High Culture, Low Culture: Where David Fits In
I don’t take particular pleasure in knowing that Simon Cowell is most likely set to fail with his ultra-trashy, dismal, embarrassingly dull, and crass new reality talent show, The X-Factor. I was more disgusted by what was shown than what was not and so didn’t even bother to tune in for Thursday’s show. But, it’s no surprise that the show has so far received negative reviews, and a parenting group has urged the FCC to fine its premiere show.
But, what has this to do with David, you might ask? Well, as long as the most visible thing David is known for is that he was that darling kid with an amazing voice from American Idol (and a hit song called “Crush,” made possible because he came in as the show’s runner-up that year), this trashtastic affair will invariably taint him and others known for their humble beginnings on such shows. Especially since egoistic judges like Simon Cowell can still claim that they “discovered” David.
Of course, I don’t see such nonsense tarnishing the likes of fellow Idol alumni like the original winner Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Chris Daughtry, or Jennifer Hudson. But there’s a key difference: these artists have successfully severed their Idol ties by receiving accolades elsewhere. The fact that their artistry has been awarded with Grammys, Oscars, or by simply establishing fanbases well beyond those who watch Idol, means they don’t have to even acknowledge the jokers who gave them a chance to shine on the show. This is partly why, I imagine, some of David’s fans wring our hands over David’s career. He didn’t reach enough of the distance needed to sever similar ties, and one hit song does not a severing make.
At the same time, whenever I pop in my DVD of Glad Christmas Tidings and just bask in the pride I feel in our beloved, fall in love with his twinkling eyes and open smile all over again (like the first time when he performed “Heaven” during Idol’s Hollywood rounds), and let a wave of joy wash over me everything he unleashes The Voice, I get goosebumps thinking of what it will be like when he appears on PBS channels this Christmas season, singing with the legendary Mormon Tabernacle Choir. This is the same choir that has sung with the greatest operatic singers and music legends like Natalie Cole, David’s idol. For David to be the youngest singer to perform with the MTC is really quite an accomplishment, and I just get chills everytime I think of David’s vocal powerhouse and the way his Voice rings out so crystal clear against a full orchestra and full choir – the spontaneous standing O he received after performing “Silent Night” testifies to his greatness.
Now if only David realizes just how dang good he is. If only he will develop an ego on par with Simon Cowell. And I say this because he really needs to take the reins of his career and make a decision. This schizophrenic split between appearing with such classy acts as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and having started with “cheesy” shows like American Idol really makes it hard to categorize him. Which direction should he go in? I mean, I’d like David, once he finds his “sound,” to make a clear decision. I’ll follow him if he becomes the next Josh Groban or the next Bruno Mars, I don’t care, but can David make a final decision on this? While I doubt there will be a sizable crowd of young adults watching PBS’s Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas special, we won’t have to worry that enough people will immediately say: stick to this type of music. However, there is good money and an established career David could easily have going into this genre, if that’s what he wants.
But do we know what he wants? It’s still hard to know just from his first two albums and his disagreements over Jive’s direction for him. I’m also more concerned about his IMAGE than his SOUND. Let’s get real: whatever SOUND emanates from THE VOICE is going to be awesome. What’s more important is how he sells that sound. What image will he feel comfortable marketing, and has he matured enough to not be fretting over being a good little Mormon? Even the Bieber happily spurts out the name of Jesus when he accepts his accolades, so the issue is not that David can’t be popular within his religious identity (the Bieber and Jesus – hello! Donny Osmond and the LDS faith – hello! The Book of Mormon on Broadway – hello!!). It’s having a bigger vision for yourself and allowing yourself to have an edge. And in that vision of being “cutting edge” is knowing where you fit: are you about building your career in high culture or appealing to low culture, or even finding the middle ground?
As an aside, I must say what has always frustrated me about David’s nonprofessional management – whether it involved David’s “team” or family members – is their complete lack of creative vision. It’s like they can’t see how David functions beyond the state of Utah or beyond a certain subset of the Latino community (depending on which parent is influencing David at the moment). Even when they set up his tour shows, they keep hitting the same old venues: usually in some non-metropolitan suburb or somewhere out in the Third World (sorry, Asian fans: love you guys’ support, but I would like to see David tour Tokyo, Beijing, and Mumbai, if he’s going to headline an Asian tour). How on earth can David’s fanbase grow like that, and did they already eat up the $1 million David earned when coming off Idol?
I’m concerned that David is finding his “sound” without an established producer (there’s no Rick Rubin or even a David Foster), but of course that’s hard to do without professional label or management, isn’t it?
It’s not like I don’t have confidence in David. Correction: I have all confidence in The Voice. His songwriting ability? Not so much (yes, I said it – that’s just not his forte). Even the legendary Michael Jackson realized he needed a Quincy Jones, and that opportunity didn’t come along until he ventured out of his safe box to star in his first movie, and while The Wiz was a flop, it’s now in the history books as the place where MJ and QJ magically came together. How will David create these opportunities for himself? Will he find the courage – like MJ once did – to get beyond family management and make creative things happen for himself?
And yes, folks, let’s always remember: Michael Jackson did not become Michael Jackson until he found the courage to replace his father with a music mentor, which he found in Quincy Jones, a man who wasn’t even producing pop music at the time because he only worked on jazz. Collaboration and creative, independent vision is key.
Granted, there are new “announcements” about to be revealed, and for all we know, David will let us know he is making some creative opportunities that will have a huge payoff. One can always hope. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
In the mean time, I look forward to when he can really shed off the Idol shadow and sever the ties in the public’s image of him. Because Simon’s latest adventures tarnish anyone who was ever associated with his reality shows. Heck, I don’t care how much a $5 million contract offers the X Factor winner, their “talent” is forever smeared with that godawful auditioner who dropped his pants on national TV.
To be honest, I don’t know if Simon is just messing with us, or if his mean-spirited cynicism is such that he is contemptuous of the American public, truly believing that enough people will buy his nonsense. Oh wait: we did! His name is Lee DeWyze. More than that, tons more still believe what he said about David: that he’s only a “tween and granny” vote grabber. How he went from telling David “you’ve got so much going for you: you’re likable, you’re good looking, and you’ve got a great voice” to dismissing him as “predictable and treacly” is a reminder of the fakery of these reality-based talent shows.
The flip side of course is: the X Factor – U.S. edition – will crash and burn so badly, the American public will have to reassess everything he ever said.
I just want David coming out on higher ground, leaving “low culture” far behind in the dust of his tracks.