Daily Archives: May 24, 2009

Run, David, Run (Or Should I Say Sleep?)


Now that the AI season finale is over, and David is back home in Utah (catching up on his sleep – yay! – and bonding with his siblings), I’ve been pondering a number of conversations that have emerged since Season 8 completed its run.  In particular, I’ve been thinking about the implications for David.

Of course, the media last week have been blowing up a fabricated conflict between two American Idol runner-ups, Clay Aiken and Adam Lambert, in which Clay recently posted on his private blog that Adam’s singing made his “ears bleed.”  Meanwhile, the gist of his arguments has indirect implications for David and his role on the show.  Clay basically commented that:

The show was different [in the past], and folks made it in seasons 1-3 because they were “real” people who happened to sing/entertain well. But, somewhere along the way, AI stopped being about real people … Those votes for Kris were also votes to return the show to its roots of finding “real” contestants with undiscovered talent and giving them the chance to grow and shine… Enough with the pretention. More Rubens, more Clays, more Fantasias and Tamyras and Kellys please.

While I happen to agree with what Clay is saying here, I do feel the need to come to David’s defense when he was on the show during Season 7.  It’s no secret that David Archuleta very early in his season was the early frontrunner and an immediate media darling.  After all, it took 7 years – after John Stevens, Anthony Federov, Kevin Covais, and Sanjaya Malakar, all cute but mediocre to decent  teen singers – for the show to find the perfect teen idol.  As Simon told David during the Hollywood rounds: “You’ve got so many things going for you. You’re young, you’re good looking, you’re likable, and you’ve got a great voice. That’s not a bad place to be, is it?”

David, all smiles, said, “No, it isn’t,” followed by what would soon become his trademark giggle.   Paula said, “I can’t wait for the world to discover you.” And the world did, and the world went ga ga.  But here’s the thing.  David was still a “real” person who, at 17, still needed to grow and improve.  What was missing in his season, and what Clay is essentially complaining about, is that story arc, that buldingsroman, in which the Idol contestant is allowed to be seen as a “regular” person who would soon transform into a star.  But you just don’t turn into a star. The show was built around judges and mentors, who were there to provide a dramatic makeover.  Hence, Clay Aiken went from super geek with the amazing voice to sex symbol with an amazing voice.  During his season, the most amazing transformation – in my view – was third place finisher, Kimberly Locke, who went from “hot mess” fat girl with the crazy hair who could sing beautifully to the gorgeous plus-sized model whose vocals really started to impress during the course of the season:  so much so that she threatened frontrunner Ruben Studdard’s place in the finale.

Unfortunately for David, and this happened to my other favorite idol, Melinda Doolittle also in the previous season, his story was presented as:  he is the best of the best, he’s the greatest thing to ever hit the idol stage, no improvement necessary. He hit the ground running.  And, yes, as an Archie, I will admit as much that David is all that and then some.  However, I’m not blind. He did have his flaws – mostly not related to his singing, and even then, he could have benefited from some constructive criticism.  He, like Melinda, peaked too early, so if the audience is fed the script – which the show clearly constructed – that “no improvement is necessary, he’s ready to be crowned the winner,” of course backlash will happen.

But is this David’s fault?  No.  It’s the show’s fault for jumping the shark and changing the script in which they were no longer interested in mentoring and making over contestants and in seeing who’s the last one standing during the course of the season.  It became about finding a polished and ready-to-be-signed contestant (which I would argue started with Carrie Underwood, especially when someone as polished as she was from her auditions became such a huge  star), someone who could make them lots of money, and pushing really hard for that contestant and using TV to manipulate voters into supporting or vilifying contestants.  The show became gimmicky and, irony of ironies, this “reality” show stopped being based in reality.

Think about it. How many times have you heard of AI viewers, who hated David (the most likable guy on the planet has haters – think about that), and after discovering him after the show (especially those who went to the AI summer tour) thought he was the sweetest person ever with an incredible voice.  How many times did they ask, “How come I didn’t see this kid when I was watching AI?” How in the heck did AI manage to turn David into the kind of contestant in which its viewers would call him everything from “gaspy” to “cheesy” to “annoying” to “fake” to “puppet” (in reference to his being under complete control by a bullying stage dad, thanks to tabloid stories)? How? By failing to be a show that used to mentor and grow its contestants. Instead, it became about creating scripts and using contestants as props and pawns.

And we wonder why, when Idol alumni discuss their experiences, they all sound like they’re suffering from PTSD!  Most Archies that I talk to all have an impression that the show didn’t treat him right.  Why? Because he got no real guidance, in fact, got derailed a few times.  And David came back swinging during the finale. And yeah, he got signed by a major label, earned $1.3 million (according to Forbes), and spent his senior year in high school promoting his first album and touring all across the U.S., the U.K., and parts of Asia.  But, that’s just a mere consolation prize for being used to make for “great TV” (if we want to call it that). It certainly didn’t change the dynamics in which poor bb returned to the AI stage last April and “freaked out.”  And it certainly doesn’t hide the fact that, in many glaring ways, the show is still doing what it can to undermine David and treat him as if he’s not nearly as good as they once said he was.

The fact that the other “frontrunner” during Season 6, Melinda Doolittle, who released her debut album this year, wasn’t even invited back to perform a new single, also goes to show that these contestants don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. So caught up in the new narrative that winning American Idol is the only thing that matters, those who had great potential but who didn’t win are not getting much support or promotion.  That it took Jennifer Hudson, the most prestigiously decorated of all the Idol alumni, five years to return to the idol stage says it all.  And even she revealed, during an Essence interview a few years ago, that she had to “rebuild her self-esteem” after the show, implying that the show is invested in breaking down contestants, all for the sake of entertainment.

I’m not going to get all “conspiracy theory” about the show and these scripts that they create, which have veered off from the original purpose: finding undiscovered talent.  But, it wouldn’t have taken much for David to have won the whole shebang.  Once the chatter emerged about David’s “lack of breath control” and once Vote for the Worst nicknamed him “Gaspy,” all it would have taken was for either Simon or Randy or Paula to just interject, after one of his songs, a simple comment: “It’s amazing to me how, with just one vocal chord, you’re able to sing so powerfully. I imagine that will cause some breathing issues, but you seem to manage that beautifully.”  Followed by Ryan asking David, “How are you managing that? Is there anything you’re doing to prepare for your singing?” David would have answered, and those idiots who wanted to nitpick (all for the sake of tearing down the image the show built of David as this unstoppable force and inevitable winner) would have felt foolish for picking on his disability. But the show didn’t do that, which they could have. Had it been Cook who incited such gossip, they would have.

The same is true for Melinda.  Once the gossip was, “she’s a technically good singer, but she doesn’t have that star quality,” all she needed was a wardrobe makeover.  I firmly believe that, had Melinda come out on Top 3 (the week she was voted off) in a sparkling red dress and sang a more current song (say Beyonce’s “Listen” vs. Whitney Houston’s “I Believe in You and Me”), not only would she have made the finale, but she would have won (because only her vocal versatility could have turned that godawful “This is My Now” into something profound and sultry).

All this is to say: they didn’t get this feedback. They didn’t get this nurturing, and as a result, as frontrunners, who were presented as “already polished,” it was much too easy to pick at their flaws, especially when they were getting no constructive feedback on how to correct them.  Clay is right in that the show had stopped being about “real” people. It had become about how to “package” people, and in offering a package – especially one that showed up certain flaws – the audience wasn’t buying it.  And because the show has decided they’d rather deal with packages than “real people,” the genuine talent of contestants like David and Melinda got under-appreciated.

Which is why I say to David: so glad you got to reunite with your fellow idols, especially when you weren’t even planning on attending last week’s finale if it hadn’t been for Cook convincing you.  But now that the season finale is over, please stay away.  You owe the show nothing from now on.

Run, David, run!