The Image vs. The Idol

Like most self-respecting adults, I don’t pay much attention to “American Idol.” But, I was channel surfing last night when I happened upon it, and, homesick for America (I’ve been away for two months now), I decided to watch. I think I’ve seen an episode or two of it before, but never watched it. It was more like, the TV’s on while I’m cooking or getting ready to go out.

But last night I watched it and it struck me that it might have a pleasant, unlikely side effect. It might be helping to reverse an unfortunate trend in the music industry that’s been around since. . . well, since I can remember.

A few years ago I remember commenting to a friend that I didn’t think Aretha Franklin would make it in our time. Those of us who grew up with MTV have not really seen the emergence of pop superstars (especially female ones) who didn’t have a glamorous “look.” In a sense, I wondered if video didn’t truly kill the radio star.

But I think American Idol might just be bringing back the purely vocal-ability-based diva. Because it’s a competition for ordinary people, contestants are not really expected to be beautiful. Don’t get me wrong, I know it helps – I’m not naïve – but people aren’t really ruled out right off the top because of looks. Because no studio or agent is (yet) packaging them for maximum market value. Because the audience wants a motley mix of people to keep things interesting, the network provides that. And then, bam! The least glamorous girl churns out stunning performances that no one can ignore. In fact, several breakout stars and two past winners were the Plain Jane types (No, I won’t name them, because that’s mean).

And while pretty people have an edge, as always in life, someone with a genuinely, exceptionally brilliant voice can overcome that edge.

In other words, Aretha Franklin is possible again.
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