Last night, I had a sort of epiphany, something I mentioned at the end of last night’s blog post. For various reasons, someone spoke about Jacob as being the black Adam Lambert, and there it was.
Jacob IS the African-American Adam Lambert. Pia is the female Adam Lambert. James is the straight Adam Lambert – and is even being marketed that way. (Adam Lambert with neurological conditions but none of the icky stuff.)
Yes, they’re pulling back from the comparisons now, but first impressions last forever.
They all have big voices with big ranges and they all love doing the high notes they all do so well in their chosen wheelhouses. They all love production and staging, too. James rocks possibly better than Adam because it’s his big musical love, Pia gets into the theatricality of ballads and Jacob’s gospel sensibility fills his songs with impressive runs.
Idol very consciously casts the show. They winnow down the auditions until they get down to a couple of hundred to send through Hollywood week, where the judges officially take over. It’s an open secret that even then, there is producer input. They know what sort of singers they want in a given year, for whatever reason, and until they get to the semi-finals, they have absolute choice. After the viewer voting starts, they have to rely on the judges to manage things – and viewers often have their own minds, which is why the Season 5 winner was Taylor Hicks.
This, by the way, may be why there has been additional judge/producer input in the past three years – wild cards for both S8 and S10, and the “Judge’s Save” all three years – just in case the viewers get it wrong. Last year, when they said they wanted a girl winner, all the more interesting female singers were voted off before the top 12, leaving them a field of singer/songwriter types who also lacked charisma for the most part. Please note – a singer/songwriter can have plenty of charisma. Look at Daughtry and David Cook, for example, not to mention Jason Mraz or John Meyer. It’s just that these didn’t.
My point is that this year, they seem to have deliberately cast three people who bear some resemblance to a former contestant. There are even rumors about Jacob’s sexuality, but no one really seems to care. Why would they do this?
Once asked, thought, the answer to me is obvious. Adam is the first successful Idol (at least in perception) in several years. Before him, the last was Chris Daughtry in Season 5. And note, Chris came in fourth. Chris is a very talented man who went on Idol just when his style of alt-rock music was starting to get very popular. He was able to rearrange the music he was given to suit his style, he has a terrific voice and the fact that he couldn’t use his guitar didn’t hurt him at all – until he was finally voted off in one of the biggest shock boots ever.
And it took a season, but the last few years have had winners who could be said to be similar to him physically and musically – white guys with guitars. There are clear talent, musical and style differences among them, but someone who doesn’t pay attention could be excused for being confused. And, well. David Cook had initial success with a platinum album, but he’s never really expanded his fanbase and they keep postponing his second, and he currently has no impact outside Idol. Kris Allen had a successful single but the followups tanked and his album never went gold, although 330K is currently okay, and he IS making his second album now. Lee’s album is doing badly even for today’s market, his first single never took off and his second one isn’t even up for radio adds and is getting no label support. And both Kris and Lee have been out-sold by their runners-up – Kris badly and Lee significantly, although Crystal also has a poor impact.
American Idol likes to have winners with post-show success. It’s not that they particularly care about their alumni, it’s that a failed winner makes the show look bad and like a failure itself. And a successful non-winner, while nice, and helpful for the show, doesn’t have the same impact because it implies that America got the votes WRONG. And the premise is that America picks a music star, so this violates the premise. And they’ve had five winners in a row with at best minimal success.
Idol needs a successful winner – someone the public can latch onto, someone current who can generate a lot of buzz. And right now, the model for that is Adam. He is still generating buzz and making entertainment news almost two years later. I don’t need to list how he’s been successful, because we all know the facts, up to and including a Grammy nomination. He has industry respect and a devoted international fanbase that is constantly growing. If he’d won his season, even with the disaster that was S9, maybe Idol wouldn’t have falling ratings because, hey, they picked a winner.
And so, if Adam is so successful, someone similar might also be the winner they crave so much. To ensure that, and to avoid having yet another Daughtry clone, they stacked the deck. First, there is no Daughtry clone – Paul doesn’t resemble any of them – and then they cast our three Lambertalikes. Even if they don’t win, there is the hope that their presence and powerful voices – the powerful voices that were missing last year, and I’m including Siobhan in that – will keep the viewers coming, as Adam did (what would he do THIS week?)
So far – Pia’s beautiful but her ballads are boring, Jacob can’t help but go over the top (although he does try), and James hasn’t realized that sometimes you have to pull things back so that the pyro stands out. And none of them are going to win – I think the crown is going to one of the two country teen-agers. I do think that Scotty, at least, has the potential for stardom, and Lauren has the personality for it.
Idol needs to look to the future, not the past. They can’t recreate an Adam, especially since, unlike what they’re trying with these kids, they didn’t create him in the first place.