Why We Can’t Get Enough American Idol

Now we’re well into the final 12. American Idol 2006 is in full swing, and as Randy Jackson says, “we got a hot one, dog.”

As my wife and I sit down to watch it each night, we can’t help but be drawn in. Even my kids, who are 3 and 4 ½ love what they call “the singing show.” Among all of this interest, I am baffled as to why?

Every year, it’s the same format, same motley crue of judges, same Ryan Seacrest. And the banter between Seacrest and Simon Cowell is predictable; we see it coming a mile away. Paula Abdul is always the soft one, commenting on the sexiness of guys like Ace Young, making us wonder who was really telling the truth – her or Cory Clark. Randy Jackson offers his “it was aaaiight,” or “it was pitchy in a few parts.” Or he shouts out to the “dog pound”, requesting their guffales, chortels, and choodles. I am really not sure what Jackson is saying – next year I want a Jackson language decoder key. And Cowell, well, he’s always honest, sometime brutal, and uses the word “appalling” way too often.

I still ask myself why am I – and most every pocket of American demographics – tuned into the show that takes singers with guts, ambition, a bit of talent, and some stage presence and turns them into International Pop Icons?

Well, I’ve thought long and hard about this. And I think it comes down to one thing. Transference: we all see a little of ourselves or the person we wanted to or thought we could have or might have liked to become in one contestant or another. And it gives us the one chance to share in their dreams to be the next American Idol – the next pop icon.

Look at in on several levels.

First diversity, There’s an Idol with whom all of us can relate. We have Ace Young, the young, probably too good looking to be taken seriously as a talented singer, probably better as an actor 25 year old. He must draw the younger and middle aged women. My wife even said,” he’s good looking.” Not able to offer a contradicting viewpoint because I would, of course, be wrong, all I can say is “you know what, you’re right.”

Next let’s look at Mandisa. Yeah, she’s large but the girl can sing. Reminiscent of Aretha Franklin, she has a beautiful smile. We can’t help but be drawn to her.

And Bucky Covington. He’s got that raspy, kinda of southern, kinda Texas swagger. There are no other blonde long haired guys who wear cowboy hats, so yes, he is representing some demographic.

Katharine McPhee has a beautiful voice and smile and is very poised; her talent is obvious. The theater geeks adore her.

Paris Bennett has so many looks that I question if it’s really the same person. She can really put on a show. I really used to think she was cute, but now I think she’s spunky and excited to try to win this thing.

Taylor Hicks’s dance moves are… well, I am not sure what they are. He’s like Joe Cocker or Bob Seger on too much caffeine or something. He’s kind of an anomaly, but is very likeable and has an appeal.

Elliot Yamin is so close to his mom. The guy wears an insulin pump to battle diabetes on a daily basis. I’m not really a fan, but my heart bleeds for him; I can’t help but respect his dexterity regardless of how he sings. How about Kellie Pickler? What did Simon call her, “a naughty little minx?” And she replied, asking what that was. C’mon, guys 16-40 would like to explain to her in detail. That cute, ditzy, little blonde thing has the younger dads paying attention. Oh, what’s that you ask, “Can she sing??” Really, does it even matter?

We’ve got rockers, represented originally by Chris Daughtry. Sure, Simon wasn’t crazy about Chris’ performance this week. But the guy is intense, and he pulls off the bald thing really well. He’s not entirely classy, but he’s classic – and he rocks.

Idol offers validation and relevance for all of us. The show hosts pop music icons every week. Last year, we had Elton John. Last week, a modern sensation, Shakira and Wyclef Jean. Earlier this year we started off with Stevie Wonder, then to Barry Manilow. Love or hate either of them, they really are legends and truly influenced R&B, pop, soul, and now provide the samples and hooks that keep us jamming on our iPods today. Hearing their songs takes us back to the times when we first heard them – the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. They create the nostalgia of days and times gone by and transfer us back to the excitement of another era.

American Idol enables us to transfer ourselves to the contestant’s experience. We can live their joy of being on top of the world when they hear the “you are not in the bottom three.” Unfortunately, we share in their disappointment when Seacrest says “this is the end of the road for you.”

We relate to them, their accents, race, style, smile, personality, and talent. For a moment in each song, we transfer ourselves to being onstage with them, sharing in that spotlight. And for a few seconds, through that transference, we are the American Idol, the next Pop Icon. All fears stress, and pain of daily life are gone, and all is right in our world.

That, my friends, is the secret behind the success of American Idol. It provides us each a chance to escape our daily lives, and transform into a star. The American psyche can’t resist the chance to be a star, an American Icon, if even only for a moment.

At the end of a long day, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Copyright 2006 Anthony Palladino

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