Wow. We're already into the fifth season of American Idol, and the show is hotter than ever....
In fact, the entertainment press is stating that the current season's shows are averaging 30+ million viewers per installment. It does make me wonder if this particular "variety show" has legs for years to come, or if the current rise in popularity signals a peak presaging a plateau and then the inevitable fall.
Somehow or other, this show seems different. It's interesting to see the solid bloc of fans in the TV audience and from all over the country, that are really pulling for their favorite contestants. I'm amazed at the tens of millions who are calling in or text messaging their votes after each show. Even more amazing are the devoted fans that seem to know all about the finalists. Not to mention how they seem to avidly follow the ongoing foibles of show personnel including the bickering between the judges and the emcee of the program.
Interestingly many an Idol winner already has a built-in fan base, thanks to the weeks of exposure before a large TV audience. The most popular past contestants like Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood have sold millions of CDs as a result. Obviously, music executives and their labels are paying close attention to this cultural phenomenon since there's so much money–and PR–at stake. It's fascinating to read how the songs performed on the show by contestants and guest artists alike have received sales boosts, and even big spikes, at times.
It's no coincidence that guest artists like Kenny Rogers and Rod Stewart, who have appeared this season, have new CDs to promote at present. Their appearances can only whet the public's appetite to hear more after they appear in front of such a large and influential audience.
In an April 19th New York Times article, Music Labels Jockey for 'American Idol' Exposure, writer Jeff Leeds observed: "American Idol . . . has crushed every rival on the television schedule, including the Grammy Awards, which has not gone unnoticed by music executives, who had viewed the recording academy's annual telecast as the biggest opportunity of the year to secure television exposure for artists".
All of this begs the question: how long will the Idol phenomenon continue? Can the American Idol brand remain fresh, continue to reinvent itself a la Madonna for years to come, or will it fade away like so many of yesterday's top musical talent? It's hard to say.
While any popular culture icon is in danger of quickly becoming yesterday's news, given the show's track record, I wouldn't bet against American Idol.
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