American Idol

Tell it like it is

Tell it like it is

September 03, 2002|by TONY BUDNY

"American Idol." It's the TV show that attracts people of all sorts, or so entertainment magazine shows like Entertainment Weekly has us believe.

"American Idol," a version of the British reality TV hit "Pop Idol," began a few months ago with hundreds of applicants from around the country performing their initial auditions for a panel of judges.

The judges are three "experts" in the music arts field who acted first as critics, then as coaches as the later rounds progressed. These three experts have a wide range of experience.

Paula Abdul was a multiple Grammy winning pop singer. Her role on the show seems to be that of the optimist, shedding a tear every now and then for the sake of a good performance. Randy Jackson has spent 20 years in the music industry, mostly as an executive for recording companies such as MCA Records. He provides the "constructive" criticism.


Simon Cowell has also been in the music business 20 years, creating his own record label, Fanfare, which he owns with Lain Burton. Cowell helped launch "Pop Idol" in the U.K. He provides the harshness and bite of the show, oftentimes totally deprecating the performance of each singer. Some say he "tells it like it is." I say he tells it like he should, because he directly profits from this contest, since the winner signs on to his record label.

The judges aid the public in voting for each of the contestants week by week. Callers can vote for one contestant via touch-tone. This method's validity has been in question with so-called "phone slammers," hackers with the ability to tie up phone lines with advanced technology, voting what is believed to be as many as 10,000 times a night.

Why is finding the next big superstar so important to the American public?

"The audience gets to feel like they are 'a part of the action' by casting their vote for the best participant," says Beth Budny, 25, of Hagerstown.

The winner of the show receives a $1 million recording contract and his or her own record label.

Christa Alford, 47, of Hatfield, Pa., feels that maybe we see a piece of what we hope to be in the contestants. "I think that all of us hope that our special talent would be discovered, appreciated and possibly make us famous," she says.

Kevin Buckley, 24, of Hagerstown, has a similar perspective. "Many people have the dream of having fame and fortune and people are interested in seeing someone unknown have the chance to make it big," he says.

Keep in mind the type of talent we have in the upper echelon of the "pop kingdom" at this moment. Singers like Britney Spears and boy bands like 'N-Sync dominate their respective markets, with arguably more sex appeal than raw talent.

So is talent that important for one to strike a big break in the ever-changing world of pop culture?

Jon Knight, 16, of Williamsport, believes it depends on how society perceives talent. "As long as a large group thinks [person] X is 'talented,' they will succeed."

Pop culture is fueled by two things: The media, which seems to push along singers as they advance up the ladder of success, and image. If a singer can draw attention strictly by the image he or she portrays, however outlandish it may be, this singer will become the next pop culture idol.

So, what are we learning as this idol craze comes to a close? Success in show business of any kind must be earned for it to be legitimate, and for it to last. Certainly, peoples' opinions count, since it is they who buy records and tickets to performances.

But dulcet tones and easy listening linger far longer in minds and hearts than good looks and outrageous in-your-face attitudes.

Hagerstown resident Tony Budny is a senior at St. Maria Goretti High School.

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