Into the American Idol Winner Abyss – I long for my Kelly Clarkson days

American Idol first winner Kelly Clarkson
I miss the American Idol days of Kelly Clarkson–before the winners fell into the Idol Abyss. Pic credit: FOX

For any Idol die-hards out there, this is for you. Monsters and Critics columnist Liz Long questions where things went wrong with American Idol and why new winners are falling into the Great Idol Abyss. Is it America choosing the wrong winner? A lack of a hit song? Bad timing of a single’s release? The record label? Or all of the above.

Well, friends, we are about to embark on another Idol journey. And I want to say I’m excited. I want to say I can’t wait to see our winner turn into a superstar– the person they envisioned they’d become when they first started tinkering around on dad’s guitar in their little country basements.

But that’s just it. I’m having a hard time rallying behind the idea that this next season of Idol will give us a superstar. And it all comes down to this: Anymore when a person is crowned the “Idol Winner” and they are showered in confetti as they attempt to sing their “new single,” that is pretty much the last time we see (or hear) from them again. It’s as if they have gone into the Idol Abyss.

I must tell you, Idol holds a special place in my heart. Season 8 featuring Adam Lambert inspired me to start writing about reality TV in the first place. I knew he was a star the moment he sang I Can’t Get No Satisfaction, and you better believe I got no satisfaction when Kris Allen won over him, but I got over it. I mean, it doesn’t hurt knowing that Adam is now (fittingly) the frontman for Queen.

And Kris? Well, he SORT OF escaped the abyss, but I think it’s safe to say we don’t quite know what he’s up to these days. Is that where we went wrong? America just not picking the right winner? For example, should the winner of Season 17 been runner-up Alejandro Aranda, who brought total freshness to the show– performing SEVEN original songs –his season?

Season 17 runner-up Alejandro Aranda got a lot more love from judges come Season 18 than their forgotten Laine Hardy. Pic credit: ABC

(In case you forgot, he lost to Laine Hardy who went silent for about a year after his Idol win … but we hear he might open for Toby Keith.) (Fittingly, the title of that article link is “What Happened to Laine Hardy?”)

What about last season’s winner, Just Sam? Should the winner there have been runner-up Arthur Gunn? (I’m noticing a theme with runner-ups here.) Arthur Gunn– the man who created a genius arrangement of CCR’s Have you Ever Seen the Rain, which proved too much for the background band provided to him by ABC?

What happened to Idol winner Just Sam?

But, seriously, what happened to Just Sam? A quick search of her reveals that she has made more headlines because she is the first LGBT winner of Idol, but could I tell you the name of her first single? Nope. In fact, her wiki page reads that she will upload and release her first single on February 19, so crap! That means we will actually hear from her in a week!

Is THAT the problem? Not releasing a single when the Idol iron is hot (i.e., fresh after the win)? I think this is where we have truly gone wrong.

American Idol’s Successful Singles

After Kelly Clarkson’s win, it was as if they immediately released her single A Moment Like This … and we rode those mainstream radio airwaves, as she released hit after hit.

True, Kelly Clarkson has that “it factor” and a voice that can belt–all her own–but I truly think a missing ingredient nowadays is not releasing a hit single shortly after the big “Idol Win.”

But is that also it? The lack of a good single? Take, for example, Phillip Phillips. He was given a great– if not THE BEST –single for his Idol finale (Home). And you better believe commercials … even the Olympics … jumped on that and Phillip Phillips could ride that momentum, saving him from the Idol Abyss.

Fun fact, the producers insisted on Phillips releasing this song, suggesting to me that they knew what they were doing back in 2012! So is it the record label that’s the problem?

What’s really going on here Bobby Bones?

A little research shows that BMG/Sony “ran the show” seasons 1-9; UMG seasons 10-15 and Hollywood Records for season 16 and onward. Now if we cross-compare a list of the winners who were saved from the Abyss, we see that most of our heavyweight champs came from seasons 1-9 (Clarkson, Fantasia, Underwood, Sparks, and Cook!).

So what exactly was BMG/Sony doing that Hollywood isn’t? Heck, it’s possible even UMG failed its Season 15 winner Trent Harmon who you might recall gave you goosebumps over your entire body with his performance of Sia’s Chandelier.

I mean, Trent Harmon and Nick Frandiani are good people but I’m afraid they are lost out there, save a Youtube search of “Idol Winners … Where are they Now?”

Sure, they might be making some music but should we have to ask “Where are they now?” Isn’t the whole idea of this show to find America’s next “singing sensation”?

I realize there are a lot of moving parts, but Bobby Bones (if you’re the man really in charge here) …Hollywood Records, I beg of you. Give these kids a fresh single and please release it shortly after the win!

I love Idol. I love the idea that a truly unknown can drive across the United States to audition in front of Katy Perry, be seen and heard on national television, and suddenly live out their dreams for all the world to see. That is what truly makes this show special!

But we just need to get back to the days of keeping that dream alive for them, rather than letting it die in the Great Idol Abyss.

The season premiere of American Idol airs Sunday, February 14 at 8/7c on ABC.

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3 years ago

In interviews, Adam Lambert has said that his first record was made very quickly in part because the window of opportunity coming off a show like Idol is short. I think the first record company understood that and moved quickly. Now with more singing shows on the air it is harder. Plus many singing shows don’t support past winners. Individual coaches have. Even established singers have a hard time with radio play.