Tuesday, March 28, 2006

"Rolling Stone" On "American Idol"

Rolling Stone has a cover story promising "The secrets of the unstoppable starmaking machine" that is American Idol. As if anyone could reveal new secrets about a series so thoroughly dissected by now. They picture Simon, Paula and Randy in bed together. Inside, what we get doesn't even pretend to do that: it's simply a profile of Simon, with tiny boxes devoted to Paula, Randy, Ryan, Simon Fuller and predictions on this season's contestants. But it's filled with foolish exaggeration and mistakes. (Shouldn't Rolling Stone be the one magazine to take a more sober look at AI?) They say the show "usually" hits 35 million viewers per episode. Try "almost never." The last month or so, the audience has been 33 million, 32 million, 28 million, 30 million, 31 million and so on. That's of course for the performance shows. The results shows are invariably lower rated. 33 million is a ton of viewers, but it isn't 35 million. You have to go back to January, when it scored 34.96 million viewers for one show to back that stat up. You could say "sometimes as high as 35 million viewers," but not "usually." Does it matter? Yes. The show is a phenomenon, so why exaggerate its ratings? They also say "the show has drawn more viewers than ever before, a historic anomaly that television's statisticians are still struggling to comprehend." Also not true. It's certainly very noteworthy, but other shows have grown in viewership even further into their runs than Idol, most notably Law & Order. Again, the fact of growth is impressive; why pretend it's never happened before? Then RS says this: "Has any British import in recent history rooted any deeper into the national psyche than Cowell? His words and manners have been debated constantly for the past five years." I watch the show faithfully, but this seems pretty overblown even to me. And how about Princess Di, for one small example? Finally, they talk about his early success marketing pop album tie-ins to non-music properties like Teletubbies, Power Rangers and WWF wrestlers, insisting that "this kind of tie-in approach had never been attempted." I'm not sure how narrowly they want to define this, but pop music is littered with tie-in albums to kiddie TV shows, comic book characters, movies and other ancillary products that technically had nothing to do with music, from Little Orphan Annie and half the products of Disney to the Smurfs and on. Again, I don't expect much from RS but they should at least know the history of pop music and novelty tie-ins.

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