Grit-Tay?

  11. morewines

    January 15, 2008 at 5:54 pm


    Hicks deserves street credit but my radio station will not give it to him even though they interviewed him. I asked the one DJs why. He said they don’t take American Idol contestants seriously. Only one other time did they give a moment to one other American Idol. That was Constintine. They played his version of a Queen song. The reason why is he nailed it. I was surprised to. It was exceptional.

    The radio station I listen to is an Adult Alternative Rock station.

  12. jenfera

    January 15, 2008 at 6:54 pm

    I wonder what it will really take for an Idol to crossover and earn street cred. Is it even possible? Or are the powers that be on that side of the street just going to stick their fingers in their ears and yell,”LA LA LA LA LA!! IDOL! IDOL! NOT LISTENING! NAH NAH NAH!”

  13. music maven

    January 15, 2008 at 10:13 pm

    I think Taylor needs to become the AI rebel. Really distance himself by exposing how really un-supportive they have been for him. Expose it all, but he can’t be un-gracious. Fine line.

    The collaborations on this next CD will be vitally important to that street cred. Out of all of the AI spawns, Taylor has the most credible kun-NECK-shuns to credible artists, so hopefully that will help him distance himself from the stigma of fromage.

  14. morewines

    January 15, 2008 at 10:27 pm

    Maybe if American Idol hadn’t added all the cheese
    the singers might be taken seriously. The cheese
    as in putting all the nutcases on TV.

  15. music maven

    January 15, 2008 at 10:55 pm

    @ morewines – It’s all about ratings. AI knows that there is a segment of viewers that only watch the auditions to gawk and make fun. That faction generally drops off once the final 24 is announced. As for AI, they will take it any way they can get it. Therefore, we’re talking Monterrey Jack and Parmesean Cheez Whiz.

  16. morewines

    January 16, 2008 at 1:06 am

    You can call it getting ratings. I think it’s
    taking advantage of the ignorant and those not quit right. Like all of the reality and talk shows do on TV. 500 channels and nothings on.

    That’s just how I feel about TV.

  17. brc

    January 16, 2008 at 5:58 pm

    Taylor’s audition is seriously one of the best EVAH in AI history (I have it on my ipod). He’s unique, his voice is unique, he’s not a cookie cutter singer like all the rest.

    What a physical transformation from then to now — the clothes, the hair, the confidence.


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