Category Archives: American Idol

Turning Over the Keys: Musical Guests in Reality Competition Programming

Turning Over the Keys: Musical Guests in Reality Competition Programming

July 9th, 2010

LeBron James’ decision to join the Miami Heat in the fall isn’t half as interesting as his choice (nay, demand) to announce this decision on live television after twenty-eight minutes of hilariously awful build-up in which television sports journalism lost a great deal of credibility. Frankly put, ESPN had no idea how to string together a show around such a crass act of self-promotion, which to their credit isn’t a particularly easy task: this was an hour-long special built around a ten second announcement, taking what could have been some interesting pre-decision and post-decision analysis and blanketing it with hyperbole about how this will forever change the game of basketball. This wasn’t ESPN covering LeBron James (which has become nauseous in and of itself), but ESPN turning itself over to LeBron James, which at the very least will have media scholars talking for a long time (or, about as long as it took Jim Gray to actually ask LeBron the question of the night).

And in what is the most shameless segue you’re likely to see all week, this same problem of “turning one’s self over” plagues reality competition programming (oh yes, I went there). For shows like American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, and So You Think You Can Dance, it’s necessary for time purposes to turn over part of their results shows to a musical guest or some other type of performer who kills some time, promotes their record/show, and moves on with their life. These performances can occasionally be quite interesting, but the fact remains that there’s a tension between the narrative unfolding (the elimination of a contestant, in most instances) and the musical performance, and watching tonight’s So You Think You Can Dance (which, in my defence, I watched immediately after tuning out from “The Decision” at the half-hour mark) a few thoughts came to mind about how shows work to keep these musical performances from seeming disconnected from the series itself.

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Off-Site Learnings: More Reading on Idol, Summer TV

Off-Site Learnings: Idol, Summer TV

June 5th, 2010

As you may know, I’ve been writing some columns for Australia’s Jive TV as of late, which you’re now able to find in the convenient sidebar of the blog’s many pages should you be interested in reading the latest column. However, since I haven’t been linking to them directly, here’s my most recent columns.

As promised, I wrote up some of my thoughts ahout Simon Cowell’s departure from American Idol and its likely effect on the series, in particular whether the series can remain the phenomenon it is in light of both Simon’s absence and this season’s tepid offerings:

Across the Pond: Does Idol Need to Change Its Tune? [Jive TV]

I don’t want to suggest that Simon’s final moments weren’t honest, as he was quite emotional and heartfelt as he said goodbye to the show which he helped turn into a phenomenon, but I feel like Simon is (surprisingly, considering his supposed narcissism) underselling his importance to this series. As a Canadian who cannot actually vote for American Idol, I lack the sense of ownership which he emphasizes here: his argument, implicit in his statements, is that people will keep watching because they want to be able to say that the winner is “their” American Idol, and it’s hard to do that if you’re not tuning in.

This week, meanwhile, I took a look at the ways in which we perceive summer television, a bit of an elegant restatement of my “I have no bloody clue what happened on Royal Pains last summer” argument from my review of that show, but also some thoughts on whether good summer programming (like Burn Notice) is unfairly lumped in with summer burn-offs or reality shows (which didn’t make it into the column due to space concerns) that often define the season as inferior to the fall or midseason periods of the schedule:

Across the Pond: Lazing into TV’s Summer Season [Jive TV]

What I will say is that summer television is often different than fall television in terms of how we perceive it. When shows come back in the fall, we’re going to be waiting anxiously to see how cliffhangers are resolved, or how new storylines will unfold, but with shows like Burn Notice and Royal Pains I don’t quite see them in the same light. While Burn Notice [has serialized elements]…it took me a good five minutes of thinking about it before I remembered what happened at the end of the show’s third season (which just finished in March). Royal Pains…relies less on serialized storytelling and ended its first season last summer, so I could spend a good two hours and likely be unable to come up with where the show ended off.

Watch the sidebar for future columns, and I’ll likely post again in a couple of weeks with the next few articles (as I’m going to be away next weekend when the next one is posted).

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American Idol Season 9 Finale: In Defence of Kris Allen

Season 9 Finale: In Defence of Kris Allen

May 26th, 2010

I’ve got a lot to say about this season of American Idol and the future of the franchise without Simon Cowell, but I’m going to be saving those for a Jive TV column in the coming days. However, since that piece will be more wide-reaching than tonight’s results, I want to comment briefly on two things.

The first is that, in case you didn’t notice it, Idol got a rare insurrection from quality music when Sufjan Stevens’ “Chicago” was used to soundtrack the package of Lee and Crystal’s auditions in Chicago and their Idol journey. I would highly suggest you look up Sufjan if you have not been privy to his music in the past, as “Illinois” (the album on which the song is featured) was truly a revelation for me.

The second is that I think people are falling prey to an easy but ultimately false analogy when it comes to tonight’s results. Kris Allen was, in fact, the eighth American Idol, and there are plenty of arguments to be made that Adam Lambert deserved to win that season, but I think we need to make a distinction between “relatively” undeserving winners and undeserving winners.

[That’s more or less a spoiler, but I figure that if you read this blog and have been watching enough to understand that it’s a spoiler, you probably found out already, so come back after the break and I can defend Kris Allen some more.]

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Let’s Drop the 1: American Idol Season Nine’s Case of the Top 2

Let’s Drop the 1: American Idol Season 9’s Case of the Top 2

March 16th, 2010

I, like many others, don’t tend to pay too much attention to American Idol until we get to the Top 12. However, I did watch enough of the preliminary rounds to get a sense of this year’s stable of talent, which means that I was prepared for the predictable and unsatisfying evening of music that unfolded tonight.

However, I wonder what someone who had watched none of those rounds would think of these performances: since the performers weren’t quite the tone deaf cacophony that they could have been, would they have deemed this a fairly competent group of finalists despite the fact that there is absolutely no depth within their ranks? In the end, I don’t think that the disappointment in this year’s Top 12 is based only on the talent that got away (Lilly Scott, Alex Lambert), and I think that even someone who came in blind would wonder if this was really the best that America had to offer.

In other words, even a layperson would be able to realize that there were only two competitors who really stepped up to the plate tonight, and every long-term viewer of this show knows that there’s a fairly good chance that neither of them will become the American Idol.

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Idol and Ellen Go Hollywood: Season 9 Finally (Sort Of) Starts

Idol and Ellen Go Hollywood: Season 9

February 9th, 2010

Like many, I don’t tend to join American Idol until after the audition rounds. Sometimes this means joining at the start of the Hollywood rounds, so that we can see the talent go through the “gruelling” process that narrows down the competition to the Top 24. However, other times I wait until the Semi-Finals, because there are some times (like last season, when Kris Allen had absolutely no coverage prior to the semi-finals and won the entire competition) when these rounds don’t actually matter in the end (not that I’m suggesting the show as a whole matters in any grand scheme of things, but rather in terms of the narratives the show wants to be able to create).

This year, of course, there is reason to tune in for Hollywood, as we see what sort of role that Ellen DeGeneres, she of the sharp wit and daytime talk show, will play as the new judge. What I realized in watching tonight’s episode, though, was that the Hollywood Round is awkwardly positioned as a launching pad and a crash zone, a place where narratives from the auditions come to die and where new narratives leading into the semi-finals are formed. And, in this internet age, I almost feel as if the rounds are becoming more and more irrelevant, in that any new narratives can be followed online while avoiding the resolution to the manipulative clip package narratives the show created in the audition rounds.

Some more thoughts on this balance, and what I thought about Ellen’s judging gig, after the jump.

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FOE4 Musings: FOX’s Glee and the Limitations of Reality Competition Narrative

Glee and the Limitations of Reality Competition Narrative

November 21st, 2009

Following along with this weekend’s Futures of Entertainment 4 Conference at MIT (through the Twitter Hashtag #foe4) has been a really unique experience in many ways, engaging with an academic community I’ve only seen from afar in the past, but there are times when the topics being discussed feel almost too familiar.

By nature of the number of reviews I write about particular shows, I usually end up attacking them from nearly every conceivable angle, but there’s something about Glee that seems to inspire more angles than seem physically possible. The show has created a lot of controversy with its struggle to find a clear sense of its identity from the narratological point of view, which is the angle we television critics have been considering most carefully, but as discussed both yesterday (in the context of its use of music/iTunes to create transmedia engagement) and today (in its engagement with culture) during the conference its brand strategy has never had the same identity crisis.

I want to pick up on something that Ivan Askwith said during the discussion of the series’ engagement with culture, as he argued the following:

I am going to investigate this further, as it implicitly argues that the series’ narrative struggles are the result of an attempt to engage with a manufactured narrative structure (that will in the Spring be the show’s lead-in), a fact which is both understandable (network synergy and business logic) and complicated by the needs of serialized drama over reality programming from a narrative point of view.

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Possession is Law: “Your” American Idol & Season 8 Finale Thoughts

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“Your” American Idol & the Season 8 Finale

May 20th, 2009

I didn’t even bother watching tonight’s finale of American Idol – this is the least attentive I’ve been of the show all season, having only watched Tuesday’s performance show in its entirety and relying on EW’s great Idolatry for the remainder of my Idol-related coverage and analysis. I realized at a certain point that as a) a Canadian and b) someone who will not buy the album of pretty well any contestant coming out of the show, there really isn’t anything in the show for me other than snarky commentary and critical analysis of the entire process. And, realistically, all you need for the latter is to know who won, and to be able to follow the demographics.

What always fascinates me about Idol, however, is this idea of possession, which has grown more and more complicated as we’ve gone from season to season. Is Kelly Clarkson still “your” American Idol, or has she been usurpsed from her throne by every subsequent Idol? If she wasn’t, does this mean that Taylor Hicks is just as much “your” American Idol as Clarkson or Carrie Underwood or David Cook? And, where does Chris Daughtry sit within this paradigm: is he some sort of demi-Idol, or is he cut out of Idol worship altogether despite his success and his association with the show? Do all of these people belong to the Idol machine, and thus to the viewers at home who voted for them, or are they actually individuals capable of expressing themselves? And, if people didn’t vote, do they own them the same as someone who voted? Similarly, if someone voted for the person who didn’t win, do they still get to claim a piece of the winner like in elections where everyone’s stuck with the guy with the most votes whether they want them or not? Or, rather, are they capable of claiming that this isn’t “their” Idol, refusing possession in favour of sullen indifference or complete devotion to the false Idol who finished second, or fourth (I refuse to acknowledge anyone who idolizes the third place finisher), or didn’t even make it into the finals (that’d be the case for Idolatry’s producer, at the very least)?

I raise all of these points to say that anyone who is seriously outraged by the results of tonight’s American Idol finale needs to realize that even with perceived ownership, and the agency of having had a vote in a democratic process, their true vote will be with their wallet, or their credit card, as these artists make their way into the musical world. Even if they may not be “the” American Idol, something tells me that Simon Fuller has no power over the American public as to who they choose to worship.

If he does, god help us all – spoilers for tonight’s American Idol finale after the jump, be warned.

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