The American Idol model of pop-star selection is obnoxious for a variety of reasons — the regular televising of Steven Tyler's grotesque mask/face, for example — but the biggest one is the artifice of it: the implied presumption that some contrived elimination contest can dictate what we like.
Even as the model purports to let us, as a listening audience, be the ultimate judge — which we de facto already were, it's worth noting — it exposes in an uncomfortably naked way the inner workings of the mechanism that produces and sells us our own culture. On the other hand, it works. Even for snobbish turds like me who wistfully remember those nonexistent days when the music industry had integrity, we're at least pretty used to it by now.
Not Eric Church, though. Always the outspoken Nashville renegade — because Nashville always needs at least one outspoken renegade — Church made waves in the country community last week in the latest issue of Rolling Stone, in which he rails on Idol-style singing competitions. "Once your career becomes about something other than the music, then that's what it is," he ranted of the folks who judge such shows. "I'll never make that mistake. I don't care if I starve." His assessment of the contestants was even bleaker: "I don't know what would make an artist do that. You're not an artist."
Need a little ointment for that burn, reality-singing-show contestants?
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Church's complaint, of course, is an oft-complained one. What was interesting about the whole to-do was the former reality-singing-contest winners with careers no longer defined by that who came out of the Twitter woodwork to call Church out. Miranda Lambert, who got her start on Nashville Star — and for whom Eric Church himself opened on tour a couple of years ago — led the pack. "Thanks Eric Church for saying I'm not a real artist," she tweeted. "You're welcome for the tour in 2010." Oh, snap!
Not that I'm any huge Miranda Lambert fan, but it's hard to ignore the fact that, truly, Church's beef is pretty outdated. Ten years after the show first splattered the airwaves, Idol and the programs it inspired have churned out countless singers who have, with a little early help from their win, managed to withstand the test of time. The proof, in fact, was immediately in the pudding: Kelly Clarkson won the first Idol ever (in the U.S.) and continues to kick ass. Or at least "Since You've Been Gone" is a great karaoke jam.
And, sure, it's openly artificial, but what in the industry isn't? Justin Timberlake, who I think we can all agree needs to stop acting and start bringing SexyBack, because he is awesome, got vomited out of The Mickey Mouse Club via N*SYNC and into greatness. Neil Diamond got his start writing songs for the Monkees, a cheap industry-engineered Beatles knockoff, and both Neil Diamond and the Monkees are awesome. The list goes on. Meanwhile, in the earned-their-fame-through-blood-and-sweat-slaving-away-in-shitty-rock-clubs corner is Nickelback, the worst band of all time.
I'm not saying reality singing contests haven't churned out a load of crap, too, because obviously they have. What I'm saying is, if it's good, it's good. Who cares where it came from?