Three things come to mind in those rare moments when I think of Pop Idol: the self-proclaimed oxymoron that is ‘Reality Television’ (if that’s reality I’m calling Judge Judy), hopeless wannabes who wanna make a name for themselves and, perhaps relating to the last ‘stereotype’, the ‘notorious’ Simon Cowell. From the man who brought us the musical talents of Five, Westlife and erm, Zig and Zag, it’s no wonder that the guru of harsh truth, who said in a recent interview ‘Money is Fantastic’, is addicted to the lucrative business of manufactured pop (albeit Zig and Zag).
Because that’s all Pop Idol is at the end of the day. Manufactured. Turn up at one of their hugely publicised auditions (of which you find out about when you switch on the television) and you don’t even have to sing. You don’t even need a name; they change this anyway. All you need are the clothes (picture real pop stars’ outfits on speed), the ‘right’ voice (nb this could mean the wrong voice if you have the right look) and, of course, the approval of Simon Cowell. The result is something of a Blue Peter creation: it looks hazardously put together, and could fall apart at any minute. Such is the life of the pop idol.
Saying that, previous winners of the show have been (for Pop Idol anyway) a little surprising, if not ironic. First there was the last to audition, Will Young. Nine-year olds all over the country winced at televisions whilst parents winced at telephone bills when Gap-Toothed Gareth Gates failed to…come first. The more sophisticated of Western culture, however, rejoiced as a Newcastle accent provoked many a heart attack when the non-conformist won. These naïves of society, who expected Gareth to disappear into Pop Idol Heaven, were truly amazed when he suddenly obtained the clothes…the voice…the approval of Simon Cowell. Before long, Gareth Gates became Will Young, and Will Young became unknown to anyone under the age of twelve.
The second winner was a bit more clear-cut. In fact, Michelle cut so clear that she actually ‘broke the mould’ by being the first Pop Idol larger than a size 6. To the untrained eye she is overweight. Place her next to One of Us and you’ll realise she is merely a healthy human being who now has the unfortunate task of socialising with her stick insect counterparts. To become one would mean going against her motto, ‘You can still be Big and succeed’ (cue Big milkmen/librarians/chip shop owners breathing a sigh of relief). Nonetheless, she will all-too soon find out that manufactured pop means manufactured pop star. Ironically, what got her into the business will eventually get her out. You only have to look at Rick Waller to see that.
Of course, it all begins in the audition room. Potential Pop Star number 10293 approaches the judges looking either scared/scarred or a combination of the two. Although some are obviously there for a Laugh (cue man dressed as banana singing, ‘Under My Skin’) I honestly do believe that some just need to Get Back To The Mental Asylum. Every series one disturbed individual in particular crops up in between the auditionees. This cameo role is non-favoured however; he sings in a Lancashire accent and looks like a volunteer at the local psychiatric…as a patient. When Pete Waterman first looked at Michelle, he dogmatically announced, ‘You will never, ever be a Pop Idol, kid’. From the man who knew too little, we proceed to the Man Who Knows Too Much. Simon’s Cowell’s injuries to insults have ranged from “You sing like Mickey Mouse on helium” to “I think you just killed my favourite song of all-time”. My personal favourite was “I’m in it for the money…and right now you’re worth about 20p”.
The truth hurts.
The big question is; is this what the media consider good entertainment, or are we really expecting a long line of psychos and derogators to be pioneers for our predominant form of escapism? The outburst of Reality TV has taught us (if anything) that Bad Television equals Good Television. See a string of good singers and suddenly we say we’re astonished by your voice, judges say we’re astonished by your image, and the media ignore Mr. Astonishing to make way for the new laughing stock of the country, instead. Seeing people make mockeries of themselves has been the downfall of English society for centuries. But now these people are the gasman, your brother…even you. Escaping from reality has never been harder. And in Media reality, we are all either wannabe models/singers/actors/whatever. But in reality…we’re not.
Watching Pop Idol has taught me that if that is indeed reality, then it’s one telling us image is everything, money is there for the taking by others, and if you don’t have a good singing voice then you might as well quit now. Either that, or just get a face-lift and mime.
Pop Idol is not simply voyeurism for Reality TV buffs; it provokes many a complex from many a twelve-year old who honestly believe from watching singers from the general public (as opposed to where?) succeed, that they truly are the Next Big Thing. The show strips all notions of competition down as winners sail through from stage to stage just because they have the ‘X’ factor. What this is, I do not know.
‘You have the ‘x’ factor’, they say, as if it is a rare disease one should be proud of. If so, would someone please supply the antidote, and fast.
Although Pop Idol seems to represent the backwards of society striving to be famous, notorious or otherwise (yes, this does include Simon Cowell), it also shows the sheer guts and determination that some folks demonstrate to get their foot on the ladder. However ridiculous the outfits, however tragic the voice, you know that a part of those wannabes represent the people that we’d once, just once, would like to be, but would not dare to admit. Leaving fantasies to national television, these days, seems to be the only answer.
And that’s reality.