Is 'Idol' Going Indie?
Abbey Simmons
Abbey Simmons
Contributing Writer, BuddyTV
American Idol and indie music hardly go hand-in-hand.  In fact, before season 9, I might have said that the two were mortal enemies.  Or, at the very least, polar opposites. American Idol existed to create larger than life pop-stars overnight, who would appeal to the largest common denominator, sell out arenas and sing industry penned number one tunes.

Independent music sought to counter the so-called Idol effect, where success was measured in the number of nights and years you spent touring, signing to a small record label and hoping Pitchfork wouldn't eviscerate you (You think Simon Cowell is harsh?), all with the big goal of being able to quit your day job pulling coffee to make music full-time.  Even the most successful independent artists in the world, the Sufjan Stevens' and Grizzly Bear's, could never dream of having an audience half as large as the average number of people who tune in to Idol every week. 

Before season 9, Idol and Indie musicians were like oil and water - they were just never going to mix. But clearly something changed. This season American Idol seems to have embraced Indie artists in a big way. You need only look and listen to the Top 24 to realize this, especially the ladies, where the likes of Lilly Scott, Crystal Bowersox and Siobhan Magnus have replaced the traditional Tatiana DelToro's and Lil Rounds'. Maybe it was the precipitous decline of the major labels, record sales and Top 40 radio. Maybe it was the continued rise of once independent bands like Death Cab for Cutie, the taste-maker status of blogs like Stereogum and Gorilla vs. Bear, or maybe Simon Cowell fell in love with some indie ingenue like Regina Spektor. Whatever the case may be, I for one am grateful.

And it's not just the Idol ladies who've gone Indie, on the boys' side of things, you have Alex Lambert, who in spite of the bang mullet, auditioned with a ukulele in a way that might make Dent May (and his magnificent ukulele) proud. And I'm not the only person who's taken notice of and loved this new Idol goes indie trend. During the Top 24 performance show the highest praise that Randy Jackson doled out all night went to Lilly Scott, "I love that you're a real Indie artist, which I don't think we've ever had." And it's true, Lilly looks and sounds much more like someone who would front a blog buzz band than compete on American Idol, but as she sang this week, "a change is gonna come."
Of course, Randy and my excitement over some indie contestants making the Top 24 wouldn't matter if America wasn't voting for them, but you are. And you're not just voting for one of them, you're voting for all of them. In the first two weeks of the competition contestants who fit the traditional Idol mold - the balladeering divas (Ashley Rodriguez and Michelle Delamor), the teen country cutie (Haeley Vaughn) and the gorgeous semi-generic girl (Janell Wheeler) -- were all voted off while contestants like Lilly Scott, Siobhan Magnus, and Crystal Bowersox, who would've previous never even made the Idol stage, were declared not only safe, but front-runners.

So maybe it's not just Idol's year to bring Indie into the fold, maybe it's the year that Idol brings them to the front of the stage. Maybe, just maybe, this is the year indie conquers mainstream manufactured pop with the unlikeliest of help: American Idol. Idol and Indie - you gotta admit, it has a nice ring to it.