It's hard to imagine it now, just a shade less than a decade later, but at one time American Idol was able to crank out star after star in a succession of seasons. Most people couldn't name at least one of the last five winners of Fox's cash-cow pop show, even as ratings have remained healthy (if not blockbuster like they once were).
Upon the show's debut in the summer of 2002, it was at once plastic, peculiar and oddly absorbing. Chances are the only people in your life who watch Idol now on the regular are on your birth certificate or gave you socks this past Christmas.
Even still, thousands upon thousands of singing hopefuls come out to the auditions whenever they get anywhere near where they live for the chance to become the next Kelly Clarkson or Carrie Underwood.
No one wants to be Clay Aiken, you have to be born Clay Aiken.
Adding Nicki Minaj, Keith Urban, and Mariah Carey to the judging dais is an attempt to freshen up the series, but who will be batshit crazy like Steven Tyler was last season?
My pick is Carey, with Minaj a close second, and it's only a matter of time before someone slashes someone's throat. Urban seems to be Idol's answer to The Voice's use of Blake Shelton on their Idol biting pop series.
Then there is that X Factor crap that I have never seen, with Britney Spears and ex-Idol mastermind Simon Cowell.
The Idol machine just doesn't crank out ready-made stars the way it used to. For every Clarkson or Underwood, there is a Fantasia or Jordin Sparks, people who exist on the periphery. Or ones who started as singers but turn into actresses, like Katherine McPhee and Jennifer Hudson.
The last male to truly make his own mark away from Idol was Adam Lambert, guesting with Queen in Freddie Mercury's place and turning in a glam-rock debut album that isn't a pain to listen to.
But achieving status from Idol can give you an amount of longevity and bankability, even if you don't become a massive stadium act. Taylor Hicks and Aiken can fill smaller venues nightly, Constantine has done Broadway, and Chris Daughtry still makes ladies swoon on the rock circuit.
Pop-country acts do well on Idol too, with the genre one of the last to foster acts rather than chew them up and spit them out. I didn't even realize that Kellie Pickler was a country gal, all I knew was the she was hot and blonde. Go figure.
Tattooed rocker James Durbin opened up for Buckcherry on the "Lit Up" group's last tour, and he seems to have the chops to stick around in that demographic. It's not pretty to the hipsters, but it's a living.
Others like Sanjaya Malakar, and J. Gaines -- Mr. Pants On the Ground -- that flare up like cheap fireworks in the night sky of pop-culture. Remember Frenchie Davis?
Then there is a whole subgenre of well-meaning guys in spectacles and sensible clothing that make harmless pop-rock not unlike what you would hear at praise and worship service. Someone in the recording studio throws a bunch of word magnets on the break-room fridge and hopes for the best permutation of goodbye, forever, beautiful, eyes and love.
Could it be that in 2012 it is even harder to become a pop star, is the concept of success just so lopsided that acts are searching for something that doesn't exist anymore?
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I dunno, but this William Hung Christmas album makes a good coaster.