"Natural Selection -- The process whereby organisms better adapted to their environment tend to survive and produce more offspring. First expounded by Charles Darwin and now believed to be the main process that brings about evolution." -- New Oxford American Dictionary
Since the late 90s, reality shows have taken over almost all of today's television programming. At the helm of this movement was, and still is, the mammoth singing competition called American Idol. Franchised all over the world, it has made its winners, judges and even a few losing contestants worldwide stars. The lure of the show is simple and timeless -- watching a frog turn into a prince. Everyone loves a rags-to-riches story, hell, it's the American dream! Who doesn't want to watch that?
Me, that's who.
There's something to be said for "paying your dues," the only problem is it isn't actually said very often anymore. Even hearing the term roll off my own tongue sounds antiquated. No one uses the term because there aren't any dues to pay. Dues, for anybody interested, used to come in the form of slogging it in nightclubs to little acclaim for virtually pennies on the off chance that something would spark. It was romantic and dare I say even noble. Today, what has replaced these "dues" are endless line-ups made up of people waiting for a handout and willing to forgo their dignity for 30 seconds of fame consisting of being laughed at for attempting to sing.
What this new star process yields are anxious, malleable, vacant performers who ape correctly, take instructions obediently and, outside of pleasing the masses, don't have a shred of genuine character. That's not to say they don't have it within them to maybe one day become interesting artists, but that rarely happens given the accelerated nature of network television.
It's this immediacy within the petri dish of the television studio that produces hobbling gimp stars who, within a short period of time, will begin to exhibit injurious recessive genes that come with fame when mixed with inherent naivety and newfound ego. Inevitably, their fate will most likely consist of being eaten and spat back out by the general public, much like one does after eating a half-cooked meat.
What's lost on everybody is that the chase is really better than the catch. It's this gestation period that's fascinating. Taking years to hone your craft and become great just doesn't make for good television. Trying to figure out how to write a proper song took me years! And some would suggest I still don't know how (as a large contingent would most likely concur). Trying to learn how to keep my voice intact over a six to seven week tour during the cold months of the year took me eight years to figure out! Yes, I'm a slow learner, but it's these bitter pills of trial and error in every facet of music that make the journey. There is no rulebook, coach or compassionate audience to lean on, but that's what makes you stronger and better over time. The true musicians and performers who really persevere after years of slogging it out eventually gain skills in all fields (business, street smarts, songwriting, performing, playing, public relations etc.) that far outweigh their novice reality show counterparts and this shows in their recorded output.
Of course these singing competitions don't represent the whole music universe, but it's the part that is most celebrated, most lauded over and most known. The other side, the one I'm familiar with, comes with few perks and relative obscurity. The teeming masses sucking on the American Idol teet also usually consume the worse pop culture and somehow that doesn't bother me at all. They stay on their side of the fence, I stay on mine, and never the two shall meet.
Being the fittest to survive in the jungle of the music business takes someone made of strong stuff. Being a canker-ridden, bottom-feeding sodomite of a beast, the music business can be as alluring as a tasty guitar riff or as malodorous as a cheesy melodramatic ballad. It's easy to get sucked in by its glitz, but the real black comedy begins when all the hoopla has faded and the last studio audience member is shuffled out the building. It's precisely at this moment when these newly crowned reality show princes or princesses slowly realize they've officially become a product. Their souls have been sold on a reality television show. I'll take the long, slow road over that any day.