Leslie and I watch a lot of “American Idol”, and this is the last season, so they are talking a lot about their legacy and how awesome the show is, and want to talk about Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson, its’ biggest stars, like all of the time. And I get that. Those ladies are the biggest stars that the show has produced, and the show also heavily touts hit-making alumni Phillip Phillips, Chris Daughtry, and Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson. And that makes sense, because the show is called “American IDOL”, which means that they want to produce people who we literally want to be. But we have short attention spans, so the people who we were all nuts about last month kinda fall away to make space for the next new thing. I was really happy when a few weeks ago, as part of their “You used to really love this show” extravaganza, the show brought back former contestants to sing duets with current ones. Some were ones who had several radio hits after the show, like Daughtry and Jordin Sparks and Fantasia, and some were ones who have had careers in other venues, like Tony-nominee Constantine Maroulis or Haley Reinhart, who has been featured in a bunch of videos by Postmodern Jukebox where they put pop songs to jazz beats. Watch her, She’s amazing. So I got all excited when the show said that these folks were coming back, because I wanted them to highlight that success doesn’t always look hit records. But no. While the show brought on a big display commemorating all of Daughtry’s platinum-selling accomplishments, what it basically did was have the others talk about what they learned from the show, for the show’s sake. And I get that. Talking about all the amazing things you birthed is awesome. But I think that the show missed a great opportunity to send a heartfelt message that could add to the well-being of the young people of America, which I know isn’t their top priority, as well as really secure their legacy as the springboard for greatness, which is their concern.
And that’s this.
As wonderful as it must be to be a mega-superstar, there is something to be said for being able to make a living doing what you love, even if it’s on a more modest level, and this is what “American Idol” has done for many of its former contestants, like Taylor Hicks and Kris Allen, who aren’t burning up the charts currently (although both each have had hits), but have used their time on the show to have, well, careers in music. As in people pay them to sing. As in they don’t have to have second jobs. Because enough people want to hear them that they can live pretty nice lifestyles doing exactly what they love to do. I am not hating on Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson, because those ladies have earned the careers that they have. I admire them. But obviously, everybody can’t be at that level and sustain it, and it is bothersome that we chew people up and get over them so quickly, that in the public’s perception, if you aren’t selling out stadiums, you must be living in your mama’s basement cooking grilled cheese on a hot plate. There is a lot of space in between there, and “Idol” alums occupy every rung of that, with many of those folks occupying the higher rungs of that ladder, which means that they earn a living singing, and they appreciate the platform that they were afforded. Most working musicians, especially the ones who were gigging before their “Idol” days, recognize that a place in this show can make you in a big way, but that it can also be a springboard into playing bigger venues and having your own bus instead of taking the Greyhound. Leslie interviewed Phillip Phillips the year that he won the show, and he told her something that has stuck with me. He said that at first, he didn’t have his eye on the title of American Idol, which he went on to win. No, his initial goal was to make the Top 10, because those performers get to go on tour, and he knew that he would have a job for the summer. Don’t miss that. One of the biggest stars to come out of the show’s later years knew that having a well-paid job touring around was a huge blessing, because it offered you the visibility to work that into something more.
And many “Idol” contestants have done that, including the ones I mentioned above, as well as Allison Iraheta, who made it to the #4 spot the year that Adam Lambert and Kris Allen were on. She has her own band called Halo Circus, and also sings backup vocals on “Idol”. And I know that some people look at that and say, “You sing back-up? That must be a letdown. Too bad you aren’t famous.” But she has a job. Singing. And although she likes singing her own music, I am sure, her time on the show has given her a highly visible regular gig, one which many singers would love to have. That is an accomplishment. I am an actor, and the periods of my life where I was only acting were brilliant. I was never famous, but I was able to eat doing what I adored. And shoot, that is everything. That’s a good lesson for everybody, because if only famous people are successful, that means that there is no room for anyone else, which means that everyone else is unworthy, which I refuse to accept. Excelling is awesome, and making lots of money is, I am sure, a wonderful thing, but also living the dream of being JUST a performer is up there. And I honestly think that if “Idol” bragged on the careers that their less-famous alumni went on to, it would make the show look better in the long run, because they would be able to define what success looks like. But since they, and we, are so hung up on “Idol”-dom, they missed a chance to say that they produce people in the big leagues, meaning that they produced people with careers. In music. And to me, that is brag-worthy.