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Pop singers: Idol; Songwriters: Idle

Culture

Issue: "John Kerry: On a roll," Feb. 14, 2004

American Idol, now in its third season, kicked off a concept-a combination of Star Search, Amateur Hour, and The Gong Show-that has proven to be enormously popular not only in the United States but throughout the world, in every nation that has staged its own version of the show.

And, indeed, it may be one of the best of the reality shows, as hundreds of contestants are narrowed down to 36, then winnowed further, as viewers themselves vote on their favorites. Part of the pleasure of the show is in the three judges' enforcement of objective aesthetic standards-to the consternation of egotistic relativists. But that is not the whole story. After the losers get dumped, the remaining performers show some ability. Viewers are drawn in as they get to know the survivors, becoming attached to their favorites, and following their fortunes up and down.

The main problem is that, unlike the old talent shows, everyone on American Idol has the same talent. They are all pop singers. And they are all singing in the same pop style, with the same grandiose projection and R&B note bending. There are other pop styles-rock, rap, alternative, and more. There are other kinds of music-jazz, the blues, classical, bluegrass, folk.

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But what about instrumentalists? What about singer-songwriters who have their own unique voice? Apparently, other kinds of musicians with more subtle and artistic styles are less likely to be turned into idols.

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith

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