It has both puzzled and amused me what a seeming misnomer American Idol's title is. It was, for years, the most-watched show(s) on American television, and the results were (supposedly) determined solely by votes drawn from that massive American audience. At one point, it was suggested that the show received more voter participation than the US presidential election. Yet, with a few exceptions, the winners chosen by America have never enjoyed anywhere near the same amount of support during their post-Idol careers. And, frankly, you look at (and listen to) some of these people, and it's painfully obvious that they were never going to be pop idol material (again, with a few exceptions). Even the original American Idol winner (and one of the few legitimate stars produced by the show), Kelly Clarkson, has never been a conventionally attractive pop star.
The baffling incongruity between what people like in an American Idol contestant, versus whose music they'll pay money for, became most apparent when Taylor Hicks, a dorky harmonica-playing white soul singer, who was only 29 but looked about 40, was voted the winner of Season 5, ahead of Katharine McPhee, who possessed the most stunningly mainstream good looks of any contestant yet, and baldie Chris Daughtry of the band Daughtry, who, subsequent to his finishing in fourth place on the show, went quadruple-platinum with his album Daughtry. As for Taylor Hicks, his post-Idol debut album did all right, but who the hell knows or cares what happened to him after that? I don't think I've ever heard a single Taylor Hicks song on the radio.
Maybe it's not that baffling and can be explained a couple ways. Certainly, one problem is that the contestants' performances on the show—just covers of famous songs—are rarely indicative of the B-grade "let's manufacture a pop star" material that will be on their albums. Mostly, I think the reality is that American Idol viewers aren't really interested in the music so much as they are in the personas (which itself is completely irrational, since every contestant is presented essentially through the same filter of flat wholesomeness). Hence, once the show is over, and these people no longer have the visibility of being on a weekly TV series, we find that America has only limited interest in what remains (i.e. the music).
At any rate, one contestant, who didn't win but whom I genuinely kind of liked on the show, was Blake Lewis, the Season 6 runner-up. He was not a great vocalist, but his gimmick was that he was a beatboxer, which made him unique among American Idol contestants, and it would have made him rather unique in pop music. He was noted for his adventurous renditions of well-known songs, over which he would add beatboxing, no matter how inappropriate it seemed. He was also one of those guys who really looked and sounded like a viable mainstream star. He was young, good-looking, and always savvy in taking on fresh-sounding songs that could conceivably have indicated what his potential original album might sound like (as opposed to most other contestants' Idol performances being indicative of songbook standards albums or Christmas records). What he lacked perhaps was the charisma or attitude to stand out as a solo male artist. Or maybe his original stuff just wasn't very good. I mean, would I, even as someone who liked him on the show, ever buy an album that was a mix of beatboxing and weak singing? Either way, I never heard mention of him again after his run on American Idol. That is, until I was surprised to recognize him featured—not just his music but the man himself—in the "Explore Touch" commercial for Microsoft's Internet Explorer, which debuted during the Super Bowl and is now playing in theaters before a number of summer blockbusters.
No idea what Microsoft was thinking in using this guy to promote their updated Internet browser. I guess, according to Wikipedia, he has enjoyed moderate success on the dance charts, but, honestly, how many people now seeing this commercial would have a clue who he is? It would more likely be one of those annoying moments when you see a vaguely familiar face featured in a commercial, and you're not sure if you're even supposed to recognize him. You wonder to yourself, Who is that? Do I know him? Am I supposed to recognize him? Is he somebody? Is that why he's in this commercial? Or is he just some model featured because his look fits the ad?
Anyway, the song kind of sucks. The only digestible part is the refrain (i.e. the only part featured in the commercial), which is full of "sounds like technology" noises—very suitable for showing off how cutting-edge cool the new Internet Explorer is (even if it isn't).
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