American Idol's "Fantasia"
Australian Idol and its TV driven talent show ilk that are growing with such contagion that they will soon even come with their own designated disease (Factor X) – are a boil on the bum of an industry who’s best and brightest are overwhelmingly original talent.
Anyone can and usually does sing. What overwhelmingly drives the record business though is creative talent usually in control of their own material whether they are bands or singer-songwriters. Manufactured pop music has always been around, but the usual pop idols riding on the back of other people’s material, unless you are the diva types, quickly run out of puff. It’s not easy being original which is why so few ever make it by comparison with those who start out.
But TV talent shows of the Australian Idol idiom turn all the normal industry rules upside down because they become one gigantic promotional machine - as we’ve already seen. The trick for Guy Sebastian is not remaining a velvet smooth singer or even trawling through the publishing houses of the world for good songs. His long term marketability lies in remaining fashionable beyond a certain period, and as the sub or teenyboppers get older and our more senior record buying citizens take to the next big thing from the Idol assembly plant, Sebastian will have to exist more as a league’s club staple, and appearing on Bert Newton 10 years from now even if Bert isn’t! Just don’t expect to see his videos being rotated on MTV; in fact he may not even have videos! Being top of the TV talent crop is mostly a guaranteed ride to yesterday.
So naturally most folks in the record business see Australian Idol as purely an instant purveyor of pop pap – whose upside is immediate, but longevity really pushing the envelope! In the record business you rhyme pap with crap. Ian ‘Dicko’ Dickson as an Idol judge can bang on all he likes about avoiding the ARIA awards because of the snobbery of the industry towards his Idol star turns, even as they sell truckloads of records, but if he was at another label with no ties to Idol, he would be equally dismissive of these manufactured pop stars.
Sure the industry is envious of this formula and sales machine that BMG is now tapped into locally, but the industry mostly dines out on originality to sell the majority of pop acts – and being responsible for your own material usually ensures a much longer career. No self-respecting executive hates success and knows volume sales keeps people employed, but the TV talent show process is so totally contrived, it’s both an aberration and the antithesis to creativity. It’s music by numbers.
If Ricki-Lee had got beyond last night’s elimination and actually ended up winning the whole Idol shooting gallery – you still would have had amateur hour releasing factory assembled music. Every bit as forgettable as Bardot - or spurned ex-member Sophie Monk; or now struggling Idol refugee Rob Mills. You only have to go back to a kind of sub-Idol 70’s driven Countdown to see how current judge Mark Holden became a teen idol with songs that at the time made young girls swoon, and groaning boys regurgitate! Soon enough his vacuous music floundered and if I recall rightly he left the country for a fresh start in the USA, following in the footsteps of another former Countdown pretty boy – Rick Springfield, who combined a stalled music career with soapy acting.
Faust would love to do a deal with Idol
So for good reason the industry looks down its collective nose at preppy karaoke pop peddlers who not only sign up in the hope or wild expectation of overnight success, but also have zero control in how they actually go about getting there. If Faust came back today and fancied life as a pop star - he’d gladly sign on for Australian Idol as the shortest possible route to his 15 minutes of fame.
That’s not to belittle those who seek a career via Australian Idol but to recognize that this show has about as much to do with the real spirit of pop music which should be bold and inventive, but when you see the Beatles trashed as they were on Sunday by some, they are mere props in a TV ratings juggernaut. Australian Idol exists to make money and attract as many viewers as possible, both of which it does spectacularly.
But when Dicko or anyone else defends Idol from derision for being anything other than the equivalent of a bargain basement sale or visit to the reject shop, he’s talking through his pocket and that of the record company that peddles the end product, irrespective of how willing or enthusiastic the consumer is to embrace the show. If the film business can happily admit that genre movies are merely exploitative marketing ploys to make money, why can’t Australian Idol accept its recognition as being at the bottom end of the scale when it comes to pop dross?
If my family loves Australian Idol and is silly enough to hang out to buy whatever “product” is dished up off the conveyor belt of the next Idol signed artists good luck to them – it’s their money and their right to be sucked in. But don’t expect those who see the show as the very thin end of the wedge for so many other Australian artists. Those with original talent deserving of support, which, if they also had this Idol machine behind them wouldn’t lack for success? It’s also ironic that when others pass criticaljudgment on Australian Idol for whatever reason, the likes of Dickson or Holden think they’re being snobs. I don’t see it as snobbery for hating the way Idol reduces the music form that most of us grow up with and might still adore, being reduced to the lowest common denominator.
But at least Dickson was the only one of the judges to get it absolutely right when he castigated Ricki-Lee for her murderous treatment of We Can Work It Out on Sunday night. If any proof was required that the show is essentially a vehicle for karaoke singers peddling homogenized pop, seeing and hearing that classic song reduced to sounding horrible was an affront. Even worse, the singer didn’t even seem to know the song actually started with totally different opening lines than the ones she claimed to rate so highly? Dicko sure got it right when he thought a couple of dead Beatles would be spinning in their graves after that effort. God only knows what the living deity who actually wrote it would have thought of it?
Read the full article at: http://www.crikey.com.au/columnists/2004/10/12-0010.html