In Retrospect: American Idol

So Pop Culture Happy Hour's most recent podcast is a discussion of American Idol, which is a show I used to watch quite fixedly, and I think it's funny/interesting that a lot of the discussion on the podcast was centered around the question, "When did you stop watching?" As if it were a given that pretty much everyone had.

I gave up ages ago myself, though I had to go look up the Wiki to figure out when. Before I did that, I had to really think about it. The last thing I could remember was Adam Lambert, which is a strange way to put it, but it's true. It's like I'd been knocked upside the head by the juggernaut that is (was) American Idol, and my tunnel vision narrowed to Adam Lambert and then I lost consciousness.

I can't remember if I finished that season (which, it turns out, was Season 8) or gave up partway through, but I know I didn't watch any of Season 9. From time to time I've tuned in to the auditions to see if anyone sparks my interest, but the more you watch, the more manufactured the drama appears. To be sure, it's always been manufactured, but like anything you're overexposed to, it becomes so much more obvious after a while. And that becomes annoying. It's like . . . You're fine to go watch a theatrical production. You know the sets are sets. But if every play you ever saw used the same set pieces? While the actors kept trying to make you believe they were real? You'd be like, "Get the fuck outta my face. Seriously." What was magical loses its luster, and suddenly you never want to see another play again. Because you've seen everything they can possibly do with those stupid sets.

That was a crap metaphor, but I hope you see my point. What was fun is now just a long, involved process. And when it became increasingly clear that the winners may or may not actually have careers (I was really pulling for David Cook there), it began to feel like there was nothing actually at stake. Runners up were having chart-topping singles while winners went nowhere. So it didn't really matter who won.

If I'm honest, I probably began the slide away from Idol when Daughtry got voted off in Season 5. I'm glad he's had a solid career in the aftermath. And whatever happened to Taylor Hicks? See what I mean by it not mattering? And if there's nothing at stake, the reasons to watch (or vote) dwindle.

For me, motivation to watch continued to erode as the chosen contestants got increasingly uninteresting to me (translation: I got older and am too stuck in my music preferences to deal with these young whippersnappers), and when judges I knew and loved began walking away as well. I did make a half-hearted attempt to try the show again when Harry Connick Jr. came on; I worked with him a while back and he's lovely, someone whose judgement [in music] I would certainly trust. But I just couldn't muster any enthusiasm. Whatever I'd liked in Idol early on was gone, or I'd grown out of it or something.

Truth is, I don't do reality television any more. I had a fair run with Idol and also enjoyed Survivor for a while, but then the market got crowded and I began missing scripted drama and characters. As a writer, I have great appreciation for the work that goes into scripted television. And you can tell me up, down, and backward that reality TV is just as much work or more, but I'll never "get it." It feels so much more forced to me. It feels like gossip and backstabbing. I know some people relish those things, but I do not.

American Idol is now entering its 15th and final season. And I still have no desire to go back and try watching it again. All these singers sound alike to me these days anyway. Guess it's time to go sit on the front porch and grumble at the neighborhood kids.

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