There is no doubt that American Idol was a mammoth turning point in the way music was presented to the masses. When it premiered on FOX, the hit-maker ushered in a wave of reality singing competitions and music was all over the television dial. But was the show good for music educators and school-aged musicians?
Let’s get something out of the way early on; all melodies are “pitchy,” Randy Jackson. I’m pretty sure you meant to use the term “intonation,” right? The biggest problem I had as a music teacher was the comments from the judges being overly vague. It wasn’t their job to educate those aspiring stars in auditions or the eventual stage performances, but it would have been of value to aspiring stars in general. It might not make for great TV, but it reminds me of the phrase “a rising tide lifts all boats.” If you want singers to do better on your show, throw some helpful tidbits in between “that was awful” and “I LOVE YOU!” for the future contestants and other performers to improve.
On a more positive note, the behind-the-scenes looks as contestants were being mentored by famous musicians from Elton John and Billy Joel to Alicia Keys and Akon were mostly positive and gave real world experience to the contestants and viewers as the season moved from auditions to elimination rounds. When musicians are on talk shows, they don’t usually talk about the ins and outs of a performance, so the opportunity for them to pull back the curtain was a nice change of pace.
It’s also undeniable that American Idol pumped out stars and hit singles. More than 350 songs from Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Daughtry, Adam Lambert, Jennifer Hudson, and more have topped various Billboard charts and earned GRAMMYs and other major music awards (in addition to Hudson’s Academy Award). These singers’ progressions showcase some of the talent and changes that need to be made to a persona and singer to “make it” in the industry.
But the biggest and unquestionably most useful legacy of A.I. will be the existence of a litany of music shows on television – reality and otherwise. Other networks built on the success of American Idol to produce similar music performance shows like The Voice and Country Star. It’s unlikely subsequent (and more musically-legitimate) shows like The Sing-Off would have been ordered without the success of the groundbreaking Idol and scripted shows like Glee and Empire may also have remained on the sideline.
Music teachers should look back on American Idol as a mixed bag; it was great for the overall music scene and exposure, there were good and interesting tidbits once the seasons moved past the auditions, and it made music on television relevant again. At the same time, William Hung was a thing so it’s definitely not all good.