What’s So Bad About “American Idol?”

Mention “American Idol” in casual conversation and you are likely to get a range of responses—from rolled eyes to excited jitters. But love it or hate it, the Fox Television phenom, now in its 5th season, is a true force to be reckoned with in more ways than one.

Consider this: In November of 2004, 62 million votes were cast for incumbent George W. Bush; an election in which he won a second term as president of the United States. Each week on “American Idol,” some 30 million votes are text messaged as viewers from across the country try to keep their favorite singer from going home.

“American Idol” has received a bad rap from critics on a number of fronts—including those that feel it is mindless television and others who have expressed their dislike for, in particular, Simon Cowell’s insensitive criticism and superficial focus on the aspiring singers’s physical looks.

Though, personally, I am not a huge fan of the show, there is no denying some of the great talent that it has discovered. “Breakaway” by first year winner Kelly Clarkston, and, last year idol Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel” are both as good as any pop songs in recent memory (and both singers have the fans, record sales and Grammy’s to prove it).

Importantly, though many may not realize it, “Idol” is actually a throwback to the old “Ed Sullivan Show,” one of the pioneering programs of early television and the show that introduced early rock ‘n roll’s most important idols—Elvis and the Beatles—to mainstream America. CBS’s “Sullivan” was mass media at its finest. Young and old alike would gather in front of the black & white RCA each Sunday night for what would become a collective “where were you when you saw” experience. That rarely happens today.

“American Idol” allows (or is it forces?) us to take a break from our personal I-Pods and computers and satellite/cable radio and TV stations numbering in the hundreds, for a rare sit-down as a family, community and nation; parents and their children, friends and their neighbors. Though millions debate and disagree on who should win, it is a twice-weekly exercise that brings us together. “American Idol” truly is a “really big shooow.”