The new reboot of American Idol has people polarized. Some people like it and think it’s refreshing and new. Others think it’s a poor imitation of the original. There are certainly things to criticize about it. But a piece in NBC Think site made us pause. The author asserts that the reason American Idol is so boring now has to do with Trump and a Trumpian populist patriotism.
American Idol And Trump
The piece was written by Ani Bundel who believes that in the wake of Trump’s election American Idol is displaying the worst tropes of American triumphalism and toxic nationalism. She states,
“This year, the show opened with the southern-accented twang of season four’s winner Carrie Underwood, the only major country music superstar the show has ever produced. Over shots of sunsets, rolling hills, cornfields and Main Streets filled with American flags, Underwood describes how great this show is and how great our country is, filled as it is with blue-jeans-wearing, fresh-faced undiscovered talent. It’s Americana taken to the extreme, and it would feel like a parody if everyone on the show weren’t so ultra-serious about it.”
Big Cities Vs. Small Town America
The whole point of American Idol is that they search out talent all over the country not just in the big cities or the coasts. Ms. Bundel seems to have a problem with people from the South, apparently from her writing anything that smacks of small town America or being from south of the Mason-Dixon line is something bad.
As someone from Texas, I can tell you that this comes off as super elitist. Then she goes on to equate the whole American theme to Trump, as if to be patriotic necessarily means being a Trump supporter. She says,
“Suddenly, “American Idol,” instead of being a gateway to the larger cultural landscape, is echoing the nativist sentiment that Trump’s election brought to the forefront.”
Ms. Bundel does realize that the show is called AMERICAN Idol, right? She mentions in the article that the show acts as though it was the first to come up with a talent show based on singing. This is odd because I’ve never heard the show make that statement.
European Talent Shows
Ms. Bundel rightly points out that in Europe they were doing it for years with Eurovision. Simon Cowell brought that sensibility to the original American Idol. But if you look at these types of shows in other countries, like we do, you’ll notice that they are just as given to flag waving as we are here in the States. Britain’s Got Talent, The X Factor, and The Voice UK are super patriotic about the UK the same as Idol is about America.
“It no longer matters if “American Idol” finds the best singers. It’s only interested in promoting ourselves to ourselves. No wonder it feels boring.”
In what way is it not about finding singers? That’s the entire point. You could say that this new incarnation emphasizes the judges too much, but clearly it is giving people from random parts of the country the chance to shine. Let’s remember that Kelly Clarkson is from a small town in Texas and Carrie Underwood is from a tiny town in Oklahoma. This has always been a through-line of the show.
Do Not Politicize Our Talent Shows
In the extremely divisive culture that we currently inhabit, do we really need to politicize American Idol? The thing I like most about the show is its upbeat optimism. Idol is telling us that there is still good stuff and beauty in our culture and that music can bridge the political gap. Let’s not drag Trump into this. I don’t see any signs of him in the show. Katy Perry wouldn’t allow it.