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American Idol and the Judges

HOLLYWOOD - APRIL 06:  (L-R) Americian Idol pe...
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Those ubiquitous characters from American Idol make headlines again after it was announced that Simon Cowell had signed a lucrative deal to continue his stint as one of the few judges on the show that actually gives some kind of relevant input, aside from sometimes tired analogies.  The news report also mentioned that Kara DioGuardi is back and so is Randy Jackson based on the deal he signed which still has him under contract.  As for Paula Abdul…well practically the whole world knows about her since her decision not to continue was plastered all over the headlines quite prominently.

Despite the outcries saying that American Idol will no longer be worth watching due to her absence, I’ve always felt that Paula Abdul’s presence on the show was largely useless.  Sure she had a successful pop music career during the late 80s to early 90s but at the end of the day, her talents still lie with her skills as an accomplished dancer and choreographer.  Very rarely did she ever give any useful input aside from making contestants feel better just before receiving a tongue lashing from Simon Cowell.  The truth is the music business is rough and despite Mr. Cowell’s blunt remarks, he’s usually right and tells it like some music exec probably would to a budding pop star seeking their shot at fame.

Assuming that whoever ends up replacing Paula Abdul is actually someone who can sing themselves or has their own proven musical credentials to back it up, American Idol will likely be taken at least a little more seriously as a singing and popularity competition.  But now that they’re using people like Victoria Beckham and guest judge Katy Perry(!) as judges, it makes me wonder if the people behind the scenes of American Idol are just trying to stay relevant and get people to tune in next season since those oh so pivotal ratings dropped earlier this year and Ms. Abdul is no more.  Perhaps it may be time to drop the singing competition charade and accept American Idol as the show where the hijinks and choice of hair and attire prove better water cooler fodder than who sang what and how well.

Hey Mr. DJ, Put a (Different) Record On

I’m almost certain I’ve mentioned it before but for purposes of the topic at hand, I’ll reiterate that my listening to popular radio these days is limited. The varieties of tunes that were played back in the day has now been reduced to a few tunes played every fifteen minutes that sound just like everything else that’s out there.

To further solidify the fact that radio caters strictly to the “manufactured song du jour”, I was reading Billboard’s weekly song reviews and confirmed what I had already known for some time. Janet Jackson‘s “Can’t B Good” was, among others, one of the songs being reviewed. It should be noted that this is Ms. Jackson’s fourth release from her “Discipline” album.

Now I will say that I took issue with Janet’s choice to ramp up the raunch ever since she split from her longtime secret husband Rene Elizondo and some of her output sounded like it catered heavily towards trying to grab the attention of popular radio. In fact, I didn’t find a single tune I liked off of “20 Y.O.“, the only thing that grabbed my interest was the creative contest that was held which allowed fans to create cover art using old photos of Janet.

Normally I end up liking the first singles Janet releases to radio off of the albums she’s about to promote so I was pleasantly surprised when I heard “Feedback” and liked it. True, it wasn’t anything groundbreaking but it was definitely creative and incredibly catchy so I figured its inclusion–and Janet’s long overdue return to pop radio–would only be a matter of time.

Well, it turns out neither “Feedback” nor the following singles (“Rock With U” and “Luv”) made a blip and while I’m on her side in hoping the same fate doesn’t await this latest single, I don’t see it happening.

As such, it’s a situation that’s affected numerous artists. Madonna‘s second single “Give it 2 Me” off of “Hard Candy” is not getting any airplay although she at least has the luxury of having “4 Minutes” being played every now and then on radio.

But what did Madonna have to do? She made an album that practically screams “I’m trying to court popular radio listeners”, not that I find any less entertaining mind you.

Has anyone heard any new tunes from Alanis Morissette since “Uninvited”? Heck, does anyone know she recently released her album post Ryan Reynolds breakup album “Flavors of Entanglement“? Did Tracy Chapman or Fiona Apple receive any sort of airplay after “Give Me One Reason” and “Criminal”, respectively? Is anyone aware Kylie Minogue released her album “X here in the states to zero fanfare? When was the last Bjork got any kind of radio recognition. True her music is a bit out there for some but she is quite talented, although in her case she doesn’t survive based on chart figures. This is all due at least partially because popular radio is too preoccupied playing gimmicky drivel like Katy Perry‘s “I Kissed a Girl”.

I’ll be the first one to admit that I enjoy manufactured pop music with no artistic merit but I think some of these artists that have musical chops and can write their own lyrics and in some cases music also deserve the time of day. Instead they choose to release albums that are squarely aimed at trying to get some radio airplay.

I do know that these days labels are very critical with album sales and it’s tougher for the average artist to ship enough units in order to achieve gold status and nearly impossible to go platinum which often leads to a speedy pink slip from the label. Then again if the artist is focused squarely on sales, they’re probably not in the business for the right reasons in my opinion.

Madonna is no longer associated with the traditional label ever since she signed that major multimillion dollar deal with Live Nation so I can’t yet say how much sales will factor into her future album sales. Speaking of which, Shakira is also in talks to ink a similar deal, albeit not one with as many zeros at the end. I’m sure Island Records will keep Janet around for the next go ’round or who knows, she might also deflect to Live Nation.

The old adage says “diversity is the spice of life” and radio supposedly plays music that’s “hot” so why am I being force fed junk that sounds like the same thing I heard before?

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