Integrity Matters
May 2 , 2007

'American Idol' values hype over talent

Question: (E-290)

Millions watch “American Idol” - a legitimate talent search concept that has become more like “The Gong Show.” Unfortunately, self-promotion and hype upstage some really talented entertainers. Now accusations of voting schemes by the likes of Howard Stern threaten to compromise results. Your reaction?


Whether or not you like “American Idol,” its approach or its stars, please remember: You can always change the channel. When television ratings are strong, creators and sponsors will continue to crank out whatever “entertainment” attracts viewers. Someone’s trash might be another’s treasure. Millions watch “Idol,” tolerating - even enjoying - the "biting commentary" dished out to contestants. Outlandish behaviors, including tasteless hairdos, hideous clothing and some very weak acts have become all too common. Unfortunately, some sophomoric theatrics from Chuck Barris' “Gong Show” still live.

Some television viewers watch clever and degrading shows such as "Idol" simply because they are too exhausted to search for something more challenging. Perhaps they have little interest in reading, carrying on constructive conversations or thinking deeply about serious issues. After all, isn't it easier get "down and dirty" with Simon Cowell, a judge on the show? Why not kick back, snickering at the sarcasm of a Mr. Cowell, notorious for his unsparingly blunt and often controversial criticism of the contestants? Humiliating those with less talent reflects bankrupt behavior, because it really is classless to ridicule those who should be pitied.

In the 1950s, Ted Mack's "Amateur Hour" encouraged hopeful and aspiring stars, treating them with respect. Decades later, Ed McMahon's Star Search nurtured new talent, similarly. When the buying public supports vicious and cruel comments by adults judging younger people, then the lowest common denominator will rule "profit-focused" airwaves, at the expense of civility. And, because the real "Idol" game is about retaining viewers and pay-per-vote fans, seemingly, any process for voter attraction and manipulation will be tolerated. Judges become caricatures of themselves and voter fraud appears only a dial tone away.

"American Idol" could even more dramatically underscore such important values as proper preparation, performance quality, and relationship integrity. While many who appear on the show are very talented, certain "over the top" presentations combine with marketing savvy, allowing "pretenders" to flourish. "American Idol" fans should be rightfully proud of the good that their call-in dollars do for others, demanding constructive behavior by all judges. Otherwise, they will be supporting a program that teaches a new generation that hard work is good, but packaging mediocrity, cleverly, is not only acceptable - it might be the key to success.

Such a recipe spells disaster.

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