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American Idol and the Cool Quotient

Cook_2 You can read the dominance of the cult of American Idol and the demise of the American music business in the cool quotient of performers at the results finale at the Nokia theater last night. Once upon a time, ZZ Top would’ve been too cool to come on this show. Graham Nash wouldn’t have been caught dead singing “Teach Your Children” on a cheesy talent competition. George Michael… well, ok, George Michael would have warmed up the audience, that’s probably true. But in general, the range and reach of this show is such – 36 million viewers in the second hour – that no one in the Desperate Times business known as the music industry can afford to ignore this space. Those with records to promote and, though ever less likely, sell – Donna Summer, Bryan Adams, OneRepublic, Seal – dominated the stage. It was, by any measure, a star-studded line-up, including an appearance by Mike Meyers in swami regalia and doing a lame bit with the Davids. Guess who has a movie coming out.

I was there, third row, close enough to see ‘em sweat, and let me tell you – this was an impressive feat. Live, all those songs, all those artists, they had it nailed. But even as the coolest artists are vying to be on a singing contest, Idol is starting to show its age. Competitively speaking, this was among the most boring seasons yet. How worked up could you get over David Archuleta versus David Cook? “Nice guys,” as Simon Cowell called them last night. Translation: deadly boring television. Tuesday’s singing finale was a disaster on that score. (Memo to Fox: Please shoot whoever insisted on flogging a boxing metaphor for the full hour.) And while the ratings for this week’s show were high, the overall ratings for the season are something for Fox to worry about. By midseason they’d fallen to their lowest point in the past few years, about 22 million. For most shows, that would still be a whopping number, but numbers can be deceiving. If Fox is smart, it will not make the same mistake ABC did eight years ago, when “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire,” wallowed in juggernaut ratings while the network refused to notice the audience’s eyes glazing over. The network has been digging its way out of that sinkhole ever since. As for the singers, well, the cool guy won. Rock on, David Cook. But I’ll declare American Idol at the apogee of cool only when they do this: Bring on the Dylan.