American Idol – Manufactured Stars

Stars are born. Or at least, if you are not born with whatever intangibles that make stardom happen, you’re never going to make it (unless you get handed a reality show like Snooki or Kim Kardashian. And even they must have something or people wouldn’t care.) And, really, even many/most people with those abilities don’t get to be a star, either. So you may not be able to become a star without perseverance, luck and help, but those won’t do a thing if you didn’t have the potential inside yourself.

What follows is that stars cannot be manufactured. A savvy producer or manager or agent can find someone with potential and use that, but if the potential isn’t there, nothing is going to happen. To put it another way, you can’t sell if there’s nothing to buy.

American Idol was not in the business of manufacturing stars. It was searching for them – endless auditions, each one harder to culminate in the torture of Hollywood week, and then the slow winnowing down on live television. The assumption was that the person with the most star quality was the person who would win. And then they could take that spark, nurture it and produce a star.

It’s been, at best, a partial success. It has produced stars, maybe even a couple of superstars, but the majority of the people it’s discovered have not achieved stardom beyond the notice of American Idol fans. Those who wanted have gained far better entertainment careers than they would have otherwise, and that’s also a success, but few have gotten recognition beyond the show itself.

And those who have? Have done so because they had more than potential even on the show. They’ve managed to achieve that further recognition. People – magazines, radio, tv, – were willing to buy what they were selling, whether it was singing or acting, because they knew there was something to buy. They did not start from nothing – no one on Idol starts from nothing because you need at least talent to get on the show itself – but they started from a higher level than the others. And maybe they didn’t win – maybe someone was cuter or had a more engaging personality or was less polarizing or it was pure chance – but people remembered who they were when the show was over.

Kelly transcended the karaoke of the first year, Carrie showed that a country queen can be versatile, Daughtry showed that musicianship and a gorgeous voice may not bring a win, but will bring recognition and Adam had the voice and the musicianship and the ability to either sing anything – or make it something he’d sing. He also brought stagecraft into the mix, playing with costuming, hair, props and lighting. And they all arrived on the Idol stage with these abilities, plus the charisma and personality of stars, and they shined above their fellows.

And they did so with only minimal help (other than styling) – they chose their arrangements when they could, they chose their songs out of however limited the lists and they owned their performances. So did others – Elliot, Taylor, Cook, Kris, Bo – but, whether or not they won, they could translate this to a real world stardom.

And this is why I’m bothered by the current system on Idol. Because they’re trying to manufacture stars. They’re giving the things that Kelly and Carrie and Daughry and Adam had to bring or discover themselves, so we can’t know if these kids actually have what it takes. I mean, I suspect Paul, Casey, Pia and Naima absolutely do, and I think Scotty and Lauren have the necessary spark but we can’t know this because we can’t see what these kids can do.

Last year was a failure in Idol terms. It was lackluster and boring, with talented enough people who just didn’t capture the attention of the nation. They don’t want that again, and they’re trying to force it, with out it being necessary. And it makes the show almost as dull as last year, and doesn’t bode well for future careers. Not that Idol actually cares about future careers – they stopped being about the search for a superstar a long time ago. Now they just want a season with decent ratings. And if the show doesn’t care, it makes the jobs of the Krises and Lees and the Crystals even harder because the show will push what makes the best drama as opposed to what makes the best singer and people know this.

Only a true star can transcend this, and that simply can not be made.

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About mamadeb

I'm a devoted fan of Adam Lambert, but also of cooking, knitting, science fiction and pretty anything pop culture. I'm @_mamadeb on Twitter.
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