Remembering my favorite seasons of American Idol.

Since Trump got elected, I feel as if a magnet has been taken over the country’s hard drive.  I barely recognize America as my country anymore, and feel almost like I live in an occupied country.   Politics has taken over my mind.   Things I used to care about — like movies, entertainment television, novels, and other “frivolous” pastimes — hardly seem to matter anymore.

But all this obsessing over current events and the political situation all gets a little too much sometimes, and it helps to remember simpler times — like my interest in the singing competition reality show American Idol that lasted from 2006 through about 2009 or 2010 (after that year the show–and my interest in it–went south).    My interest was renewed somewhat in 2014, because one of the contestants, Caleb Johnson, was from my city and went on to win.

I wasn’t that interested in American Idol during its early years (it began airing in 2002 as a summer replacement show), though perhaps I should have been, since two of its most famous winners, Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, went on to become major stars who are still making hit records today.   No contestant since has matched their level of success, though several have done well for themselves and have careers in the music industry.

I assumed American Idol was too cheesy to capture my interest (and I won’t deny it could get pretty cheesy), but because my kids were in their early teens and used to watch it, by default I began to watch it too.   The first year I did was in 2006.   It was season 5, the year Chris Daughtry made the Top 4 (and everyone was sure would win).    I watched reluctantly at first, but soon Daughtry, a hard rocker with a post-grunge style very much in vogue at the time,  became my favorite contestant so naturally I had to tune in every week.   I was devastated when he got a shock boot in 4th place.    I didn’t expect that at all. No one did.

In my opinion,  Daughtry’s cover of Fuel’s “Hemorrhage” was one of the best performances ever on this show.

Chris Daughtry’s shocking elimination in 4th place.

Daughtry’s shocking elimination was mitigated somewhat by the fact he became quite successful, with a string of mainstream pop-rock hits over the next few years.

Daughtry’s hit “Home” was used as the elimination song in season 7 every time someone went home (the song played over a film of the contestants’ “journey” on the show.)

The next year I didn’t really have a favorite contestant and didn’t get into it quite as much. A 16 year old named Jordin Sparks won that year.   I would have preferred third placer Melinda Doolittle, a former gospel singer, but that wasn’t to be.   Doolittle’s style probably was a little too old fashioned but she outsang everyone else that season.

2008 (season 7) had its first bona fide rocker win — David Cook, whose style was similar to Chris Daughtry’s.  No one thought Cook would win, but he knew how to play the game, and seemed to top himself every week.  He never had any bad performances. He could cover just about any genre, and make it his own by rearranging the song or by using someone else’s rearrangement that suited him.   2008 was the first year the contestants were allowed to use musical instruments, and David Cook was the first of a long line of white guitar playing male rockers who would keep winning for the next several years (some say this led to the show’s demise).   I was over the moon when he won, because I’d been rooting for him since the auditions and at that time, no one took him very seriously or thought he had any chance at all.

 

Cook’s own rearrangement of the Mariah Carey song “Always Be My Baby”

A performance of his own song, “Anodyne,” which was not on the show, but he performed at many of his concerts on tour.   I’m including it because I love the song, even though the quality here isn’t that good.

The next year, 2009, was the year Adam Lambert, a gay glam rocker, almost won.   Like David Cook, he never had a bad performance, and was creative and innovative, with impressive, unforgettable performances, usually with elaborate stage sets and lighting.   He had a voice that could hit unbelievably high registers, much like Chris Bellamy from The Muse (who was one of his mentors).  Season 8 was a very talented year (some say the most talented year) — all of the Top 4 were great, so it was hard to pick a favorite.   An inexperienced but talented singer named Danny Gokey had a soulful, raw gospel-tinged voice, and most people thought either he or Lambert would win, but neither did.  Gokey finished third.  On finale night, a quiet, unassuming folk-rocker named Kris Allen, who had been building momentum during the last episodes of the season, took the title.   Adam Lambert fans were devastated and shocked.   I wasn’t all that happy with the outcome, as I would have preferred either Lambert or Gokey, but I could see why Allen would take the title. He was very likable and talented in his low-keyed way.

My favorite Adam Lambert performance — a slowed down arrangement of Tears for Fears’ Mad World.

I think season 8 was the last really good season of American Idol.   I watched halfheartedly for the next couple of years, and finally stopped watching at all — and so had my kids, who were entering their 20s and had other interests.

In 2014 though, my daughter mentioned that a boy she had known through her friend in high school (they did not attend the same high school) had made it through the auditions.  His name was Caleb Johnson.   He was a hard rocker with a style reminiscent of the classic rock of the 1970s.     Of course I tuned in to check him out, and saw that he was very good and had a style I enjoyed.   His range was huge.   I didn’t expect he’d go that far though, but every week he kept making it through the rounds, until he made the  Top 3 and a big “homecoming” (a tradition where the Top 3 contestants emerge from the “Idol bubble” and return to their hometowns to be greeted with parades and fanfare) was held here, which I attended.  That was a lot of fun.    I still didn’t think he’d win, but he did.    Unfortunately his album didn’t do very well, but as far as I know, he still makes a living making music and performing at various charity events.

Caleb Johnson’s cover of Aerosmith’s Dream On.

American Idol’s final season was last year, but I didn’t watch any part of it except the finale, because of the tributes to the original judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, and Randy Jackson, and many of the former contestants.   I don’t even remember who won.    The show has a good legacy, and was cancelled at the right time, after a 15 year run.  It’s peak years seem like the distant past, even though it really wasn’t all that long ago.

 

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End of an era.

simon_paula_randy

The mother of all singing competition reality shows, American Idol, started its 15th–and last–season tonight.  I won’t be watching it though.  I don’t have TV and have little interest in watching it anymore anyway, but for a few short years, during the height of its popularity, I really got into it.

I began watching in season 5, because my daughter, who was about 13 at the time, was into it. That was an especially good year (maybe one of the best) for talent.  I thought rocker Chris Daughtry was going to win (and he was my favorite that year), but he was shockingly eliminated in 4th place.   It didn’t matter though, because for a few years, he and his band, Daughtry, became pretty successful and had hit after hit on the radio.

There was always plenty of drama too, and the original three judges, Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson, had great chemistry onscreen without eclipsing the contestants, the way later judges tended to do.

I soon found myself addicted to this silly show, and for about four years, watched it regularly every Wednesday and Thursday.  I had my favorite contestants and actually voted for them.

But once Paula left (after season 8), it was all downhill after that.  Paula was the “good cop” to Simon Cowell’s “bad cop”  and was always nice to contestants, even when they were terrible or had no talent.  Simon was acerbic and sarcastic, but always entertaining and seemed to motivate the contestants to do better.  Most of them seemed to care more about winning Simon’s praise than anyone else’s. As mean as Simon could sometimes be, he was always honest, and when he liked someone, he let them know.

The year after Paula left, Simon followed.  The show never recovered.  There were a few years of revolving judges, and a few bad ones.  The show lost ratings every year and never produced another star or even anyone coming close to being a star (Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood are probably the most famous alumni), but it still managed to hang on.

I think there are several reasons why American Idol lost ratings in recent years.

  •  the loss of Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul
  •  too much emphasis on judge antics and filler instead of the contestants
  • the success of “cooler” and more contemporary singing competition shows like The Voice. 
  • the record industry in general not doing as well because of the economy
  •  network television being less popular today
  •  the novelty just wore off

It’s a little sad to see this show that was  once the #1 water-cooler topic and always at the top of the ratings, and one that my kids and I enjoyed so much,  become a shadow of what it once was.  It’s been dying a slow, painful death for a while now, so I’m glad to see it finally being put out of its misery, but it does seem like the end of an era.   I may tune in for the finale this season, just because.