Idolatry – Just who is the American Idol target audience?

I decided to watch American Idol tonight, just for the heck of it. Andrew Lloyd Webber was the guest this week and everybody had to sing some of his tunes. Webber himself appeared in some awkward commentary moments looking like a cross between an upper class twit and a grotesque ventriloquists dummy (but that’s not nice of me to say, is it? Sorry). Next week they promise Neil Diamond and apparently previous weeks featured Dolly Parton and Mariah Carey. Now I actually appreciate Neil Diamond, but I’m a middle-aged songwriter. Do the kids who watch American Idol really want to see how these young singers handle Webber and Diamond? Is that something that their target audience demanded? Or is it something that the middle-aged and older producers of Idol want to foist upon them. I get it, of course, these are all well-established icons of the “Entertainment Industry”, and perhaps when we’re talking about great melodic material for the contestants, it’s better to go back to earlier times of Tin Pan Alley, Broadway and London’s West End to find songs to challenge their voices. But aren’t there any stars of today who are writing big material for singers? And not just Clive Davis disciples like Alicia Keys. Open question then, who of today’s superstars would be more identifiable to the younger audience — second part of the question – is Idol not in fact aimed at the younger crowd, is it just a show for middle-aged folks to look at the young and cute newcomers handling material suited to people twice as old as them? Comment back to me, I love hearing from you!

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5 Responses to “Idolatry – Just who is the American Idol target audience?”

  1. I’m not entirely sure how to word this without sounding pretentious or glib- as I guarantee that I am not American Idol’s target audience.
    Oddly enough, the only folks I know addicted to the show are the middle aged soccer moms whose kids’ record collections overflow with the processed cheese, industry types like to call “modern pop music”.
    I gather the youth like to fantasize about the chance to one day compete as an idol themselves, but are they really buying up the albums? Maybe Kelly Clarkson, but that popularity only solidified once her turn on the show was over.

    While I imagine teenagers across the country are frantically vote on their cell phones week after week- judging hairstyles, dance moves, attitude, anything but vocal ability- it is their moms who smile as the young, impressionable contestants pay homage to the classics of a previous generation. Though I doubt anyone hold out any sincere hope of discovering the next Neil Diamond.
    It’s a formula that clearly works, seeing as how millions of viewers tune in every week, but the fame never lasts. I imagine those soccer moms are having the same thought I did when I once tuned into Canadian Idol and watched Kalan Porter chew through a gut wrenching performance of “If You Could Read My Mind”. He’s great, I thought… but he’s no Gordon Lightfoot.

  2. I don’t know how to answer those questions Paul but I have asked myself the same questions about the matching of these tween-magnets with your-parents-loved-my-stuff seniors. I have vicariously enjoyed seeing my kids attention (14-year old girl especially) snap to me when I sing along melodramatically to some of the Seventies chestnuts being (mostly) histrionically kicked around by the fledgling talent.

    I think the idea is as you’ve noted, to match young-uns with accomplished industry vets and yes again, that dovetails with the audience(s) of soccer moms for the industry vets and the tweens with the talent being put through their paces.

    So why am I watching the show over my daughter’s shoulder? In the early eps (seriously truncated this season) its for the all-American belief that belief in ones-self can triumph over talent and the associated train wrecks. And of course for those whose talent is clear but will not survive the conventions of the show.

    The question I’m still pondering, even more so given the lack of success of some of the winners if not the also rans (Daughtry is every bar band that made good) is what market is this talent being groomed for? Who really wants to hear these vaunted ‘idols’? It seems clear that it’s not always the public.

    So is this an exercise in abstract idol-making or a live hit-making machinery in action? Many think the latter but I suspect its more the former.

    Thanks for your musings Paul. They get me musing too…

    Bob

  3. Pokey Dokey Says:

    I can’t understand the abstraction of the soul that happens on these shows. They talk about the X-factor and all the components of star potential but the material is as safe as milk and presentations are as cheesoid as can be imagined. Milk and cheese. It is like the dress up rock star you see in children’s television. Put on some sunglasses, turn up your collar and wear a leather jacket and you are an instant YTV rock star….or Billy Joel trying to rock. Cliches travel through all cultural and demographic boundaries and context and subtlety is lost. I once went to see Stad Namin the biggest Soviet rock star. The Soviet Springsteen. he had a band that featured 20 people all wearing the look of different rock cliches — the goth keyboardist, the hair metal guitarist, the punk rock bass player, the folkie acoustic guitarist. I realized that only the cliches made it through the iron curtain. Musicals feature make believe rock and make believe roll . The Idol contestants are future Broadway stars more than they are musicians or interpreters of a song. They have to perform the songs to the standards of the musical director. In my daughter’s high school play all the kids talk about which of them can REALLY sing. What they mean is which of them can use melismas and Idol style faux R&B cliches all over the place. That to them is verified singing talent. When you ask them which of their friends can deliver the true emotion of song they usually have to think for a minute and then they pick the innocent, honest and true voice among them that has real character and less “skill”. I think the appeal of cliches pans generations. They are less work, light and less filling and come in easy to digest packages. “Dreamgirls” is much easier to clap along to than an actual telling of modern Afro-American history. The human drama of rejection, humiliation and eventual genetic selection appeals to certain people of any generation.

  4. Paul,

    I should in fairness mention your stint as a judge on a similar Canadian Show called Popstars! Who did you think watched that show? (I think it was very teen centric). Did you feel weird judging teens sing? Did you feel that you were helping them or misleading them? Did any of them ever contact you since? Do you care ?

    Idol is first and foremost entertainment; it is a soap opera based around a music competition and has the ability to appeal to different ages for different reasons.

    People are always baffled by who watches it and that is because EVERYBODY watches it. I really mean everybody but I mean that I have found people of all ages watching it. And maybe that is what bugs people in this age of super refined demographic everything….it is one of the only shows that has broad appeal. Its almost nostalgic in a way, it is like Ed Sullivan or Ted Mack before that. These days a show with broad appeal is scary to some but I don’t think its a bad thing when people of different ages can be into the same thing.

    All the discussion about whether young people get Neil Diamond or is this middle age ladies living out a fantasy….isnt that just an attempt to force people into pegs about what they are supposed to like or not? I think young people singing Parton or Diamond is cool.

    For the record, after saying that I think Idol has some redeeming qualities, I don’t watch the show as the celebrity culture aspect turns me off.

  5. Hey Paul. I could be wrong but doesn’t it have to do with copyright clearance?

    I used to watch Idol regularly. I have to admit, I love Kelly Clarkson’s voice and have been known to crank Since U Been Gone in the car for a sing along. In the first couple seasons I was convinced that it was a good thing that some of our greatest pop song composers were being introduced to a new audience. It also showed pretty fast which songs stood up and which didn’t. Now I just don’t know. I think it’s lost it’s charm entirely and I can’t even remember when it’s on. I don’t know anyone who watches it religiously anymore.
    I think if you check you’ll see the ratings aren’t what they used to be. I think the audience is probably Idol wannabees and their parents.
    That’s my two cents.

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