Thursday, April 8, 2010

American Idol -- One Big, Happy Family?

In response to a question in the comments section of the last post, I figured I'd jot down some thoughts about the relationships between American Idol and some of its alumni.

Like almost any other organization with subgroups (seasons) and a varied membership, there are several different dynamics that play out. Different people from each season end up having similar types of interactions with the show. These are strictly my impressions, with little to no real research -- although I will back up my beliefs with relevant examples. And as with any family, it's not always black and white. Some people show up in one group occasionally, while really belonging to a different one altogether.

The Family Ties Group -- These are the contestants that were not only universally loved by the judges (and probably the producers) during their time on the show, but who have also demonstrated loyalty and undying gratitude for the opportunity they've been given. It doesn't really surprise me that most of the people in this category come from the later seasons (say season 4 on) because as Idol became a legitimate vehicle to musical stardom (Thank you Kelly Clarkson), it was no longer thought necessary to create distance between the artist and "the talent competition".

For instance, in the first three seasons of American Idol Rewind (which replays the season with commentary from that season's contestants), Ruben Studdard was the only winner and Clay Aiken the only other really successful alumnus to sit down for the interviews. Kelly, Fantasia and Jennifer Hudson all opted out. Contrast that with seasons four and five (I don't believe season six has aired yet), when every one of them -- including Carrie Underwood, Chris Daughtry, Katharine McPhee and Bo Bice (Taylor Hicks did as well, but he actually falls in a different category) -- showed up and gave the interviews.

Carrie Underwood and David Cook (and I believe Fantasia as well -- but again, different category) not only have taken part in Idol Gives Back, they've made trips to Africa for the event. The show calls, these guys suit up and show up.

The main characters in this close-knit and supportive family are: Carrie, David Cook, Chris Daughtry and Eliot Yamin (and Tamyra Gray for a few seasons -- that may have just run its course for both parties). Whether Adam Lambert ends up in this group mostly depends on if he wants to or not.

The Ordinary People Group -- This group includes people that did well on the show -- top 5 or higher -- and have done well for themselves -- in varying degrees -- since the show ended but have had a very cool, distant relationship with the show so far.

Since the question asked was specifically about Kelly Clarkson, I'm going to focus a lot on her (and she's pretty much the poster child for this group anyway).

Shortly after her second album was released, there was a controversy about her allegedly not wanting to let AI use her songs on the show. She said -- and I think I believe her -- it was a miscommunication from her management company. However, she got a little bent out of shape in the aftermath because Simon essentially trashed her for it, saying the show made her and she was being ungrateful.

They eventually kissed and made up (although I think it was more like detente), with Kelly appearing on the finale of season three (May, 2004), but she did not come back again until Idol Gives Back in April, 2007. Meanwhile, she won two Grammy awards in 2006 without mentioning Idol even once in either acceptance speech. Contrast that with Carrie Underwood, who barely talked about anything BUT Idol when she won her first Country Music Award (CMA!).

Others in this group include Clay Aiken and Jennifer Hudson.

The That 70s Show Group -- This is a little bit of a cop out because it's a somewhat catch-all group, but think of That 70s Show. The parent/child dynamics were all over the place.

Think of people like Blake Lewis, Diana Degarmo and Justin Guarini (all runners up in their respective seasons) as Laurie, the daughter that disappeared for years and wasn't mentioned during that entire time. They may, like her, do something that will get them recognized again. My guess is if they do, the show will act like Kitty and Red and barely acknowledge they were ever gone.

Taylor Hicks, Jordin Sparks, Fantasia and Kris Allen are more like Eric. Sometimes he was treated with respect, other times he was on the verge of being thrown out. These are people that for one reason or another -- the producers don't want us to remember they won (Kris and Taylor) or they can just be somewhat difficult to deal with (Taylor and Fantasia) -- are brought back occasionally, but rarely do they really seem like full-fledged family members.

Finally, there are those that I call Donnas. These are people whose relationship with the show is neither really good nor really bad, but mostly just casual. I'd put people like Melinda Doolittle, Michael Johns, Kimberley Locke, Bo Bice and Katharine McPhee. You'll see them during holidays and at weddings and funerals.

Since I know no one but me really gives this stuff any thought, I don't really expect a mad rush of comments. But as always, I'd love to read them if you have 'em.

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