You know you're a pop culture junkie if you can list all five American Idol winners from memory. You're a full-blown addict if you can list them in chronological order. I shocked myself this afternoon when I was able to do both. All the hype leading up to tonight's kick-off episode got me reflecting on the phenomenal franchise. I can't claim to have watched every episode. I'm pretty sure I skipped all of season three and most of four. However, despite my past viewing habits, I have to admit some strange curiosity to tune in for season six. I have to admit that I like being in on the conversations the next day and enjoy the surprises. There's bound to be another William Hung and hopefully a few more Katherine McPhees.
At times I've made fun of the show as a glorified karaoke contest and lamented the lack of media coverage for musicians who actually write and perform their own songs, touring the country and making it big "the old fashioned" way. But, love it or hate it, you simply cannot deny - at least from a commercial/pop music perspective - the tremendous success born from the show. Even through her "technical difficulties" the other day, Paula Abdul made at least one salient point: The show has churned out performers who've moved units in a record industry that as a whole during the same time period has struggled.
Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard, Fantasia Barrino, Carrie Underwood and Taylor Hicks have sold millions and millions of records. The runners up haven't done too bad either. The depth of the show's roster is also impressive. As Jennifer Hudson has shown, it is not just the winners at the top kicking butt in their post-Idol careers. As Randy Jackson recently said, as long as they keep finding talent, the show will go on. Idol is under contract through 2009, and if things continue as they have been, there is no reason to think it won't be around for years after that. You may see some subtle changes as time goes on, but when you have a cash cow of this size, you have to be a fool to stop milking it. And, most of us, myself included, are likely to keep drinking. So, tune in or get that TIVO ready. Like it or not, Simon, Randy and Paula (and God help us, Ryan too) are back ... and are likely here to stay.