‘American Idol is dumbing down pop music’

7 December 2008 at 3:00 am Leave a comment

 

KUKUL KHAN, YouTube Review

That’s how Conrado de Quiros, a known columnist in a leading English daily in the Philippines, puts it in his commentary on American Idol’s popularity in the former American colony.

I was able to watch the 7th season of the American Idol and I will disagree with some of his observations (italicized below):

“Idol is dumbing down the pop music.” 

I don’t think so. It actually celebrates great pop music from the Beatles to Queen to Whitney Houston, and yes to Dolly Parton, etc., and even the music of Andrew Lloyd Weber. What is interesting is that sometimes, some contestants’ brilliant interpretations are even better than the original. What attracts many Filipinos to watch American Idol is that the viewers are not treated as stupid unlike in most of the local TV shows (including Pinoy Idol) where mediocrity is the norm. In Am Idol, many contestants are really damn good that, as judge Randy puts it, they can sing anything, even the phone book and get away with it.    

“Idol is dictating passivity if not lethargy, and conformity if not uniformity.” 

On the contrary, Am Idol is very interactive and revolutionary—a people power at work. The viewers decide what is good and what is not, most of the time in direct rebuke of the judges’ and the industry’s preconceived notion of what a good artist and performance should be. (In fact, if only the impeachment process in the Philippines can be done American Idol way, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the rest of the corrupt government officials had been booted out of office a long time ago.) Watching American Idol is also a revolt against mediocre local TV shows.

“Idol has the potential to stunt local (Philippine) pop music.” 

The behavior of TV networks in this country is the greatest threat to Filipino music. The warring networks have been trying to redefine the music culture by unleashing their “talents” (if you can call them that) who can barely sing. For them, form not substance is more important. They are the ones who are stunting the development of real great musicians who happen not to be mestizos or mestizas.

When was the last time you see Joey Ayala, Gary Granada, Grace Nono, or Pinikpikan, to name some, on local television? The real talents are left in the margins—performing in the bars, in small provincial gigs, or in the fundraising activities for various causes.

Our local TV programs are reeking with racism, stereotyping, and prejudices. Take for example the case of Arnel Pineda, the ordinary looking Filipino rocker who is now the lead vocalist of popular American band Journey, he was discovered through YouTube and not through our local networks.

So don’t blame the Filipino viewers if they will rather watch American Idol than endure long-term psychological trauma being inflicted by the local programs. Idol is actually teaching us Filipinos a lot (and hopefully our TV networks will also learn) in reexamining our distorted values. In Idol, you can see all hues and cultures. It doesn’t matter if you’re horizontally or vertically-challenged and you don’t need a “Hollywood” face to qualify in, after all, this is a singing talent search competition.

Yes, “some idols are worth worshiping and others are not.”

We should in fact stop idolizing and rather just appreciate what is good in them. We need to support our real artists in defining and celebrating the different faces of Philippine music. We are a very diverse culture finding musical roots from traditions as well as from various outside influences throughout our history. And like in the past, those who are in the “margins” will always be the potent force in the reshaping of our music.

But it also doesn’t hurt to celebrate great foreign music and musicians. Our music has gone a long way in securing a niche in the heart of every music-loving Filipino. As foreign observers note, the Philippines has one of the most, if not the most, vibrant local music scenes in Asia. Foreign music, and yes even American Idol, won’t do harm to Philippine music but they can even enrich it. Ask any great Filipino artist of his/her musical influences and he/she will cite foreign acts as among them.

Great music and great musicians know no nationality and border. They are just that: great music and great musicians.

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