“American Idol” kicked off its final season this year and for many viewers it will not be missed. It’s really easy to make fun of “Idol.” No one knows the recent winners and the last few years the show has had incredibly low ratings.
But lost in all the derogatory comments is the fact that “Idol” is the last singing competition to truly celebrate amateur musical performers. I think this is one of the only positive outcomes of the reality TV explosion.
Today TV is filled with people showing off beginner talents, from cooking to landscaping, flipping houses to socialites pulling out each others weaves on the streets of Atlanta. Even in an era of YouTube sensations making it big, nothing compares with a real, live talent show. There is something magical about someone being plucked from obscurity with the chance to be an actual rock star.
Sure, unassuming contestants appear on shows like NBC’s hit “The Voice” yet those programs recruit skilled singers to audition, so you already know the competitors are talented. Originally, this was a way to avoid the awkward, terrible tryouts that made “Idol” famous. I believe the contest is a lot less interesting when a potential winner has already landed a record deal.
The best “Idol” success stories have all been about normal, everyday people with real homespun backstories.
Stories like Carrie Underwood, the college senior who had never been on a plane. Kellie Pickler, the waitress on roller skates. Jennifer Hudson, the cruise ship singer. Clay Aiken, the special education teacher. and of course Kelly Clarkson, trying to be a singer while working odd jobs.
At at the end of the day, “Idol” is still the only show where your average person can simply get in line at a local open audition and have a genuine shot at making it to the big leagues.
One reason “Idol” endured for so long is because it banked heavily on its “anyone can be a star!” premise. No matter how cynical I have become working on the fringe of the music business the potential “rags-to-riches” story is an still an alluring concept for me.
As a marketing man I find even the business model of American Idol sheer genius. The show was the brain child of producer and creator Simon Fuller . I met Simon in Tokyo before season 1 when he was looking to agencies like mine for sponsorship. He knew then he had a great concept.
Idol was beyond a craze or a fad it was an extremely successful business model that specialized in market interactivity.
The formula for this business model was simple, imagine a product, create an audience for the product, make the audience feel responsible for the product, and have the audience create the product. It puts on new spin on the adage, “If they build it they will come.”
The American Idol formula eliminated much of the risk normally associated with putting new products on the market. When Kelly Clarkson won the first contest the show’s audience had, through the process of voting for her over a several month period, already found the star they wanted and decided on the appropriate style to match.
When her first single appeared shortly after she was elected, those fans were more than happy to make it a number one title because, after all, they had helped create it.
It’s not hard to invest in something that you were a part of all along. One season 95 million voters had a hand in the selection of David Cook basically assuring his first album would be a double platinum seller. And forgetting about the record sales imagine the ad dollars earned with that size of an audience, Coca-Cola, Ford and Apple iTunes, not to mention the voting process was a boon to the relatively new phone feature from AT&T know as texting!
Idol changed TV and the recording business forever and I will miss it.