'American Idol' Will Never Die...And That's Just Fine
It has become an institution like no other.  American Idol is days away from kicking off its eighth season and, once again, we must ask the question: Can Idol continue its ratings assault for one more year?  Don't point me towards the ratings drop of the last couple years – even though the series may have shed a million viewers here and there, it still is far and away the highest rated series on television.  Only a precipitous drop-off will make a difference, only a monumental shift in America's desire for singing talent will strike fear in FOX.  There's no indication that Idol will die any time soon, let alone lose a significant amount of its glossy sheen.  At this time of the year, as American Idol readies to make the likes of CSI and NCIS and House look like feeble wannabes, a rash of “Is American Idol Nearing the End?” stories hit the inter-webs.  They've come every year, and every year they've been wrong.  Common logic dictates that, at some point, American Idol will have to wither and die.  After much intense contemplation and multiple long walks on the pier, I had a thought – maybe American Idol is destined to endure.  Maybe American Idol will never die. 

American Idol Isn't Like Normal Television

Obvious, yes.  But, it really needs to clarified.  There is nothing like American Idol out there.  Over the past decade, we've seen that reality television is far more inclined to longevity than scripted series, for obvious reasons.  The drama doesn't need to be scripted.  The cast is rotating.  The competition can be tweaked to make each season feel different.  Shows like Survivor and The Real World, both of which are at or above the twenty season mark at this point, have proved once and for all that longevity above and beyond what could be reasonably be expected is possible from reality shows.  American Idol's success comes from the human element of the production – viewers get to know the contestants, they find their rooting interests, become emotionally involved and, ultimately, it's the viewers who dictate the outcome.  With its grand scale, audience participation and cultural cache, there is absolutely nothing like it. 

American Idol as a Reflection of Modern Music

American Idol is a competition featuring popular music.  It's a place where indie fans aren't going to find what they're looking for.  Although indie music is my preferred genre (in the vast swath that it encompasses), I would an ignorant and delusional cynic if I outright denied myself the pleasures of the occasional pop artist.  Just because Justin Timberlake is a worldwide pop sensation doesn't mean that his music shouldn't interest me.  This is often a source of great annoyance for me.  Musical elitists tend to dismiss anything popular as bad. My mantra is this: You cannot judge an artist or a piece of art by its audience.  It's unfair.  While the type of artists that American Idol produces may not be your cup of tea (for instance, there are very few Idol alums who I'd ever considering listening to), the show has become a reflection of current musical trends.  Meaning (and this is important), Idol's musical output is not static.  It's evolving.  The pop sensibilities of early Idol seasons has recently become more rock and country oriented.  In a conference call yesterday, new judge Kara DioGuardi said that there has been an influx of soul singers this season.  Well, popular music, in the past two years, has seen a great influx of soul singers as well.  The current state of pop music won't always be directly reflected in the Idol contestants – the human, individual element on Idol cannot be understated – but, the correlation is omnipresent, and will continue to be.  Music will never die; it's inherent to humanity.  If music never dies, then maybe Idol won't either.  

American Idol as a Competitive Event

There's always been this one sticking point for me.  As much as I would love to see my favorite reality shows live on indefinitely, it doesn't make sense that the popularity of an enterprise could hold steady forever.  Then I examined what is an overlooked aspect of American Idol – it's a competition, a fierce, brutal one at that.  Competition, like music, is another element of the human condition that has endured throughout the history of mankind.  TV shows come and go, losing their luster all the time.  But, a competition as pure and democratic as American Idol is set up to endure, especially when it occurs on such a grand scale.  Think of American Idol like a sport.  Think of it like NFL football.  No one would predict the end of the NFL's popularity prior to the beginning of a new season, just like they wouldn't predict the end of football's popularity as a sport.  The National Football League is merely a venue for the beloved sport of football.  Likewise, American Idol is merely a venue for the “sport” of musical competition.  As long as competition and music remain integral parts of our culture, and there's absolutely no reason to think they won't, who's to say that American Idol can't remain the juggernaut it's been over its first seven seasons. 


Perhaps I'm misjudging why American Idol is popular in the first place.  Maybe it is because of Simon Cowell.  Maybe that's the main reason a significant amount of the viewers tune in.  Once he's gone (which is likely to happen after season 10), Idol could become a shell of its former self.  Or, the popularity could rest on the shoulders of Ryan Seacrest, or the production of Ken Warwick and Nigel Lythgoe and the current FOX executives.  But, my hunch is that American Idol is bigger than its personnel.  It taps into so many aspects that are important to our culture – music, competition, human drama, grand spectacle – that it's reasonable to assume that Idol is destined to endure far longer than any of us could have predicted.

-Oscar Dahl, BuddyTV Senior Writer
(Image Courtesy of FOX)