April 18, 2008

When Normalcy Dies

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How many seasons does it take for a show to die? Well, that kind of depends on your definition of dying. To me, a show dies once it loses its hook. In showbiz, that’s what makes a show different from the hundreds of other programs on at any given time. Clearly, American Idol executive producer, Simon Fuller, never got the memo.

The show is in the middle of its seventh season, and I really thought Fuller was smarter than Idol’s longevity suggests. In my humble opinion, production should have ended after season 4, when Carrie Underwood managed to narrowly escape the clutches of celebrity pigeonholing.

American Idol started with a boom. A summer series at first, the show launched Kelly Clarkson into the pretty substantial career she currently has. One season later, the show revamped itself a little (changing the Top Ten to the Top Twelve, a move that has stuck with Idol since then), and Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard captured the hearts of millions. But there was Fuller’s first folly. As sad as it is, America only has room for one idol at a time, no matter how skinny Aiken is. Ruben took home the title, but his fame was diluted by Clay Aiken’s pathetic attempts at bringing a Broadway voice to airwaves with stalker anthems like “Invisible.”

Not to toot my own horn, but I predicted season 3 even before it happened. The illiterate, Macy Gray wannabe that was Fantasia Barrino was the clear winner from the beginning, and not because she was the best. She wasn’t. True fans will remember that this was the season Idol starred Jennifer Hudson, who went on to win an Oscar for her role in Dreamgirls, so suck on that, A.I. Nevertheless, Barrino stole the show and continued in the footsteps of her two predecessors by wailing (and screeching) on the inspirational ballad that defines American Idol season finales.

But onto season 4 – the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Carrie Underwood, the ultimate winner, was the last idol to have the everyday charm we look for in reality television. Though I must admit I’m not a huge fan of Underwood’s work, she had what it took to be the season’s winner because she was just like any of us – fabulously normal. I’m a huge supporter of the notion to end on a high note, and this is where Fox should’ve called it quits.

Then came Taylor Hicks. Let’s face it; the guy looks like he has serious psychological issues. This is the point where American Idol decided to change its image once again, this time relying on the “he/she doesn’t look like a winner” philosophy. If it smells like a loser, looks like a loser and sounds like a loser, it’s probably a loser. Taylor Hicks sucks, and there’s really no denying it. The guy has a distinct voice, but so do all of our family members when they drunkenly croon at family functions – that doesn’t mean they should be offered record deals with Clive Davis.

The subsequent two seasons, including the one currently on the air, have been full of letdowns and train wrecks. The show has become a venue for a “diverse” set of people to strut their stuff on stage. But reality television is the sensation it is because we like to watch people like ourselves ultimately make it to the Big Time–not freaks who desperately try to break the pop star mold.

Is it a coincidence that the relationship between the talent on American Idol and Paula Abdul’s prescription drug dosage is inversely proportional? I think not. Similarly, it is no surprise that since Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson are back in the limelight as household names, they have gotten lazier. The caliber of the contestants has slacked, and it’s not because America is looking for something new.

I used to be hooked on reality television. But today, I think I must admit that it is a dying phenomenon. I find that the only shows I like that are still on are Flavor of Love and Kid Nation (Season 2, anyone?). But I only like these shows because they are so incredibly ridiculous that it’s inconceivable that they would resemble my own life. Shows on the cusp, though, in which the contestants try to be average but with a little something extra, are sinking, and it would be in Hollywood’s best interest to just let them drown.