In defense of ‘American Idol’

| Staff Writer

I don’t watch “American Idol” anymore. To be honest, I don’t know anyone who still watches “American Idol,” aside from my parents, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate the show and think it deserves all of the praise before it ends forever this week.

Growing up, my family of five crowded around our television twice a week to watch people go from nobodies to somebodies. We participated in our own competitions with our extended family, betting on our guesses for top 12 and top three. I got over my fear of talking on the phone by voting. I sat third row with my mom at the season 10 tour in Charlotte, N.C. and met all the contestants backstage. “American Idol” has been a part of my family for almost as long as I can remember, and this week, it will all come to an end. Over the course of three nights, the 15th “American Idol” winner will be crowned, past contestants will perform and we will say goodbye to the show that changed the way families watched television. Because of that, and because I am a second semester senior slowly losing my mind, here are five completely sentimental reasons why “American Idol” should be remembered as one of the greatest reality shows of all time.

Ryan Seacrest is the ultimate host

Who would have known that when the frosted-tipped and bright-eyed Ryan Seacrest took the stage back in season one with co-host (and number one “what ever happened to”) Brian Dunkleman that he would soon become the next Dick Clark. Seacrest has stayed loyal to the show as it changed judges, stages and formats and has always kept his cool. The show skyrocketed him into other positions—“American Top 40” and “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve”—but every year, Seacrest returns to “American Idol,” joking with judges and comforting contestants. He’s the person upon which the show most relies: a stable and likeable host, up for anything.

Rock star judges

Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul may have been the original judges of the program, but over the years, we have seen other celebrities join the judging platform and try their best to guide America and our contestants through their journeys. Ellen DeGeneres, Mariah Carey, Steven Tyler, Kara DioGuardi and even Nicki Minaj tried their hand at judging, and for the last two years, Jennifer Lopez, Harry Connick, Jr., and Keith Urban have been in charge. Some combinations worked better than others, but the judges on “American Idol” are always influential, and the friendly (though sometimes not-so-friendly) banter is what keeps us interested in hearing what they have to say. Not to mention, I hardly know when something is in pitch, but the judges help us laymen figure that out.

Successful contestants

Sure, nothing really ever became of Taylor Hicks, the season five winner, but you’ve surely heard of Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Scotty McCreery and Jordin Sparks. With the support of the show, today’s popular artists went from teenagers in high school to country music sensations or the next rhythm and blues star. The complaint about “American Idol” is often that enough of its winners don’t become the world’s next superstars, but “American Idol” doesn’t promise a perfectly packaged star. It’s interested in the journey and the potential of the contestants. The growth of the singers while on the show draws in viewers, and there is the hope that they will go onto succeed. If anything, “American Idol” just gives contestants a platform to find their voices.

The music

Once you get past the audition rounds, in which ratings seem to require they show more terrible people than decent singers, you enter into weeks of impressive arrangements of old and new songs. As a kid, “American Idol” was the way I learned about The Beatles’ “Blackbird” and Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life.” “American Idol” is constantly introducing a younger generation to older music and even predicting what will be popular. When Haley Reinhart sang Lady Gaga’s “You and I” in 2011, the judges told her she didn’t choose the right song because it wasn’t well-known enough, but then that song become a huge hit. For those of us who were watching that season, we knew the popular song before it was popular.

The American spirit

In perhaps the most sentimental reason for my love of “American Idol,” I wish to defend “American Idol” as an example of American democracy and the American dream at work. People travel hundreds of miles to audition for a show, and some of them go on to be superstars. Along the way, millions of Americans vote for their success and champion their dreams. While there are always things about the show that feel staged or perhaps over-produced, in the end, “American Idol” is about the people: both on and off the stage. If you dream it, you can do it. In these last few seasons, contestants who had been watching since they were toddlers were able to audition. Like me, these kids grew up with “American Idol.” They voted every week and imagined the songs they would choose. They watched their favorites become winners and they believed the same could happen to them. They believed in the power of “American Idol.” The performers on this week’s finale include the winner of the first season, Kelly Clarkson. At the time of her audition, she couldn’t have imagined the success that the show would bring or the community she would find. Neither could have I.

The first episode of the finale airs Tuesday at 7 p.m. on Fox.