I love American Idol, I’ve watched every season. The thing I love about it most is this: it reminds me of how rare extraordinary talent is, and how obviously different it is from less extraordinary talent, and how amazing.
Every year on American Idol something like 100,000 people audition. Out of those 100,000 there are plenty of good singers, people who do stuff with their voices that I will never, ever be able to do. But there are always one, or at most two, performers who are so much better than everyone else in the competition that the judges have to search for ways to make it look like there’s really a contest going on. That’s rare talent. And it’s consistent season to season.
The extreme contrast between that rare talent and everybody else makes it tough for the show’s producers. I think of Simon Cowell’s occasional critical comments to Fantasia and Adam Lambert, for example, most of which seemed to me like desperate attempts to inject in the audience’s minds some small potential for another contestant to win. (Of course Lambert was overtaken in the end, which I do not get at all.) But when a Clive Davis tells a Fantasia after her final performance, and before the final vote is revealed, that if he saw her perform in a basement in Kansas City he’d sign her on the spot, you know it’s not a contest anymore, if it ever was. That girl made the hair on my arms stand up, literally, when she performed “Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About” in week 1.
So that’s why I like the show. And I’m saying all this because some musicians look at me funny when I say I love Idol. I did a recording session once with a great and accomplished TV producer, my first of several. After the session ended, I told him I had to hurry home to see Idol. “You can watch it here,” he told me, “upstairs in the lounge.” So I did. But while I was watching it, I saw him looking at me with an odd expression on his face, as if he was a behavioral scientist observing an adult subject playing with blocks.
“You really like this?” he asked after a while.
I guess I must have played pretty well that night, because he hired me again. But I guess also that there was a lot of cognitive dissonance for him in the idea of a good musician who actually wanted to watch Idol.
But why defend what you like? Just like it. And I do.