I was very upset when I heard Jennifer Lopez herself go on Ryan Seacrest’s talkshow and get emotional about leaving American Idol. It was the news no one wanted to hear: with two judges gone and Randy Jackson holding on because, well, the dude really has nothing else to fill his time, the death knell has been struck. American Idol was failing. The big brand that brought in the very best of new-wave vocalists like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Adam Lambert – heck, even Kelly Pickler – was the talk of the town for the past decade for reinventing the singing talent show. Never since Star Search had there been so much interest in a show that could turn ordinary lives around in a seemingly real fashion, not unlike talent shows of yore which does not hide the masquerade too well.
Then, The X Factor came and Simon Cowell pulled the plug out of a show that was only beginning to exist because he was around demoralising everyone and giving snarky one-liners. Critics commented that Simon’s departure and the judging panel mix-ups that led to that were already a sign of a show going stale. That sounded quite odd, for a reality show where each week is supposed to be fresh because the premise is that it is not 100% scripted. However, the boring concepts and the predictability of Idol’s growth curve soon landed it in hot soup: the show dropped from Season 6 ratings of above 30 million to Season 11 ratings of below 20 million. Season 11 was the first drop of Idol ratings to lesser than 20 million since 2003 – that was the year Ruben Studdard won and the world was introduced to the then-closeted Clay Aiken.
Yet, news of Mariah Carey joining the Season 12 judging panel was met with much adoration from fans and industry contacts.
The show proved very successful at relaunching Jennifer Lopez’s career. Her album Love? was then at the brink of being postponed for the umpteenth time since news of it first came out in 2008. In 2010, JLo left Epic Records to join Island Def Jam – coincidentally, the record label that houses Mariah. Her star was fading, and CNN saw that by speculating that the move to Idol was the career move that would skyrocket JLo back to mainstream consciousness. And, it did. Lead single On The Floor became one of the most successful sinlges of 2011, shipping 3.4 million copies in the United States and making it the 14th best-selling digital single of all time. Yeah, there are that many people who buy music out there.
JLo was back in the tabloids, most notably for her breakup with then-husband Marc Anthony. Speculators may say it sparked off a string of breakups including Katy Perry & Russell Brand and yes, god ol’ TomKat (yawn boring). Tabloids struggling for sales made crazy bank and that would be the precedent for a story like Aniston-Pitt to be the staple for cover stories. For the tabloids to be so interested in a celebrity must mean that something about that person is famous and interesting enough to warrant a 88-point headline. JLo made no mistake that Idol brought her back up but she rarely gave full credit for it until her teary Ryan Seacrest interview. Her meticulous choice of words finally gave way when she waxed lyrical about how much Idol meant to her but how much she had to be back out on the road.
Classic case of a diva gone back up and then realising that her stepping stone cannot support her anymore?
That is what will happen to Mariah Carey.
To be frank, Mariah does need the publicity. The diva has managed to stay in the game for very long, but rumours about her faltering musical abilities surfaced with recent album Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel and Merry Christmas II You. She was often seen lip-syncing on carefully-mastered backup tracks. Myself and former editor Sadali Mawi speculated for a while that her hand gestures were cues for the sound team to up the volume on the backing vocal track running concurrently to the song. We could have been right, we could have been wrong. What was clear though is that when Mariah did decide to sing au naturel, she could no longer hold her top notes. Her butterfly note was not as crisp as before and she ran in and out of runs, sometimes becoming visibly breathless. It was a case of the diva fallen from grace: one that could no longer live up to her legacy. Mariah was at danger of being shooed to oblivion, much like how the world did the same to the late Whitney Houston during her dark days.
With her 14th studio album coming out and lead single “Triumphant (Get ‘Em)” slated to be released early August 2012, Mariah has one more shot to prove that if Madonna can stay relevant (although scarily so at times), she could darn well do that too. It is a win-win for her and for American Idol who needs the star power to sustain interest. But here is why the cards will not fall right for one of them: do you really care about American Idol at all? With so many singing shows around, other newer options are easily the choice du jour. Even shows like The X Factor are barely into Season 2 and it needs to reshuffle its judging panel and host to stay relevant. What more for The Voice, whose blind auditions and battle rounds are beginning to be mere gimmicks when the rest of the show is just like any other singing competiion: half-judged by looks, another on sustainability in the music industry as a pop star? Even if there are options, singing shows are so ubiquitous now that not watching them entirely is a very real and present option. No longer is finding a singing talent on television and finding their half-scripted sob story an excitable concept anymore – spotting underground musicians is now coming into the forefront, with Vevo eager to captialise on this.
Mariah will stamp herself all over Idol and walk over it like the self-entitled bitch we love and hate all at once. (Note: I am a Mariah fan, but not a devotee.) She will not add anything to Idol but you will tell that she will manipulate it to show the world what she has to offer. Then, once she has had enough, she will walk away and do that world tour she has always wanted to get back to doing. She might not even stay for Season 13 if the album does well. Idol will be publicity for her, but Mariah will not be publicity for a show whose concept no one gives a shit about. Good luck Idol, watch your back because you are not ready for Mariah’s heavy assets. And we mean that in more ways than one.
Words: Shah Salimat