The new season of American Idol has begun. Yes, I am an unapologetic fan. If Kevin Drum can still watch Survivor, after seven or eight incarnations, I can watch American Idol. Sue me.
Now, I didn't watch the first version at all, and I only tuned in to the initial episodes of the second version mainly to see if this Simon guy was as mean as I'd heard. And yes, there was a certain thrill in watching people who literally cannot tell one note from another work under the belief that they are actually good singers. (This, I'm sad to say, is not unrealistic -- I remember music majors in college who suffered the same affliction.) I figured I'd abandon the show once it got to the actual competition, but strangely, I found it compelling and kept watching. It's not the same formula each week, like Survivor (tribes argue, play a game, have a reward, argue some more, play another game, argue a bit more, someone gets voted off).
And that's because I like the idea of a show that rewards people for talent and hard work, and it doesn't do any goofy stuff with "alliances" and doesn't involve mean-spirited tricks like Average Joe or so many other reality shows. No, we're not talking astounding music here, but the show really does seem to want to reward actual singing as opposed to lame stagecraft and sexual histrionics. The people who win aren't the ones who sing in the shower and have a brother or sister tell them, "Hey, you should do that Idol show!", but those who have sung for years and have really worked on it.
I read an interview with Clay Aiken a few months ago, in which he said something like, "Yeah, I'm vanilla and I admit it. But vanilla's the top selling flavor of ice cream in America, so that's gotta count for something." That's about right. Vanilla may not be the most exciting flavor out there, but it is a flavor.