American Idol lived longer than anyone expected. After all, it was a talent contest, and those came and went sporadically throughout television’s long history to minimal acclaim. Star Search, probably the most well-known of AI’s predecessors, was a syndicated television series that, while being known in pop culture, also wasn’t a major phenomenon within it. It was on par with Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, Solid Gold or Dance Fever. In other words: filler for when the baseball game got rained out.
But AI was different. Not necessarily better but different. I don’t have to describe the show, the long history of hosts, the controversies they provoked, the tendency for winners to have a brief flash of recognition and then to disappear into dust and the back counter of the local Chik-Fil-A. The program had more of a reputation of being known as a “star-making show” than actually in making stars. A few did work it out like Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson. For a show to run so long on that premise and to only have two names immediately spring to mind definitely says something went wrong.
Part of that was the breakdown of the show’s functionality, in that viewers got to phone in for their favorite singers. This was done in an even-handed way for the first few seasons, but quickly viewers learned they could do interesting things if they kept voting for contestants that had no business advancing as far as they did. More talented people got booted, “saved” by judges, then booted again because the viewers wanted to se the full impact of the train wreck.
In the last seven of its fifteen year run — and think about that…kids who were born when season 1 began are starting high school — the end was always the same. The white guy won. So it is fitting that, on the last episode of the last season of American Idol, the white guy won. 24-year-old Mississippi native Trent Harmon beat out fellow Mississippi resident La’Porsha Renae. He will receive a recording contract, put out the album, and again if history tells us anything, he will be serving you a cone full of waffle fries before 2018.
That’s really the biggest fault of the American Idol model all these years. These are talented individuals who have very little that is unique or memorable about them. Individuality has been culled out of the herd. You could hear that in the show’s bland David Bowie tribute where it became clear that Bowie’s legacy will remain untouched for at least a decade. I speculate that we will not have to wait that long for the return of American Idol, or something close to it. Fox will not hold out for too long. It was cheap, it was cheerful, now it is done. Can’t say I’ll miss it.