I have to admit it: I watch American Idol. I just like watching singers forced to struggle with songs by Barry Manilow and Neil Sedaka. I also find the process of elimination interesting. Singers who really have no business in the competition seem to keep hanging on, week after week, to even their own shock and surprise (I’m looking at you, John Stevens).
Last night, as Ryan Seacrest said, “America voted.” This week, the three contestants who received the fewest number of votes were Fantasia, LaToya, and Jennifer. Along with George, most people watching the show agree that these four singers have the best voices in the competition. Fantasia has a rough, soulful Macy Gray quality to her voice. LaToya reminds me of Anita Baker. George has an Otis Redding vibe going on. And Jennifer who was dismissed last night, well, she’s a belter.
So they’re all quite good singers. Not I’m-going-to-run-right-out-and-buy-their-albums-good – but good. They’re also all African-American. Not surprising, given that the U.S. has a long history of singers being formed from the black gospel tradition and then moving into mainstream music. If you run a nationwide talent search like this show, you’re going to get a rich pool of singers from which to draw and many of them will come from that background. They have both the training and the ease in front of crowds that eases the transition from churches to concert halls.
So it’s surprising that these singers should end up in the bottom three, week after week while singers of lesser talent simply appear to be more popular. Does the fact that they’re black have anything to do with it? Throwing Things is considering it. I think it’s a real possibility that the people voting for this thing want to see the teenage Perry Como or the alternate universe non-murdered JonBenet Ramsey actually win this thing. Could you imagine an album by either of those two?
I don’t know if racism can properly explain it. I think the answer would be to look at who’s voting. My theory is that the majority of people who are indeed bothering to text message the show with their favourites are teenagers. Then you need to look at the ages of those landing in the bottom three – Of Jennifer, Fantasia, and LaToya, Fantasia is the youngest at 19 but she comes across as older. Jennifer and LaToya are adult women in their twenties. Three of the other more popular singers, John, Jasmine, and Diana are all teenagers. So I think there’s a possibility that it’s a case of teenagers voting for other teenagers.
While I don’t think that George, Jennifer, LaToya, and Fantasia would have any problems launching some kind of post-AI career, I can’t see John or Diana singing in anything more than a seniors’ home.