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Why Katy Perry can not save "American Idol"

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American Idol giant screen of judges takes the Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard, March 12, 2018, in Hollywood.

From the announcement at the beginning of last year that American Idol was returning to ABC, after finishing its alleged final season at Fox in 201

6, most of the excitement about his return focused in the new panel of judges. The trio that ABC finally selected is a diverse assortment, drawn from the spectrum of musical celebrities: contemporary pop queen Katy Perry, R & B legend Lionel Richie, and "King of Bro-Country", Luke Bryan. Perry's $ 25 million salary controversy was probably the most recent news, and since the show's debut, Perry's antics have grabbed attention. But the general approach in these famous judges speaks of a bigger problem for Idol that helps explain why the ranking giant lost strength and seems unlikely to regain his former glory.

It's hard to remember now how Idol grew up to become a revolutionary giant, beating the Oscars, reaching 36 million viewers in 2006 and inaugurating a new wave of old-fashioned talent competitions , from America's Got Talent to The X Factor . He did it by making stars, not hiring them. The original judges, producer Simon Cowell, pop star of the 80s, Paula Abdul, former executive and bassist of A & R Randy Jackson, became judges and not in bringing their own pop stars to the program . But once Abdul, and later Cowell, left the franchise, they reduced themselves to trusting outside celebrities to try to attract audiences: losing ratings, their own star-making power and part of their identity as a forum for pop democracy in action. . The producers of the show began to try to generate classifications moving the focus of the contestants to the judges, in a way that distracted the musical approach and the inspiring aura of the show, as demonstrated by the legendary 2013 blowout between Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj.

The uplifting brand of the show got tarnished with these "reality" tactics, which began to look increasingly desperate as the show's ratings dropped, ending their Fox career with 9.3 million viewers, a quarter of the audience at its peak. to graduate to successful careers (or even visible ones) in the music industry. In contrast, NBC The Voice the type of competitor who Idol opened the doors to, found a more organic way to target his famous judges. They were reformulated as "trainers" with their feet on the ground that could relate to the singers on stage, in a role that allowed them to keep their own brands intact (and be replaced, as celebrity calendars inevitably demand, without altering the dynamics fundamental of the show).

The fact that Kelly Clarkson, possibly the face of Idol chose to join The Voice this season as coach, as well as Idol Loss of audience of The Voice at its premiere on Monday – underlines that the newest competitor now best represents the sincere authenticity that Idol is struggling to recover. Everything about the reincarnated idol besides the jury, has hardly changed since his first life, until the set and the blinding white smile of Ryan Seacrest. And relying on the star power of Katy Perry or her judges to attract viewers is, at best, a temporary patch on the changing realities of television and music that made the idol's promise of stardom impossible. pop. .

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The winner Kelly Clarkson hugs her contestants during the end of Season 1 American Idol on September 4, 2002.

Even if you did not see the first season of ] American Idol in 2002, you may have seen the coronation of Kelly Clarkson from the first final. It is, by design, one of the most convincing moments in the history of reality television. YouTube is full of contraband videos of the moment; One has more than 5 million visits. Clarkson had just been selected, through 15.5 million phone calls, previous text messages, like the first American Idol. As a Miss America pop in the evening dance curls, she immediately sang the perfectly created pop ballad "A Moment Like This" – written by one of the Swedish pop magicians who helped Britney Spears become a star – that was supposed to become the prom and the wedding hymn of all. As the song develops, Clarkson makes it his own with his great voice, which begins to crack as he sings "I can not believe what is happening to me". She apologizes for her tears, the camera often turns into her own mother crying, and everything culminates with the other contestants who come for a group hug and help her finish the song while her voice breaks.


Clarkson shouts "A Moment Like This."

That moment represented what he did early American Idol great: a brilliant mix of pop perfection, shameless sentimentality and reality TV surprise. With his promise of an important label recording contract in the end, he was less amateur than Star Search but he still flourished with the appeal of his competitors. After Clarkson's victory, the entertainment press raised questions about how "amateur" he really was, but the focus and emotion were entirely on it, and that questioning was still completely in line with what the brand was selling.

Clarkson was not the only previously unknown quantity whose stardom was coined during that first season. Throughout the audition process, "Hollywood week", public voting, eliminations and results, the public also came to know and love (or love to hate) the judges. Cowell, with his pectorals and his interpretation of scandalous English, seemed almost a parody of American ideas about critics as decayed Europeans. Paula Abdul had disappeared from the music scene, was clear at the time of pop, and had never had a defined public persona beyond her brilliant dance and music videos, so it was a revelation. Witnessing his crazy attempts to frame feedback in positive terms was almost like seeing the poetry of Hallmark's spoken word. Randy Jackson was the seemingly objective and sensible judge, giving practical comments about the singing, often describing the performances as "paused", and coining a slogan / iconic meme ("it's going to be a no of me, dawg").

The original trio established the perfect commentary chemistry template: the good cop, the bad cop and the neutral tiebreaker.

After the audition phase of each Idol season, the judges acted more as sports commentators than as active participants in the configuration of the characters of the contestants: they were fundamental to the show, but not the center of it. And in retrospect, that original trio established the perfect commentary chemistry template: the good cop, the bad cop and the neutral tiebreaker. There was a delicious quality to all this perfect and joyful falsehood, which could be enjoyed sincerely and as a camp. The show, which initially was a disadvantaged player, turned the unknowns into stars at all levels and remained in the brand and growing for a decade.

The growth of the program was aligned with its mission to launch pop stars, and the drama it generated was mainly about the contestants, both the clashes of different musical styles and their destinies on the charts after the show. The second season had the highest-rated end of the series, followed by speculation about whether finalist Clay Aiken would end up beating winner Ruben Studdard. Jennifer Hudson, of the third season, won an Academy Award and starred Broadway, and Carrie Underwood became the star of the program in the fourth season, which faced her folk appeal against Bo Bice's rock style.

Idol scores peaked in season 5, in 2006, when sexy and sad rock singer Chris Daughtry was annoyed by Taylor Hicks' drunken uncle at karaoke (much to the dismay of Cowell), although Daughtry ended up selling it en masse. From there, the winners of the show began to fade into a forgettable hegemony of white men with guitars, marked by the spectacle of the second finalist of Season 8, Adam Lambert, as the first gay pop star not yet openly opened in 2009 , possibly the last season the program was news for the right reasons.

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Judge Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson on set American Idol broadcast live on July 16, 2002.

Paula Abdul pronounced one of the great truths of our time when he declared, in his masterpiece Bravo reality show Hey Paula that people do not treat it as the gift it is. In idol she was the gift she continued to give: a tireless engine of television on crumbling trains and sweet topicals. But when her salary demands were not met in the ninth season, she reportedly wanted an increase of $ 4 million to $ 12 million, she tweeted her farewell. "I will miss raising all the new talents, but above all being part of a show that I helped from the first day became an international phenomenon."

It is impossible to identify a cause for Idol The struggles in his later years, since he did not produce pop stars and ratings, decreased, but the addition of composer Kara DioGuardi as fourth judge during Abdul's final season (It was more memorable for her singing battle with "Bikini Girl") certainly upset the existing balance and chemistry of the jury. The drop in program ratings dropped once Abdul left, and even more revealing, that was the first season in which none of the four finalists achieved any notable singles or successes.

Ellen DeGeneres joined the panel of Season 9, in what later called the biggest mistake of her career. Like Abdul, she did not want to be bad, but as a professional comedian, she made harsh criticism wrapped in humor ("the line between sexy and frightening is a thin line") without the charm of Abdul. (Although she jumped on Cowell's lap to dispel lingering rumors of a dispute). Ellen's period in the program made it clear that it was impossible to duplicate Abdul, and that it was probably worth every penny. But more importantly, he highlighted the difficulties of bringing established celebrities to the program in an organic way.

Some critics have argued that Cowell's departure after Season 9, which diluted the Idol brand and contributed to the TV's overload of singing competition by bringing The X Factor to the United States, put the nail in the coffin of the ratings of the program. But X Factor and Post-Cowell Idol had exactly the same problem: they were trying to incorporate ratings and recapture the magic of seeing nameless artists become big stars, while leaning in static formats and the attraction of famous judges that would inevitably distract the spectators from paying attention to the contestants.

The big pop stars like Jennifer Lopez have no incentive to contaminate their existing brands becoming Simon or Paula.

Idol tried to solve the problem by hiring Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler for the 2011 season, but neither of them had distinctive or convincing personality, and even their big names were not enough to avoid a bad interpretation. % qualifications fall. They played their existing pop characters and seemed more interested in driving their own careers than in joining the program. As CNN noted, it was not clear if Tyler was promoting Idol or himself. López debuted with new videos on the show, played her own songs and used the work to launch a new television career. But big pop stars like Lopez have no incentive to pollute their existing brands becoming a convincingly quirky Simon or Paula. Idol offered these stars who needed a professional boost a great platform, but the celebrity judges got more than they gave, and Idol just slipped further into irrelevance.

While Idol and The X Factor (which recruited Britney Spears, with disappointing results) struggled with their trial problem, The Voice appeared in 2011, and seemed to find the best role for himself in the new pop landscape giving the judges, and their interactions with the contestants, as long as possible. Presenting Cee Lo Green, Christina Aguilera, Adam Levine and Blake Shelton in their first season, The Voice deliberately framed the judges as coaches and co-conspirators, and made their relationship with the contestants the show point: They work together in teams. Because they did not have the specter of any original and archetypal judge to compete, The Voice's pop star coaches basically played themselves, and the format still worked.

The show also benefited viewers by coming to accept that TV competitions are, for numerous reasons that have to do with how the music industry has changed, is no longer a viable way to lie instantly the stars. The very name of The Voice does not promise pop stardom, but the opportunity to create a style based on "pure" vocal talent, as suggested by the famous revolving blind audition of the series. The switch to live television for public deletions at Voice sends some of their songs to the top of iTunes, and this more modest success somehow seems an acknowledgment of how pop stardom – in the era of Spotify and SoundCloud indie rap playlists – it can no longer be a great top-down default destination, but a continuous process of small profits. The complaint against The Voice has always been that it never launched a star, but arguably, after Adam Lambert, either American Idol .

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La Voz coaches of season 8, from the left: Adam Levine, Pharrell Williams, Christina Aguilera and Blake Shelton.

As The Voice used this new format to deal with the changing realities of the music industry and the economy of celebrities and judges, Idol continued to try to solve their problems sticking to its usual format and simply adding more celebrities. His pop star co-production reached its lowest point with the setbacks of Mariah Carey-Nicki Minaj of Season 12. The recordings leaked to TMZ from Minaj who mistreated Carey. Their fight produced iconic television, but not so much in the program as in the previous period – in an interview with Barbara Walters with Carey, for example, during which Walters solemnly quotes a letter from Minaj to Carey ("I'm quick to verify a bitch if she is offline "). Once the show began to air, his fights, with Carey contesting Minaj's authority grimly quoting his lack of pop hits # 1, spread to Twitter and seemed too real. Unlike the love affairs of Simon and Paula, the dispute caught the attention of viewers outside the world of entertainment and away from the artists they (and us) were supposed to evaluate, and seemed off the mark for the image generally healthy of the program.

In an article for the New York Times Magazine at the time, Heather Havrilesky wrote about her struggle as a symbol of a struggle between different types of pop stardom, but it was the fact that the judges were taken as symbols of what It represented the spectacle that was the problem. The contestants – facing the R & B with the country, divas of great voice versus rockers – once played those roles. And the most shocking moment of the supposedly final final Idol 2016, once again, came not from any of the famous judges, but from the former contestant and original queen of the show, Kelly Clarkson. She cried while singing, this time not because of the raw emotion of winning, but because of a ballad she wrote, "Piece by Piece", about her relationship with her father.

Clarkson's new role in The Voice allows him to be "real" and open about the nature of reality television. "Even though you have the most incredible voice, these programs are about strategy," Clarkson tells a contestant in the current season. "Like when to show what you can do, and when to show a little more to stay in the program and how to get to the end." And this willingness to pull back the curtain of its own mechanics is one of the ways The Voice now captures better the mark of authenticity and pop democracy that was sold Idol early. "I do not fit in the image of the pop star," Clarkson explained of his relationship with The Voice "but I'm a pop star." In contrast, Idol tried to go back to his roots by hiring Perry – the epitome of the carefully designed pop star image – appearing as dissonant with his would-be favorite brand.

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Perry dances with contestant Michelle Sussett during an episode of the reboot American Idol on ABC.

The new reboot of Idol with Carrie Underwood starts (for more measures the runner -until Clarkson in the Idol graduation fame ranking) narrating a monologue about the power of the music to move him. She describes how the show will show voices that range from "dreamers to lullaby singers," as images of American rural and urban life in the background. It's an attempt to return the show to its roots, ordinary people becoming stars, but, of course, Underwood is not one of the judges, and neither is Clarkson. Instead, the new group of celebrity judges play each other with versions of themselves that, once again, are far from the simple but effective chemistry of judging "bad", "good" and "neutral". Lionel Richie is playing the "wise" judge, Perry offers a clever youthful perspective, and country star Luke Bryan is the resident prankster.

Immediately, the program makes sure to dispel any suggestion of discord between judges or reality television tactics. "The relations between Lionel and Katy, we are like peas in a pod," Bryan insists. They are even shown creating a group text: The Judgmentals. (Very funny!) But Perry is already emerging as the star of the show in ways that demonstrate the inherent challenge of trusting famous judges. A listening vignette, for example, is about Perry kissing a contestant, since his hit "I Kissed a Girl" plays in the background. But he also shares a powerful moment with another contestant, Noah Davis, 18, who sits at the piano to sing "Stay" by Rihanna. They connect on their use of the word "wig" (as in "wig snatched"). or "surprised" because he can not believe that he is standing in front of Perry), when only Perry understands what he means. "It's not your language, it's just for us," he tells Richie and Bryan.

It's a beautiful moment of connection, and outside the show, the exchange went viral and became a celebration of Perry's new brand of the vigil. Perry is a powerful presence, and that's the kind of moment when The Voice would get a contestant on his team. But his relationship with Davis will not really be part of this season of Idol that is sticking to its original format, and will also feature celebrity duets to woo the bases of existing fans of singers like Luis Fonsi and Toni Braxton.

Idol is still trying to sell his old self as new by joining his brand to the novelty of the big pop stars. But he can never return to his former glory, dependent as he was in a moment of success both in music and television. "You do not need us," Adam Levine tells a contestant at The Voice . "We need you". He was referring to their relationship on the show, but the commentary also hinted at the changed relationship between pop music and reality. If Idol found a way to recognize that, he could adapt to his new reality. ●

Pier Dominguez is a culture writer for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Domínguez has a Ph.D. from Brown University in American Studies.

Contact Pier Dominguez at pier.dominguez@buzzfeed.com.

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