England and the U.S. share more than just their history – they share fads and a great deal of music as well. Of course, American Idol came over from Great Britain and made quite a splash here. But will Americans turn the Idol concept upside down? Last year, Simon didn’t let many outside his view of a pop star into the voting. This year is quite different. Will he be able to stand it if one of them wins?
It has to happen. It always has. Just look at history. England sent settlers to carry the torch of the English way of life to the New World. Once they got here, however, they got to thinking. “You know,” they would say, “England has a mighty good system, but I think we can come up with something better.” The next thing you know it’s revolution and from the birth of the new nation forward the United States and England have had a competition going on. Every idea that emerges gets adopted and adapted by the other nation until it becomes something bigger and better. Music is no exception.
Out of the Mississippi Delta and countless smoky barrooms across the southern United States a sound began to emerge some 70 years ago. It was a mixture of old melodies and came to be called simply, “The Blues,” or as I like to call it, “Damn, that’s good stuff!” After World War 2, music fell into limbo. The big band sound began to fade and America’s youth were stuck listening to aging crooners and balding balladeers. Quicker than you could say “Womp bomp a luwop, a lop bam BOOM,” the blues mutated and took the country by storm. In no time at all it crossed the Atlantic and erupted in England. Rock & Roll had been born. It kicked and screamed and refused to be ignored. A few short years later, England responded. England’s musical youth took the sounds of Elvis, Bo Diddley, Little Richard, and Chuck Berry to a new level. Hide your daughters America, here come the Beatles and Stones.
What does this all have to do with American Idol? Everything!
A few years ago, Rock & Roll died. Don’t feel bad if you missed the funeral, you were likely listening to New Kids on the Block, or their mutant offspring The Backstreet Boys at the time. Rock was buried in an unmarked grave while the tattered remnants of the Ramones, Nirvana, and the Clash wept alone and unnoticed at the cemetery. It was buried next to its twin brother Rhythm & Blues. America was once again left in a void filled with polished crooning and empty dance beats. The good folks in Britain became addicted to a little show called Pop Idol and American television producers, knowing a hit when they saw it, jumped at the chance to bring the show to the U.S.
You all know the tune (if you’ll pardon the expression). America became overrun with American Idol worshippers. We tuned in twice weekly and fell in love with Kelly, Justin, Christina, and many others. We voted for our favorites and began our love/hate relationship with one King Simon the Sinister. What we didn’t notice was that a new revolution was beginning. Amidst the over-the-top Celine and Luthor wannabes were a couple of surprises. Just like King George did over 200 years ago, Simon did his level best to stop it. While he had full power he dismissed most of the performers who didn’t fit his concept of what a star should look like. Gone were the punks, the overweight, the gritty, and just about anyone else with some funk in their trunk.
Soon the power came into the hands of the people. King Simon managed to sterilize the contest for the most part, but rockers Nikki and Ryan got through. So did the unstoppable talents of Tamyra and Christina. Week after week Simon greeted the rockers harshly. Each bad note was thrown back into their faces. The format of the show forced them to sing in genres that were way out of their depth. First Ryan succumbed after a bad performance that she should have aced when she droned her way through the Kinks, “You Really Got Me.” Nikki was the last rocker standing. As the music became more modern she began to fall right into her groove as she lingered on by the skin of her teeth. Tamyra Gray, last bastion of real soul music once Christina Christian took ill, finally fell by the wayside and shortly thereafter Nikki, despite a nifty take on “Black Velvet,” was also gone. So we crowned our American Idol. Kelly “the voice” Clarkson received her well-deserved prize and Simon went back across the pond thinking, “What a good boy am I.”
So a few months pass, Kelly and Justin are led by the nose out of the recording studio and into an inexplicable movie project, DVD and CD single sales make mountains of cash, and the Idol worshippers wait eagerly for a new season.
Season two begins and something new has been added. I’m not talking about the “focus room” or as I call it, “The Vent Tent,” and I’m not talking about how much Ryan Seacrest has improved in his hosting now that you-know-who is gone. I’m talking about the presence of young people who seem to remember that American music likes to kick and scream.
Oh, Frenchie! Where have you been all my life! Kimberly, I just know your version of “Superstition” had Stevie Wonder sitting at home and saying, “Now that’s what is should sound like!” Patrick, I don’t know how you made it past Simon, buddy, but thank God you’re still in it!
We’re past the auditions. From here on out the people decide who goes on and who just goes home. Somehow King Simon wasn’t able to eliminate all the character from the contestants this year and things are about to get very interesting. Will our next American Idol be a heavy woman with a voice as big as the Rockies? Or how about a dude with a scruffy goatee and a leather coat who can growl like John Kay of Steppenwolf after a three-week bender?
Maybe rock wasn’t dead after all. Maybe it just snuck back into the garages and bars of America for a brief nap. America, this is your chance. We’ve wandered in the musical wilderness long enough and the chance has come for us to come back to the Promised Land. Somewhere in a karaoke bar Nikki sits tonight unaware that she began a revolution. Get ready to pick up your phones and control your musical destiny America. Frenchie, Kimberly, Patrick, and a handful of others are counting on you. Together we can put an end to the same old sterile sounding noise and transform the little pop show from England and make it rock.
Simon is gonna be soooo pissed off.
Mr. Barker is co-owner of Movie Boss (www.movieboss.com), a free online movie game, and author of “Zippers,” a humor column that looks at mistakes in movies. He can be reached at BBarker@movieboss.com.