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Idol Hands are the Devil's Playthings
March 11

"They're not out to make good music. They're out to make good television."

This was uttered by a good friend of mine, Colin Anderson. In college, we were in the same a cappella group, making good music and putting on good shows before the age of "American Idol".

By the time this column goes live, "Idol" would have named its own little cadre of musicality, the final 12 participants, and the bumpy road to Nokia Theatre LA Live - and for at least one warm body, superstardom, if only on paper - would have begun. Americans of all makes, models, and creeds will have already taken up sides as pop music from the last 50 years is whittled and condensed to a couple of months and a dozen rank amateurs.

Pardon me if I'm not that excited. I mean, the American Idol of 2010 is not the American Idol of 2002, back when the show was on in the summer, and it meant something.

In 2002, "Idol" was just a summer show that Fox picked up from England to fill two nights a week with programming on the cheap. In 2002, Simon Cowell was just an A&R guy for BMG, whose then-parent company happened to be the distant relative of the production company (BMG was owned by Bertelsmann AG before the Sony purchase; Bertelsmann also owns a majority stake in RTL, the parent company of FremantleMedia, producer of "Idol"). And in 2002, the big story stemming from the show was of a Texas waitress's meteoric rise of her coronation single from #52 to #1. However big that was, were it not for Final Jeopardy!, I probably wouldn't have known that fact.

Fast-forward to 2003, where a closer-than-close final resulted in both winner and runner-up achieving superstardom beyond their imagination, only to have it fizzle that quickly. And it seems as time goes by, careers of the champions go by quicker. Carrie Underwood is the lone exception that proves the rule, while the jury is still out on David Cook and Kris Allen, who pocketed $650,000 as a result of winning "American Idol", compared to the $1 million contract that Kelly Clarkson won when the show first premiered.

Take it back to the title of the series: "American Idol: Search for a Superstar". We haven't gotten many stories about the rise of the champions, but we've gotten more than our fill of judges entering, judges leaving, people alleging fix, people denying fix, people going through the backgrounds of the contestants with a fine-toothed comb. And they're not even contestants anymore. Starting with the final 12, they're now salaried employees of 19 Ltd. You're no longer voting someone off, as you're telling Simon Fuller who to fire.

Some superstar.

And almost as big as the show has become, the audience - and therefore the voting numbers - have dropped.

"American Idol" has just gotten too big. But not so big that a win means a guaranteed career. Were I not part of the coverage for the show, I could probably pick apart one or two good singers, leaving the so-so singers in a nebulous blur.

"They're not out to make good music. They're out to make good television."

I wonder what Taylor Hicks' idea of good television is. It probably isn't this after nine years.

Game Show Alphabet Redux

I'm reasonably sure that we're up to "O" this week. And with a glut of hidden camera games out there (thank you, GSN), I think it's high time we go to a show that did it right.

Regan Burns hosted "Oblivious" for two seasons before Spike gave it the heave-ho in 2004. The premise was simple... you meet a strange fellow who asks you five questions, then he reveals that you're on a game show and that each question you answered correctly won you money. It was so simple, a guy dressed up like a caveman could do it.

I don't recall such an episode taking place, but there you go.

More information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oblivious

Chico Alexander thought about auditioning for American Idol back after college in 2002. E-mail him at chico@gameshownewsnet.com.