‘American Idol’ or American ideals?

Matt Kelly

Last summer the nation was still searching for survivors, but times have changed and this year the country wants an idol-an American idol. Fox’s “American Idol: The Search for a Superstar” has become the television craze of the summer and a mega-ratings winner for the network. In June, seven cities, including New York, Atlanta and Seattle, called for pop-star wannabes in an open audition. Although some left in tears, crushed by the harsh comments of the judges, 100 of the 10,000 hopefuls were selected to head to L.A. for a chance at stardom. After many cuts, the focus shifted to ten. And next week, the American public will pick the newest teen pop-star sensation.

But while the public anticipates the crowning of the best vocalist, the finalists don’t have much time to worry. With photoshoots, makeovers and red carpet trips, the remaining contestants are slowly being introduced into the upside of the music business. Of course, the late night practices, dozens of press interviews and critical judgements are giving the twenty-somethings a taste of the industry. And perhaps the harshest thing they face every week is British import Simon Cowell, who is one-third of the judging panel. The other two seats are occupied by ’90s songstress Paula Abdul and record-producing veteran Randy Jackson. While Abdul and Johnson offer criticism in a positive, sugarcoated fashion, Cowell is ready to dish it out, whether or not contestants can take the insults.

“That was extraordinarily bad,” he told one hopeful. Of course, that was nicer than the female he told to hire a lawyer and sue her vocal coach. In fact, Cowell admits he’s amazed at how many awful people showed up to audition. Yet he defends his words by saying that he is only telling the truth in what he describes as a ruthless business.

Cowell isn’t the only import from Britain. The concept for the show was developed overseas and became a television phenomenon. The show launched the career of the winner, Will Young, and the runner-up, Gareth Gates. The debut of Young’s “double A-side,” Evergreen “Anything Is Possible” broke records for the biggest debut single, selling almost 2 million copies. In addition, Young held the top chart for three weeks. He lost the number one position to Gates, the runner-up, who is the youngest British male to score a number one solo. He also sold one million records in his album’s first week thanks to the “Unchained Melody” single. The two contestants are proof that the show has certainly met its conceptual goal.

Villanova senior Sally Miller studied abroad in London last semester and saw first-hand the popularity of the show’s winner. “Everyone in England knows who Will Young is – the old people, the young people. I didn’t watch the show and I knew who he was.” The American contestants are getting the same reception from the public. They have been given keys to cities, fan-welcoming parties and detailed following in local presses. Still Miller says, “I think it was probably bigger in the U.K.”

Nevertheless, Cowell is shooting for the same success. “If we cannot have one of the fastest-selling singles on the back of this competition, then we’ve failed,”he said. The winner will be sold to Cowell’s record label BMG.

Many critics believe that the show is doing so well in the states because the fans are the ones voting for the person who gets cut each week and whose talent is truly worthy of superstardom. Once the final 10were determined, the power was taken from the judges and given to the public. After watching contestants sing songs from a different era of music each week, the fans are asked to call in and vote for their favorite performer. In the first seven weeks, the show averaged almost 10 million viewers. And the phone lines yield millions of calls after the show airs.

But is it all about talent?

A lot of people criticize the show for insulting the hopefuls’ looks, size and pursuit of a dream.

Perhaps the show should be dubbed “American Ideals,” instead of “American Idol.” Sam Harris, who directed “Star Search,” sees the similarities between the two shows; however he admits that Fox added the cut-throat cast-off in order to draw ratings. “Star Search’ had an innocence about it, they’re afraid that’s not good enough for us to tune in, so they have to add the humiliation.” While the judges comments are often amusing, there have been a number of hurt feelings and tears.

“There’s no learning curve for these kids. They’re in the deep with sharks,” says Abdul. Not to worry, the two boyband-looking, corny-lined hosts, Ryan Seacrest and Brain Dunklema are always willing to bite back on the contestants behalf. Seacrest was radio DJ and Dunkleman was on his way home before the show skyrocketed their careers.

The winner’s CD will be released in November, but the first single is scheduled to hit the airwaves on Sept. 24. And although there will be only one winner on Sept. 4, there is a bright future for the other 10 finalists. Record producers and modeling agents are already swarming for their time and talent. The winner will experience his or her moment in the spotlight that he or she has earned. In addition, the finalist will record a collaboration CD that will hit shelves in October, and will tour specific cities following the album’s release. Don’t worry, if you can’t catch your idol this time around, “American Idol II” is already in the works for next year.