Once upon a time there was a little something called Irony. It came in the form of a fledgling network trying hard to compete with it's more powerful and senior rivals. It was a classic underdog story, this time by way of a British talent show landing on American soil. It quickly became one of the most talked about television shows in the history of American pop culture. It is, of course, American Idol that I'm referring to. Not since the Beatles had American's embraced something from the U.K. with this much fervor.
The colossal success of American Idol quickly became the featured topic of conversations from the workplace to the dinner table. By the second season, we were transfixed by the petulant British judge clad in attire fit for a barbeque, as he would cold heartedly stare in amazement at a quivering singer/contestant for having the unmitigated gall to waste his camera time with a performance that would be described by metaphors often making no sense whatsoever. We were incensed by his lack of manners, but at the same time, we couldn't help but agree with him.Thankfully though, we could always count on the former American Pop Superstar to pick up the pieces of those broken hearts and return them with the familiar tenderness of a caring parent. Then there was that other judge. He was 'the cool factor' he was 'The Dawg.' Always there to wag his tail and break up the bickering between the "T-shirt and the Pop star." Most of the time 'The Dawg' found his spotlight by choosing fashion that included dope eyewear and badass outfits. He made up for what 'The T-shirt' lacked! The combination of this panel was solid gold. This perfect blend of magnetic chemistry became the comic relief necessary for a talent show that would ultimately resurrect the careers of singers and songwriters, producers and even record executives (many of whom likely had to go to Macy's to purchase their first suit in 30 years.)
American Idol was by all accounts, the Destroyer of any other network competing in their time-slot. Really, those networks should have just broadcast Infomercials during the American Idol hour...it was that destructive.
Soaring to the top of the Nielsen Ratings, Idol became the #1 most watched Television Show in America and held that position for years; however, the greatest achievement could have been what the show did for the modern family. For lots of Americans, not since the 1970's had an entire family sat together to watch the same television program, and yet here we were with just a couple of years into the twenty first century, and the couches in our living rooms were becoming full again. Idol was like a buffet; there was something there for all of us, and yet we could converse together about the zaniness of the judges, or the controversy of a leaked story that would ultimately banish a contestant from the lineup, or simply how amazing a singer performed. It became a phenomenon; that perfect blend of "who knows what" that comes together and just blasts into our orbit and leaves us dazzled.
With all of that hoopla that surrounded the American Idol franchise, the effect that it's had world-wide on the music industry, and the legions of fans that it produced, how did something that seemed so impervious to self destruction lose its glorious stature?
Today the latest American Idol news has nothing at all to do with the winner (I'm sorry, what was his/her name again?) or the summer tour, as it would have in years past (you may wish to purchase those tickets the DAY OF). The news today is a grim reminder that perhaps the planning of a funeral should be underway for this amazing success story.
While it isn't official, although some are already reporting it, it appears now that two of the show's original producers, Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick have been fired. Last week, Fox Alternative Programming Head, Mike Darnell announced his departure as well. Darnell basically WAS American Idol. There is a thunderstorm of head-chopping taking place over at Fox Television and it appears to have been driven by declining ratings, numbers that for most shows, are respectable. Nonetheless, those stuffed shirts in the board room are apparently in a "Tizzy" (Now there's a show that could compete with the Donald!) that undoubtedly has a lot to do with greed. Trust me, have you ever seen their green room?
How did it all end up like this? I'll tell you how; they let Paula Abdul get away. Say whatever you want about Paula Abdul, there is no denying now that she created (and then owned) the rights to the heart and soul of American Idol. When Abdul left the show (reportedly after a salary dispute) Idol was forced to follow the yellow brick road and try to find a new heart. Sadly the heart that they found was rejected after just one season. I guess it just kept swimming, just kept swimming and before long, it swam right off the CBS lot. After that, the show took it's next giant hit with the loss of the muscle, Mr. T-Shirt himself, Simon Cowell. With just the flesh and bones remaining (you do the math) the surgeons did everything they could to bring the corpse back to life (almost succeeding in one season); however, the inevitable decline was increasing every year following Abdul's departure. Now here we are, once again in the operating room trying to give life to a show that lost it's heart long ago. Someone has to call the time...just do it already!
Certainly Fox Television could never have imagined that a British Talent show (originally called Pop Idol) would have pushed them into the new millennium with a force that gave television audiences a real reason to tune into the "fourth network." It's no wonder why the Fox Execs are trying so hard to hang on. The miracle happened. Be grateful for that. Still though, I'm sure there will be yet another incarnation of American Idol before it unceremoniously disappears into the cobwebs of our memories, but for at least a couple of generations, Idol was a good ride that we all took together. We laughed, we cried, we celebrated. Heck, we even sang along to songs that our parents sang to when they were kids. That may have been the biggest achievement of American Idol, now that I think about it. One thing is for certain, there's a lot more room on the couch now.