American Idol 2008: The Top 12

I have to admit I haven’t really been keeping up with music very much lately, and the new stuff I have heard, with the exceptions of Private’s album and BWO’s new single, hasn’t been especially inspiring. However, I have been following the music TV shows as usual and along with Melodifestivalen, American Idol has been a weekly highlight for me lately. Last night was the first big live show with the final 12 contestants, an exciting time because it now becomes clear who is really in the running this year.

I used to write on here a lot more about these talent shows, but as the format has been repeated year after year, the winners have come into a musical category of their own, rarely having much effect on the genres of music they individually belong to. There are the odd breakout stars, such as Chris Daughtry and Leona Lewis, who’ve become successful as musical acts as opposed to just talent show contestants, but because of the creation of this separate category I don’t feel like writing about the contestants as though they might have an effect on pop music is really relevant. Therefore, I’m not going to write about the contestants individually, but I do want to mention a few of my favourites, and also comment on an issue that last night’s show brought up for me.

So, who do I think’s going to win this year? Well it already seems like the judges have decided it will be David Archuleta, and who can blame them when he’s a cute little lad with an adorable personality, great singing voice and playing the game perfectly by ticking off each of the typical mum’s favourite songs week by week. It’s hard to imagine him not winning, and it’s rare to have such an obvious winner from so early in the competition (even before the live shows it seemed clear), but it is quite possible that someone else will edge him out of the way, because someone being such a far-ahead frontrunner gives huge capacity for an underdog to come through, just like with Leon and Rhydian last year. It’s lucky therefore that there’s no-one as direly dull as Leon in the AI top 12!

In this case I still think that David will scoop the title, and will be happy to see him do so as he’s such a lovely boy, but I fully expect him to have a dip for the next few weeks (already beginning with some negative comments this week) before peaking again in the final stages. This is because there’s no way the public’s attention won’t slip at least a little in the next 10 weeks, but David is such an obvious winner that I can’t see the desire to support an underdog superseding his being completely made for this kind of show. As for who that underdog will be, Simon has suggested David Cook, and I do think he is in with a chance as he’s been improving both musically and visually – the better he performs the more cute he seems to be, which is not a thought I expected to have about this guy at all! Whatever happens, it seems a pretty safe bet that the winner will be a David, but of course these shows can also be counted on for surprises.

Otherwise, I love Brooke White and Jason Castro, but don’t see them as winners, although I expect them to have nice careers after the show. Carly Smithson and Michael Johns are both getting strong support from the show but I don’t know if the audience are quite into it, as with Amanda Overmeyer who is a cool girl but won’t go down well with the grannies, or with me to be honest. As for the two black contestants (strangely few compared to past seasons), I’m a fan of both Syesha Mercado and Chikezie (or Jacuzzi, as it’s impossible not to call him), especially the latter who has improved vastly and has a great personality. The other girls, Kristy Lee Cook and Ramiele Malubay, are both quite alright, but I’ll be incredibly shocked if they get further than the top 8. The other boy is David Hernandez, who is somewhat forgettable but I do enjoy his performances and like him as a person, so I hope he’ll come into his own in the next few weeks and stick around a while.

Last night’s show had the theme of the Beatles, and it was the first time AI had been allowed to use their songs – amusingly they’ve been refused for years, while Fame Academy had a Beatles week back in 2003. I’m pretty neutral on the subject of the Beatles, because unlike most people my parents didn’t play their music when I was a child, preferring Motown and ABBA, hence (I like to think) my current excellent taste. Of course as I’ve grown up, being a music fan, I’ve got to know plenty of Beatles songs, but I do always feel a little inadequate when everyone’s singing along to their songs and, in stark contrast to usual sing-along situations, I’m the one who doesn’t know the words. While I have no strong dislike of their music (in fact I find it pretty jolly, and have a few particular favourites such as If I Fell and From Me To You), there’s something that, from an outsider’s perspective, is really scary about how people are simply not allowed to say that a Beatles song is bad.

On last night’s show, the music was treated as something completely beyond any other band’s output, without any hint of doubt about this fact. I don’t have a problem with people speaking of their favourite band in this way (dogmatism is always annoying but it’s hard to avoid if you want to write passionately about music), but when these opinions come out of people’s mouths with the speaker obviously never contemplating whether it’s their opinion or someone else’s, that’s quite a bizarre and disconcerting thing. In fact it’s this ideology that, as Michael Johns put it, “You’re not a real musician if you haven’t been affected by the Beatles”, which has put me off ever delving into their back-catalogue, despite the likelihood that I will like a lot of it.

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