Thursday, May 21, 2009

Why I Love American Idol

American Idol's eighth season has come to a close with Kris Allen winning the title. Kris is a 23-year-old worship leader and student from Conway, Arkansas. A few months ago, he was a nobody. And for the next few weeks at least, he will be one of the most photographed people in the entire world. His songs will be charted and analyzed and played by radio stations all over the planet. Such meteoric rise to fame can only happen when launched from the platform of the greatest show on earth at this time.

I personally know some people who have a disdain for American Idol (you know who you are, dear friend) and all it represents. While viewership of the show runs in the tens of millions in America alone, AI has a polarizing effect in some ways. I think this is best exemplified by the website VFTW. Such is their scorn for AI that the editors there have set out as their mission to try and catapult the worst singer to win the title. But for the overwhelming majority of viewers, AI is a more-than-acceptable form of entertainment. It wouldn't be the most popular show on television if it weren't.

I've been following American Idol for quite a while, I think since the third season when Fantasia Barrino won the title. I was in medical school then and the show provided a brief respite from the drudgery of school work. It was an hour (or two) of music, singing, and judging. AI wasn't as popular then, when I started following the show, as it is today. I read an article where Paula Abdul, one of the show's judges, was interviewed and she said that in the early years of AI, it wasn't *cool* to be watching the show. Now, almost everyone is in on the craze (its parallelism to Star Trek and science fiction as a whole deserves entry of its own).

There are, of course, less profound (PC for shallow?) reasons for tuning in week after week: it's great entertainment, it's fun to judge performances, and it's fun to follow favorites. But with Kris Allen's win last night, it dawned on me why I love the show so much. I love the idea of a nobody, albeit a nobody with talent and skill and (to borrow the much-overused-and-abused term on AI) artistry, being plucked out of obscurity and introduced to the whole world. To see that person crowned at the season finale, to see his journey from auditioning along with hundreds of thousands of people on through Hollywood week and the Top 12, it's an amazing thing to witness. One doesn't necessarily have to think, "that could be me," because it certainly doesn't happen to everyone. But the concept that dreams do still come true is, I think, the one thing that has the capacity to captivate millions of viewers each week.

Out of all the photos I've seen this season of American Idol, there are two that somehow represent what I'm trying to convey. The one below is of Kris Allen completely surprised that he made it through to Top 3.

And the other one, above, is of Kris embracing his wife after being declared winner. I think these photographs show with brutal honesty what is in the heart of this previously-nobody-turned-somebody. And that's what I love about American Idol.

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