While American Idol ends forever tonight as a diminished version of its former self, it goes out with an exceptional legacy attached to its name. It was a reality show that stood atop all of television and declared once again—as Survivor did before it—that reality television was capable of being more: more than just a summer fling, more than just trashy filler. It could aspire to more, entertain us all, and change the world. Really!
As a person who believes in the power of reality television, I feel like I should have something to say today, on the even of the conclusion of this powerful show. But: I don’t. After tonight’s finale, I probably will also have nothing to say.
So yes, besides everything I’ve already written about it, here are 518 more words about how I have nothing to say.
Why, I wonder, is there nothing left for me to add? Perhaps it has something to do with the way American Idol was the show that, above all else, defined saturation.
Many seasons lasted more than 40 episodes, almost three full seasons of Survivor that unfolded each spring. Sure, Big Brother had done this for two seasons, blanketed the summer, but it was and remains niche, smaller, powered by a passionate and devoted fanbase. Everything about it disappears after it airs, and that’s okay.
Idol kept going year-round, even when the show itself wasn’t being broadcast. That’s what made Idol—as it has so often been called—a machine. It was not a mere television show, but something that spread itself across all of popular culture, like some kind of superhero movie goo that covers everything and takes control of it.
There was endless tabloid fodder, from the contestants to the judges, and on the other end, the business of Idol, generating billions of dollars that helped resuscitate an industry thrown into upheaval by technology. It was the show that transcended borders, covered by message boards and newspapers alike. Everyone covered it.
On so many different levels, American Idol was old and new, pulling from the earliest of television shows and also introducing new things, from a three-person panel of judges to text-based voting and donations.
It was endlessly imitated, so much that the imitators no longer seemed like they were imitating Idol, but just doing what reality TV shows do.
Making Idol your own
American Idol contestants were often encouraged, dawg, to make it your own, meaning: put your spin on it, don’t just do what everyone else does with this song. Idol was built to allow viewers to do just that.
Like The Bachelor, it is a show that we can project whatever we want onto it.
Where some saw family-friendly, old-fashioned entertainment, others saw horrifying ridicule and parade of kids being used as fodder to make other people rich.
Talent show or popularity contest? Cruelty or honesty? Whatever the question was, everyone was right. There was raw, unfiltered talent on display, and it was delivered via masterful producing that hand-delivered exactly the perception that the powers that be desired.
From the manipulation to the singing, eventually, it got old for me. I have still continued to follow it, generally, and have deep admiration for all those who’ve continued to cover the show tirelessly, such as MJ Santilli. There is still desire for information, for analysis, for discussion—of the songs, of the kids, of the judging. The well is clearly not dry, though I haven’t found anything there for a while.
Is there anything new to add to this conversation? Or is it just that Idol is what idol is, and that it fundamentally has not changed and has become so predictable my short attention span lost interest?
New graphics, fewer bad singers, less infighting with the judges, better critiques, better singers. Still the same, for better and for worse.
American Idol did everything, everyone has written about it all, and now, it is done.