mamadeb: (Essay)
[personal profile] mamadeb

Adam Lambert has been asked about the "Idol Stigma" - whether he was worried he'd lose credibility in the music industry because he basically became famous because he went on a game show. His reply was that he'd used the show as a platform to get a fanbase, that it had worked, and that he'd rather live with the stigma and the loss of cred than in his studio apartment.

Is there a stigma attached to former Idols? Does having been on Idol make it more difficult in their post-show careers? I think the answer is, "it depends." To be precise, I think it depends on the post-show career. For some very few, it can be a handicap, but for the majority, I believe it is a help, over and above the fact that none (including that very few) would have had a music career otherwise.

About 95% of former contestants are not and will not be stars. This includes winners and popular non-winners. Those get an album or two, chances for singles based on their name recognition, and then settle for a very different career in music. The others - just settle. And for them, being on American Idol is a plus, not a minus.

From what I've gathered, most former finalists make their money by doing private or corporate events, musicals, as opening acts or doing strictly local touring. All of this is better than they did before Idol, and none of it is embarrassing or shameful. And their ticket to these gigs is the fact that they were on Idol. That's why they're hired, that's why people come to see them. Their fifteen minutes on TV helps them pay the bills and lets them work in their chosen field.

Oh, there are other career tracks - Chris Sligh will tell you at length about his writing, and he's not the only one, Jennifer Hudson is an award-winning actress, although that owes nothing to Idol, and certainly others have left music entirely.

But Idol is going to have a proud place on most post-Idol CVs, as it should. I truly doubt that most of them would consider it a stigma.

At a certain level, though, yes, it IS a problem. Real musicians - at least real rock and pop musicians - are supposed to get ahead on talent alone. Are supposed to pay their dues in clubs and make demos and get studios to pay attention and get signed and…well. Not take a short-cut by going on a game show. (Or youtube, Justin?)

Of course, plenty of talented people do just that and go nowhere - look at Carly Smithson and David Cook. And some very talented people pay their dues and don't get signed, like Chris Daughtry and Adam Lambert. So Idol wasn't so much a shortcut as a last resort for many of them.

But other musicians will always question Adam and Daughtry because they had to go this route to stardom - will wonder at the legitimacy of said stardom, and any press over a paragraph will mention Idol (if only to remind people that they LOST.) I think that nothing will change in that regard until Idol is over, if then. And it will be a hurdle that they might not be able to overcome.

Daughtry has found a niche in HAC, but he, like David Cook, is more rock than pop, and rock will never play an Idol. Adam loves pop music, and wants to be a pop star, but if pop is more welcoming than rock, it's not as welcoming as HAC. He is currently perceived as a pop success, so that's going to help given that he has more than Idol to overcome.

He has the voice for rock, of course (Adam has the voice for everything), but between his wish to be commercial, which rock isn't - there are few enough active rock stations who play new material - and Idol, he knows better than to try. And, again, he LOVES pop, so he's not compromising on his vision. Oddly enough, I don't think that his sexuality is a factor here. When the metal blogs picked up on "Enter Sandman", that seemed to be considered irrelevant, as it should be.

The other big Idol successes, the winners Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, have had different roads. Kelly is the first winner, which ties her to Idol forever, but that lends her cachet. And she's paid her dues since, which I think is recognized.

Carrie, on the other hand, is country and country seems to only care if you're authentic - if you have the musicianship and attitude they want. They don't care how you came to their attention so long as you're worthy of it - and Carrie has proved worthy to the country fans. So she didn't have a stigma to begin with. This has also at least not hurt Kellie Pickler, Bucky Covington or Danny Gokey, and it shouldn't hurt Casey James, either. Idol means they'll get a listen that others might not, but after that, it's up to them.

Daughtry has gained respect, I think, in the music world, and Adam is working that now. His Grammy nomination shows that he does have credibility as a singer, and pretty much everyone acknowledges his vocal prowess. As a fan, I believe he's well on his way to stardom, but I know time only will tell.
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February 2011

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