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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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: