Friday, May 26, 2006

Review of "American Idol": The Classic Rock Tradition Triumphs

I didn't watch "American Idol" this season, mostly because of the time I spend reading and blogging, but also because my family's viewing habits were different this year, compared to last season. Yet, I got a kick out of this Los Angeles Times analysis of this season's winner, Taylor Hicks. Basically, the classical rock and roll tradition prevailed over "Idol's" alternative social diversity sensibilities. Here's the scoop:

America, order has been restored. A white man with the canonical tastes of the classic-rock generation has won "American Idol." Never mind that he was born in 1976, more than a decade after the British Invasion bands took Elvis' cue and made amped-up rhythm and blues rock's musical template. Taylor Hicks is, in his heart and well-patrolled soul, a baby boomer — a believer in old-fashioned artistic authenticity, who spent years playing oldies at frat parties before charming America with a style untouched by his own generation's hip-hop and alternative rock. For all the judges' yammering about Hicks' originality, he's a throwback, the most traditionalist winner in the contest's history. Yet in the "Idol" world, Hicks does break the mold. That's because the show is virtually the only mainstream public space where women and people of color set the norm. (One major parallel is "Idol's" daytime mirror, "Oprah.") It took five seasons for a white guy to win; compare this to media moments like Halle Berry's tearful 2002 best actress Oscar speech, or young Michelle Wie's current encroachment on the paternalistic world of professional golf....

Call it a new paradigm or a mishmash, but "Idol" is telling us something about pop's future beyond classic rock. Its structure is designed to help people learn how to assess music within that future's rules. The program's greatest pleasure comes in putting oneself in the judge's chair and trying to figure out what makes a pop performance great. Old standards — the ones that made icons of the Beatles, Dylan, even Pearl Jam — don't apply. Simon, Paula and even old-fashioned, instrument-playing rock-soul dude Randy teach us to appreciate polish, charm and, yes, corniness, as much as originality and emotional honesty. These new pop values are also old values, recalling the pre-rock world of Tin Pan Alley and the Brill Building. That's why "Idol" has a strange out-of-time feeling, and why, though their albums sell in the millions, the winners never seem exactly like stars. It's hard to give up classic rock's romance with the beautiful freak; we want our artists to stand out, to be as daring as their music can make us feel. The Idols are more like America's Pop Models; just as Tyra Banks tells her future cover girls to restrain their quirks and serve the fashion paradigm, so Cowell does with his pliant ingĂ©nues. Taylor Hicks stood out because he found a way to play Simon's game without sacrificing himself. Not a great performer beyond his beloved blues and soul oldies, Hicks stayed within that realm through gesture and inflection even when singing contemporary songs. And because his references were so different — so unusually classic — he came off as unique.
I appreciate interesting, penetrating analysis no matter what the topic. Should any "Idol" experts happen along here today at Burkean Reflections, your additional analyses would be greatly respected.

1 comment:

Peter Jacobs said...

Except Taylor Hicks is a buffoon, trapped in a middle aged man`s body, who can`t dance, with a phony soul voice.
Perhaps the perfect Idol for the dying years of Bush`s America?