Busting The Myth: American Idol Is A Singing Competition

It’s been said. You can hear it in your head. Whether it’s coming from one of the judges. The contestants. Or The host. “This is a singing competition.”

It’s become one of the cliches of American Idol. And it’s also a myth. American Idol is not a singing competition. It’s a very successful television show whose SETTING is a singing competition. Yeah, I know. Seems like the same thing. Not quite. And I say understanding the difference is the key to understanding American Idol.

All the elements of “story” are found in the television show that is American Idol. Yep, the same ones that make your favorite book or movie your favorite. And the same story elements your english teacher made you examine in book reports. Starting with “Setting,” a nationally-televised singing competition. The “Plot” of course is the one-by-one elimination of the Idol hopefuls, their efforts to make it through the minefield of competition, all leading to the crowning of a the new Idol. As with most stories worth following, there’s “Conflict.” On Idol, conflict can be literal — like judge vs. judge. Or more figurative — like a performer against themselves, always pushing against their limitations to rise to the next level.

Stories have “Characters.” And American Idol is nothing but characters. Randy’s your buddy. Paula’s your fun, wacky aunt. Simon’s the cold dose of reality (sometimes referred to as “the mean one,” but not by me). And of course, the contestants are “characters.” We learn their backstories and watch their personalities reveal themselves. And contestants who fail as characters, ultimately fail on the show. Was Chris Daughtry’s “character” too dour and serious against the fun and goofy Taylor Hicks and sexy diva Katherine McPhee? It kills me to say it (because Chris is one of my two all-time faves from the show), but yes. Understanding American Idol as a television show helps to understand this great injustice.

Stories have a “Point Of View” from which they’re told. I didn’t do as well in english class as I pretend I did. So I don’t know what Idol’s POV is. But I know there is one. And stories have a “Theme.” I guess the theme of American Idol is that if you’re talented enough, work hard enough, get people to love you enough, you can make your dreams come true.

So is American idol a singing competition? No, because it’s so much more.

Greg Valentine
check me out on Twitter: http://twitter.com/gregvalentine


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