so I’m posting twice!
Thank you all so much for your excellent comments!
@Maria—great point about Twitter as a campaign tool this season, and the Christianness of the Top Two. Thanking God or Jesus, deflecting the “glory” to a higher power, has been of course a very common thing on Idol, as in other entertainment contexts. On a personal level for contestants, it’s the “spirit of capitalism,” and it helps artists with the difficulty of balancing the spiritual and the use of their voice (which many understand as a gift from God) toward a super-materialistic, capitalistic end. On an Idol level, it can be a campaign practice, the way it is in electoral politics, too. But that kind of rhetoric has fallen a little by the wayside in Idol the past couple of years. When Kris and Adam squared off, press set them up as the Christian husband vs. the wild young man (of unconfirmed sexual orientation—he was Jewish, too, but I think only other Jews, including myself, cared about that). Anyway, Kris insisted to the press that his faith would not and should not affect the voting. But we are back to religion this year. Also, right on about The Voice—I am sure the immediate and quadruple presentation of openly gay contestants was meant to prove that The Voice is definitely Not Idol.
@Tricia—I know several people who told me they stopped watching when James was voted off, and one who stopped when Casey made his exit! It does happen.
Adding some thoughts to the observed differences between the ‘pro’ cheerleaders and the college/high school cheerleaders:
You mentioned that ‘pro’ cheerleaders are not asked to perform the intense acrobatics that student cheerleaders are. To me, the psychology of ‘rat race’ applies here about as visually as it could. Young cheerleaders learn, refine, and risk the stunts they do so they can demonstrate their viability, capability, worth, power. Once they ‘reach’ the beacon of the cheerleading world, ‘pro’ status, they are immediately contained. Their power no longer comes from visual demonstrations of physical strength—it comes from their being allowed into the ‘pro’ arena. They have proven themselves worthy of the ‘pro’ athletes who own the pro arena…they now are empowered by the men. They are now powerless without them. They are no longer powerful, they are trophies.
I am reminded of the movie "An Education", which articulated the female rat race of education…attending a top institution to work hard and think exceptionally well, in the ultimate aim of attracting a cultured, affluent husband, rather than achieving self-reliance. Neitsche and Descartes were a charade, never really offered for access.
Let’s not forget the favorite arc of the American Idol contestant. The object of the show is to take ‘talented’, ‘self-motivated’, ‘all-American’, ‘hardworking folks’, and ‘give them a shot’ at the ‘big games’. Contestants, in the preliminary auditions, are surveyed for indications of power, for the ability to inspire, to quiet and to arouse the pain and desires in audiences. I like your use of the word "hawt"—A woman who walks in off the street ‘as’ "hawt" is seen as a woman who has exploited her sexuality to cater to mens’ tastes. She is masquerading, is not truly hot. If she has played up her features with excessive makeup and worn something along the lines of lingerie, she is demonstrating, it seems, that she is not truly beautiful. She has no ‘inner beauty’ that can be ‘brought out’ by the stylists and the encouragement of fans during the show. A woman who walks in to the audition room with nice features that are played down is instead the perfect target for being ‘taken under the wing’ of some mentor who knows what they’re doing in the ‘big games’. A "hawt" idol, instead, is viewed as someone who has mastered her sexuality and has by virtue mastered men.
An idol is seen as a master of his/her own talent. A girl-next-door has the talent to be "hawt"…and she must rise to the occasion and reveal such ‘talent’ if she is to win. An idol is not supposed to be a threat; her mastery of her body/sexuality must be by the rules of the big game. She must be mighty but she must still be contained. The audience likes to see itself as "the mentor" (‘southern conservatives’ and ‘teenage girls’, as you put them, seem to fit nicely in this category). Should she threaten us with her ‘uncontained nature’, she will be booted off.
To me, Gaga was the perfect mentor for Idol, because she represents the entire ethos of the 19 Entertainment enterprise: manufactured, packaged, airbrushed inauthenticity.
Idol doesn’t exist to find the next great singer. Its goal is to turn raw materials (i.e. a waitress from Texas) into a brightly-colored, cellophane-wrapped product it can fill the shelves with and sell to consumers as a fetishized commodity (i.e. KELLY CLARKSONtm). Authenticity actually works against the contestants in a variety of ways, because American popular culture is dominated by the commodity exchange in inauthenticity, and conforming as closely to that mold as possible is a recipe for success.
Who better than the most manufactured, most inauthentic woman in contemporary music ("Be yourself and don’t care what anyone thinks, kids! But pay no attention to the fact that I’m wearing a dress made of light bulbs to ensure everyone LOOKS AT ME and that I’m desperate to be the center of everyone’s attention!") to mentor the future 19 Entertainment commodities?
Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood have been huge commercial successes precisely for the reason Taylor Hicks, David Cook, Lee DeWyze and the like haven’t been: they fit very neatly into pre-labeled boxes that are very, very easy to sell and very, very popular.
For this reason, I predict Scotty is going to have massive commercial success. "Deep-voiced country dudes who sing songs about God and Country" is a lucrative box to fit into, indeed.
Of course hawtness is an attribute that bears real fruit in the commercial marketplace, because the net is cast much wider - more potential consumers and more likelihood of establishing and/or filling a niche (and more men who will buy merchandise/CDs simply to apprehend the sexualized, fetishized object).
However, as you point out, hawtness becomes an albatross on Idol, because in essence, it loses the hawt contestant two constituent groups one cannot hope to win without: southern conservatives and female teenagers.
The sexuality of a Haley Reinhart or a Pia Toscano is going to put off the southern conservative who is moved to rally around a Scotty McCreery or a Taylor Hicks (Katharine McPhee found out at the 11th hour that trying to vamp it up in the finale was a super bad idea). Equally, who cares less about Reinhart’s hawtness than the teen girl that is going to powervote for Scotty McDreamy?
Lauren Alaina’s squeaky-clean "all-American girl" schtick plays perfectly to both constituencies, keeping her in far longer than superior singers. Like many other sectors of American society, to be a woman who proudly embraces her sexuality is to be materially penalized for doing so - both Reinhart and Toscano are testaments.
as someone who has never watched "american idol" — yeah, i know, i know — i find myself wondering if the show, and the phenomenon, have anything at all to do with the music itself … . or is it all identity politics? . . .
put it this way: if all these performers were judged entirely on the basis of audio only recordings of their work, would any of them have significant success, either with the general public or with musical mavens? … and in fact maybe the question should be posed in a way with larger resonances: is the world of pop music in general — as evidenced repeatedly in this thread — ultimately little more than a stage for playing out a rigid if somewhat defanged identity politics — what tavia calls "jingoistic schmaltz"? … it sounds [to a foreigner to these territories] as if the difference between performer A and performer B is like the difference between two baseball teams: the game is essentially the same [and to that extent quite irrelevant]; all that matters are the uniforms
It’s my professional duty not to sneer at pop culture, but this season’s AI finale made that especially difficult, for reasons you make clear in this post. I wonder if, post-Adam Lambert, the show’s red state of mind is increasingly becoming a self-reinforcing phenomenon, as those with a broader pop pallete are simply tuning out, and ceding the territory. When actual global pop phenomena like Lady Gaga look like visiting foreign dignitaries on the show, might that be a sign that the jingoistic schmaltz McCreery is cooking up is only a recipe for the show’s irrelevance?
I have to agree with you Shilpa that accent is often associated with foreigners and aliens in the US. I was watching the 1994 television program, All American Girl, the other day and the program uses accent to enforce the idea of American assimilation. In the episode I watch, Margret Cho’s character speaks fluent English, dress in American styles, and study a major that is non-typical “Asian” major. In contrast, her mother, who speaks English with a Korean accent, will occasionally speak in Korean to exclude Americans from the conversation. Like you said, accent is a representation of foreigner. Since the mother choose to keep her accent and speak in another language, it illustrate that the mother is refusing to assimilate to the American culture and wanting to exclude herself from the “norm.” Therefore, speech can be used to drive the narrative of a show. However, sometime it may be use in the wrong way; this is how some stereotypes are form.
I haven’t seen Sex in the City, but I have watched the movie. I cannot say too much in regards to the show since my knowledge of it is quite limited, but I do have a few words for the alternative ending argument. I think alternative ending is a product of fan culture. Alternative ending provides a way where audience can interact with the program. It allows audience to read, analyze, and engage with the context of the show instead of screening it as just another entertainment activity. Although alternative ending is a good practice in fan culture, it may not necessary be the same for writers. Of course, as writers, they are given the freedom to control the narrative. However, when writers are asked to restrict their writing in the context that fan favors, it takes away their authority and power in the television world. Therefore, I think alternative ending can be good or bad. I personally would prefer television program or film to have only one ending because alternative ending takes away the realism in television shows and films. In reality, there is no alternative to an outcome. Perhaps we can learn from our mistake, but we cannot reverse the choices we made. Therefore, when we are given the choice to choose what we want as an ending to a narrative, it is obviously unrealistic.
I have to agree to. For example, I am a big fan of Grey’s Anatomy, but I was quite disappointed after season 7 finale. I think one reason for my disappointment is because the writers made season 6 finale so good and raise the expectation to a higher level that nothing can compare to it. I felt like throughout season 7, it was very dragging and going in circle. The drama that used to make the show so appealing seems to die down and lack the energy. Although in season 7, Grey’s made a musical episode to attract more audience and provide a fresher storyline and style, it is not the same, especially Grey’s original narrative is nothing like Glee. Therefore the musical aspects of it just don’t fit. I understand the writers might want to cater a larger group of audience, but this shift is too dramatic and unnecessary.
I think another reason why Grey lost its appeal is technological innovation. Nowadays, if you miss an episode, you can always go online to re-watch it the next morning. In addition, on the Grey webpage, the site also provides sneak peek for next episode. The sneak peek alone already took away the mystery and anxiety that follows the one-week wait for the show. Also, fans that make fanvid give away storyline for audience who has not yet seen the show. The video posted on YouTube provide a space where audience who want to watch the program, but do not have the time, watch the entire program in a short clip that give out the plot and main point of the entire series or just a single episode.