American Idolatry

I gave it a chance. After watching the premiere episode of American Idol‘s fifth season, I’ve determined that I can’t watch any more of it.

Any show can be novel the first time around, and I enjoyed the first season of Idol. The show was new to everyone: contestants, judges, and audience. But Idol has become a behemoth, taking on way more cultural significance than it deserves.

It’s bad enough having to watch the dozen or so awful contestants producers thought were funny — when most were just sad. But even the show’s ultimate payoff, the crowning of a new winner, is usually unsatisfying. Ruben, Fantasia, and Carrie? I’ve never heard anything by any of them, which I consider evidence of their lack of talent. Considering that I can’t help but hear stuff by other artists that the major labels push on me, I’m guessing that even the Idol producers don’t really have that much faith in their winners.

In four seasons, original winner Kelly Clarkson is the only one to achieve any major post-show success. How can we expect that the next big American pop star will come out of this show? More likely, the truly talented singers are paying their dues in clubs instead of looking for a shortcut to fame.

The most amazing thing about Idol is the number of people who try out for the show. Very few of them are good enough, or bad enough, to make it on air. That leaves several thousand mediocre singers who took a day, if not multiple days, out of their lives to try out for the show. Many of them had supportive friends and family members in tow. How could any of them think that they actually had a chance?

A large number of Americans seem to believe that they deserve to be famous, despite having no exceptional talents or skills. This false belief is fostered by a plethora of MTV shows, like Next or My Own, that merely require a desire to be on TV as a casting criterion. Thanks to MTV, 96% of all American teens have been on TV. Coincidentally, 96% of teens are bland, half-formed people. It’s a scientific fact.

It’s time for Americans to demand more from their reality programming. It’s not enough just to show us the young and stupid acting young and stupid to make us feel better about ourselves. It’s not even enough to watch ordinary singers compete or has-been celebrities living in a house together.

We need to offer our viewership as a reward only to those reality show participants who’ve earned it. Go live on an island for 39 days. Race around the world. Ballroom dance or ice skate. I already feel as good as I’m going to from watching people simply embarrass themselves for my entertainment. I’m looking for the inspiration to travel or try something new — or, at the very least, a show that makes me appreciate my indoor plumbing and comfy mattress.