Andy Warhol famously said, “In the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes,” and then he painted a picture of a can of soup. American Idol is the ultimate conveyer belt of 15-minute one-hit, one-headline wonders, where each of Andy’s soup cans represents yet another contestant vying for instant fame. Just like with any other assembly line, some of the soup cans will circle around for awhile, hoping to get plucked off the belt and set free for something bigger and better than reality television fame. Most of them, however, will fall into the rejects bins, where the dented cans, torn labels and soups containing an excessive level of maggots are discarded.
Even poor frumpy Susan Boyle, with her big Broadway voice, Hollywood makeover, and the blessing of Simon Cowell (the creator of the soup can line), was unable to make the third down conversion from You Tube sensation to a singer with a job. A quick Google search reveals that Simon Cowell has reportedly discovered “the next Susan Boyle.” Another soup can hits the bin.
The culture of creating music careers has also changed. On Idol, giant red plastic cups of Coca Cola replace the infamous cocaine of the Rock and Roll era. Steven Tyler sips his soda and tries to keep his language in check while judging teenage girls who blatantly pimp themselves to him, since actual singing talent is clearly not an option. Back in the day, at best, these girls would have been ironing Steven’s scarves.
Tyler and the current crop of judges are expressly forbidden from telling these soup can candidates how God-awful they actually are. Simon Cowell did that in early Idol seasons and was subsequently banished back to Britain where the highly sarcastic culture and consistently crappy weather creates thicker skins.
Back in the states, Idol now plays host to a generation whose theme song goes, “I’m OK, you’re OK and if you say otherwise I’m reporting you to DCS for psychological bullying.” Everyone deserves a shot at fame. Everyone is entitled to their 15 minutes on the soup can line. Everyone is talented and it’s society’s fault for not noticing and showing up on each aspiring singer’s doorstep with a record contract and star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Regular soup, where fighting your way through obscurity and paying your dues, is required to hammer out an actual music career, is no longer hitting the spot. Only instant soup passes the taste test for this reality television brainwashed generation.
If you want to know the real difference between a reality show can of soup and a legend, a Whitney Houston, look to the singing of our national anthem at major televised sports events. Many of today’s Idol alumni struggle with the basic task of remembering the words, not to mention the screeching cacophony of missed notes and sounds that I’m sure I’ve heard my cat make. When Whitney accepted the task of delivering our national anthem at the 1991 Super Bowl, just 10 days into the Gulf War, she clearly understood that just getting it right was not an option. She needed to nail it. The resulting performance redefined the beauty and greatness of the song, the country and the music legend that brought the two together. Whitney Houston’s performance that day became legend; and she was only just getting warmed up. For a reality show can of soup, however, that would have been it – dream realized, mission accomplished, time to check into Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.
This is not, of course, to discount the intermittent talent that manages to break through the reality show soup line once in awhile. Singers like Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Hudson, and Kelly Clarkson are all still circling around on the conveyor belt. Of the three, Jennifer Hudson might have the best shot at longevity, since Simon Cowell and American voters, who in Idol world are inexplicably elevated to the level of educated music critic, kicked her off the soup can line fairly early in the game.
It will be an uphill battle for her to withstand the test of time, as it should be. Because at the end of the soup can line, with no longevity there can be no legends.
Christine Whitmarsh is the owner of local writing firm Christine, Ink. She can be reached at email@example.com.