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American Idol - Why are fans still fighting Season 8 fanwars?

You read the Idol blogs, and you'll see mentions - to a point - of Season 9 finalists. It's mostly their album sales right now. And you'll see mentions of people from earlier season. The Davids certainly get spoken about - David Cook has yet to release his second album, and David Archuleta's third (counting the Christmas album) did very, very badly. Daughtry gets mentioned, and so does Carrie, both of whom are doing very well indeed. Carrie is doing amazingly well. In fact, pretty much all the winners, high finishers or past fan-favorites show up in discussions at one point or another - to answer questions or otherwise make points or because they actually have new shows or music out there.

And these discussions are usually matter of fact, at least if they're on blogs or fora meant for general Idol discussion. It's pleasant and interesting conversation, especially for people like me, who got into Idol after season 4 and into Idol fandom after season 8. I learn things I need or want to know.

One of the things I have learned is that there were some very acrimonious onscreen fanwars in previous seasons. Clay vs. Rubin, Carrie vs. Bo, David vs. David. Season 5 fanwars were so intense that they shut down MJ's - but they involved four contestants - Taylor vs. Kat vs. Elliot vs. Chris. Yes, it was bigger between Taylor and Daughtry since Daughtry finished fourth but sold the most albums, but the others had vocal fans, too.

But while I still see fervent fans of these people, I don't see fanwars. When I got interested in the fandom itself in Season 8, I saw no mention of Season 7 acrimony. Those fans were more concerned with how their particular David was doing on their respective tours plus how Cook was cheated of a third single, plus sorrow when Adam Cook died.

So, how come we're still fighting season 8 fanwars now? Why does it seem that Adam fans and Kris fans are eternally at each other's throats, while Danny Gokey is still a target to some people (although less and less, I'm happy to say. I'm not a Danny fan, but he's not evil, just not self-aware.)

I think there are two factors that have extended season 8 until well beyond season 9, with one being far more important than the other. Yes, one is Adam - he has had more media attention than any Idol contestant in a number of years, and so fandom has remained conscious of him and, by extension, his season, longer than other seasons. And to many people, that's a source of frustration as they see their own favorites ignored and all but forgotten. And there are those like me who started as Idol fans but watched season 8 to watch Adam, not to watch American Idol.

But I think that's less important. I think that even if Adam had never taken off to whatever extent he has, the Season 8 wars might still have continued, and I lay that on Season 9 itself - the contestants, the people who picked them, the judging, even the staging and presentation and most especially the attempt at manipulation.

This combination of factors created the most lackluster season of Idol ever. Very few people got passionate over Lee, and only slightly more about Crystal or Casey. We saw nervous, untried people standing behind their guitars and no one captured us, even as a secondary favorite. There was almost nothing to talk about - the songs were almost all forgettable, the judging was just bad, with Ellen doing the wrong job and Simon clearly not caring at all, and the contestants - oh, the contestants. Siobhan tried to rock, and Crystal has true talent, but they just didn't work.

S8 had judging problems, but they also had a roster of contestants with strong personalities and a fair amount of talent - not the deep talent of S7, but a respectable amount - who didn't stand scared behind their guitars. Even without Adam, it would have been a fun season to watch. S6, arguably one of their weaker seasons and following a strong one, still had a bunch of big voiced ladies and a quirky guy to get our attention, and managed to stop the all out battles of S5. S9's people may or may not have had talent - I honestly don't know anymore, but they weren't fun to watch.

So the normal thing, the thing that has happened 7 previous times, where all but the most fervent fans either move on or accept someone as this year's favorite while still maintaining someone else as, well, permanent favorite, didn't happen. And to show that, there were no fanwars. Lee's fans are too busy being worried (for good reason) to care about Crystal's, and Crystal fans are too busy trying to spin her numbers into something good, and Casey fans are waiting until March.

Fanwars happen because fans are passionate about something. Idol fanwars happen because Idol fans get caught up with different people, and only one of those people can win any year. There were no fanwars. Crystal fans were disappointed she didn't win - I was disappointed - but it wasn't even a surprise because Lee has a lot in common with the previous two winners. And that entire finale was really an extended good-bye to Simon, with the announcement of the winners almost an afterthought.

There was nothing to distract fans from refighting S8, and that, I contend, might still have been the case if Adam's star had not been rising. Adam fans would still be disappointed that he lost, after all. Not terribly sure what the Kris fans would be feeling, so can't speculate. I do think Kris's actual career would have been about the same, and I can't tell what that would mean.

Still, even if we don't postulate that Adam had a different post-show career, I do believe that if S9 had been stronger and had had contestants that generated passion in more than a few fans, the S8 wars would have eased off. Adam fans would still be disappointed, and Kris fans would still complain that Adam got disproportionate attention and media hype, but a dynamic and interesting season would have made a real difference.
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February 2011

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