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"This is the most exciting day of my life...and I was pulled on stage once to dance at a Bruce Springsteen concert."
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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Same Old Song

Note: This post was written before the performances for this week's American Idol aired. Most of my comments still apply, but there could probably be some additional comments added, provided I had the time which of course, I do not. Still for AI fans, or AI haters as the case may be, enjoy!

This week launches the first real episode of American Idol of the season. Sure, technically the show has been back for a good month or so now. I don't know how many of you feel about it though, but I am bored by the horrible auditions. I'd much rather hurry it up and get to the good stuff.

Although it's season seven and so most people know what to expect, they are trying to throw in a few zingers this year to keep you intrigued. For one thing, the singers were allowed to use instruments to showcase their skills during one round of auditions and presumably, will be able to do the same thing at some point during the actual competition. For another, there is said to be a more concerted effort this season for you to get to know the contestants and thus hopefully make more of a connection with the singer after the competition has ended (see boost their record sales).

But there's another issue, and thus the main reason why I am writing this post, that American Idol has struck a sour note early on. This is in regards to the selection process of the candidates themselves. You see I can still remember season one of American Idol. I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for this season as it was one built upon no expectations. We didn't know that poor Nikki McKibbin really could get so far on the mean-spirited redials of future Vote For the Worst type fans. Not only did we not know what to expect, we didn't know who to expect. That's because American Idol was just that. It was America's chance to pick somebody from obscurity and fulfill their American dream. This is why a winner like Kelly Clarkson was so perfect. She was just a girl from the South who happened to sing really well and amazingly, had been in large part undiscovered before the program.

But at the seasons have evolved, so have the contestants. No longer are just the unknown wannabes trying out for the show. The people who are trying out are also okay with not winning the whole thing. In fact, if you're someone like Daughtry you were better off NOT winning as now he had a chance to make the kind of music he wanted to make instead of being pigeon holed into puke worthy (Taylor "cough" Hicks) type pop, only to be dropped from a label consequently at a later date. Now unsigned artists and savvy marketeers are trying out, sitting right next to that undiscovered girl who worked at Dairy Queen. Some might say there's nothing wrong with this as they are still technically unknowns, but I say failed deals and child star pasts are still an advantage over someone who has no experience and essential, no connections, to anyone in the business, period.

This is why every season since that first one has had a contestant or two that has raised some eyebrows. But now it's worse. Maybe it's because the proverbial well has run dry, but this season, more than any other, is full of stories behind the stories that makes the American dream seem more less and less about being plucked from obscurity and more and more about previous history.

But before I continue, let me say this one side note about American Idol. I am beginning to get really annoyed that they focus so much time on certain people so that you get attached, only to let them go. For instance, Angela Martin the single mom whose child was disabled and then her dad died during the process, too (not to be confused with the other African American contestant whose dad died) and Josiah Leming, the young emotional guy who lived out of his car were two of my favorites. Neither one of them made it though which baffled me because some of the people who went in their place I never saw. It seems obvious from the way they edited it that they wanted us to focus on them for some reason, but why I'll never know.

Meanwhile some of the people who DID make it are a far cry from being unknowns which changes things for me.

My personal favorite "back story" is the one contestant, Carly Smithson, the Irish girl who tragically tried out before, only to find out she didn't have a work Visa to stay. It's since come out though that Carly Smithson is actually already was a singer who recorded an album. I didn't recognize her because her album wasn't a hit, and she didn't enter the competition under her maiden name, but her married name instead. In fact, I realized that under her old name, before she got married, I actually have a song by her LOL

There's already controversy brewing over whether or not this should matter because she is talented and currently, unsigned but I think it should, at least to some extent. I think the public should at least be informed and then make their decisions accordingly. If it doesn't make a difference to you after knowing, fine. But her connections to the business run deeper than some others and I for one refuse to believe this doesn't contribute to her place in the competition. Interestingly enough, on her album she barely sounds like the same girl who tried out for American Idol. Instead she sounds an awful lot like former child actress turned singer/songwriter, Danielle Brisebois who wrote many songs for the album. I know Danielle's sound because her album, although never a hit, has always been one of my favorites. Her one song, "Just Missed the Train" in fact has been recorded by her, Carly and former Idol contestant, Kelly Clarkson. If all of this is just coincidence I'll shut up, but I don't think it is.

But Carly, although the biggest story, isn't the only story. There's also country crooner Kristy Lee Cook who apparently recorded an album and was ultimately dropped by her label before, too. Another country tinged contestant with a backstory is Amy Davis who is a part time model who also appeared as a reality show contestant on Nashville Star. Or how about Jason Castro who allegedly was on MTV's Cheyenne show as her boyfriend or Jason Yeager who once appeared as a contestant on ABC's Making the Band? Maybe you recall the daughter of a Motown back up singer, Syesha Mercado who was on short-lived ABC show called The One, as well as appearing in numerous commercials? What about Kady Malloy? She's the girl who showed off her ability to do impressions during her audition. What she didn't advertise however, was the fact that she already recorded an album songs from which can be heard here. Perhaps you were intrigued by long haired "rocker" Robbie Carrico who is no stranger to show business and in fact, used to be in a pop band called Boyz-N-Girlz United and looked like this.

So you might say a lot of these contestants have entered competitions before, but it's not like they won them, so all bets are off. Only to this I say au contraire, as seventeen year old David Archuleta not only was a contestant on the most recent Star Search, he actually WON. Sure he won when he was a minor, but he won regardless. If you can just can go on reality show after reality show, where's the fairness in that? All this being said, just wait three years. By then, America's Got Talent winner Bianca Ryan will be sixteen and thus eligible to enter and win this competition, too.

All of this reminds me of the semi-controversy that surrounded previous Idol contestant Mario Vasquez. Mario made the top twelve in season four only to mysteriously drop out due to reasons that are still unclear. At the time, the consensus was that Mario was already signed with J Records and that once that information surfaced, it would have been a conflict of interest for him to continue. Regardless of whether or not he was signed at the time, he did ultimately get signed and released an album which makes you believe there was some weight to this rumor. In this case the only difference would have been that the artist was signed currently, not in the past. It's a minor technicality if you ask me, but a technicality nonetheless.

When try outs were going on this season I remember hearing about Philadephia native, Lindsay Pagano auditioning. Lindsay, along the same lines as Carly, already had an album released in 2001 when she was only fifteen years old and around here, there were local articles remarking about whether or not it was fair for her to try out. All of it was a moot point, however, considering she didn't allegedly make it past the first round and her audition was never shown on television. Ouch. Her catchy single, Everything U R was even used as the theme song to now defunct WB show, Maybe It's Me as well as an AOL campaign. Pagano argued that none of this mattered as that was then, this is now and now she's just an unsigned artist who is trying to make a name for herself like everyone else.

So as I watch the top 24 performances this week, I watch not with baited-breath, but instead with cautionary interest. It's early, but if I'm rooting for pure, unknown talent I'd go with contestants like Asia'h Epperson, Brooke White or Danny Noriega. They remind me of the days when the competition gave you that feel good feeling about watching someone's dreams come true. I would include rocker nurse Amanda Overmyer in that list but she's a little intense and to be honest, quite scary to me. Of course there are a slew of wild cards who have yet to be seen that may have something worth mentioning, too. This is not to take away anything from some of the more "experienced" contestants. If nothing else, they should make for good entertainment. And who knows? Maybe there will be a male who has to be eliminated for a shady past. Stranger things have happened after all. Then contestants like Josiah can be added to the competition where he should have been all along.



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