At some point, we all come to understand the easy road is the less satisfactory path. Certainly, American Idol has it’s hardships - you can spend a day or so in the less than friendly environment of an arena, waiting for the opportunity to audition; you can endure some harsh feedback from competitors and judges; you can make some very, very public mistakes, which can effect your future in very real ways; and you can also be successful and even win the big prize.
The greatest hardship robs the contestants and the audience from the most significant experience they may have together, the experience of building their relationship. Between every musician and their audience is a bond. With some audience members the bond is precarious and brief, a moment to be enjoyed and outgrown. For some, the artist/fan relationship lasts a life-time, a deep, abiding bond, bringing musician and audience sustenance unanticipated by either party. Between these two examples is a spectrum of possible bonds to be shared between musicians and their audiences. The length of time a relationship lasts between a musician and a specific audience member/fan only matters to them independently, but it does matter.
The significance of the musician/audience relationship is in it’s role in shaping both parties, to some degree, into the individuals they are destined to become. Each of us defines ourselves based on interactions we have with other people. Our personalities may be formed in us from the womb but our identities are molded everyday, by choices, experiences, and associations. Identities are equally built by what we’re attracted to as what we are repulsed by.
Like all of us, musician and audience identities are most significantly formed during the earliest times of their lives. In our youth learning opportunities are all around us. We learn about the workings of the worlds we choose to live in, the people we choose to associate with, and the persons we are and can become. We learn these things by our successes and our failures. Musicians learn them with every cheer, hisss, and even the rare silence. Audience response in the live setting is the musician’s greatest instructor as to what their peers accept, appreciate, and admire.
For those courting the big prize on American Idol, they cheat themselves of the possibility of an enduring relationship with their fans. Certainly, those singers will have the benefit of a weekly national audience, for the length of their season, and the mentoring of industry luminaries, but the unbridled expressions of their fan base as it builds is denied them. Instead, American Idol springboards the singers into the public domain, forcibly forming them into a disingenuous version of their potential, limiting them to the least of the artist/fan relationships - all of them, winners, runners-up, and the rejected - something, someone, to be out-grown and discarded.
If you disagree, tell me… how many American Idol contestants can you name who’ve had national musical success in the last, say, two years? Only Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson, Carrie Underwood, Chris Daughtry, and Adam Lambert transitioned into careers in which they may, one day, shed the descriptor of “American Idol contestant/winner”.
So, in it’s first 10 seasons, American Idol has enabled only five people to have successful national musical careers, and only two of them being the respective winners of their season. Five people, out of 120 persons showcased on the program, fulfilled, in some variation, the possibility the program promises. Despite a significant national viewing audience, 115 persons were unable to transition their opportunity in the national spotlight. The surest reason for losing the attention of such a large audience is the simple fact that there was no established relationship between the contestants and the public, and American Idol does not, cannot, provide the training grounds for building such relationships. In this light, American Idol is unfair, not only to the viewing public but, to their contestants and it is most often not only the promise of the easy road to stardom but usually the deadend to a respectable musical career