Would J. Lo make it on ''American Idol''? No, says David Browne -- but who cares? The Fox TV hit is pushing a dead formula for contemporary music
Jennifer Lopez
Credit: Jennifer Lopez: Kevin Mazur/WireImage.com

Would J. Lo make it on ”American Idol”?

I thought the death knell for pop had been rung with a huge gong thanks to LMNT, a new boy band comprised of rejects from ”Making the Band.” Imagine: an act that makes O-Town seem organic and talented. But I was wrong. The real barometer is ”American Idol,” that amalgam of reality TV, game show, and ”Star Search.”

”American Idol” posits a world in which anyone who wants to be a chart-topping sensation must have model-quality looks, a costume designer in the wings, and vocal aspirations somewhere between Celine Dion (for the women) and Justin Timberlake (for the men). The parade of wannabes who step up before a panel that includes Paula Abdul (far from the best judge of vocal talent, by the way) are trying their hardest to be the kind of pop stars they think the industry wants, at least judging by the vast amounts of teen and dance pop that have been sold since about 1997.

Using these standards, imagine who would be given the boot early on: Everyone from the Hives’ Pelle Almqvist to neo-soul types like Musiq for not enunciating clearly enough, the ”O Brother” contributors for overly nasal vocals, Jill Scott for added poundage, J. Lo for her weak delivery (actually, the latter would be a good thing).

But in that ever-changing way in which the music world works, making it endlessly fascinating for those of us who cover it, the recent rules no longer apply. ”American Idol” would be horrific and grotesque — remember one contestant’s woozy rendition of ”Daydream Believer,” another’s belting of ”I Will Always Love You” or the squishy warbling of most of the men? — if it weren’t already irrelevant.

With members of ‘N Sync looking to solo albums and outer space, and with Britney Spears’ most recent album yielding no major hits, current pop is clearly on its last dance. An analogy could be made between the collapse of corporations and that of corporate pop; it’s only time before Britney becomes the Martha Stewart of music, the fall girl many will love to see fall.

What many people seem to want now is fun, but of a far more positive, sloppy, and rambunctious sort. That’s why more music fans are buzzing about the Hives and the White Stripes than the new Korn or Papa Roach albums; we’re all weary of self-flagellating frontmen and brutalizing beats, and I think we’re all longing to see bands who actually enjoy themselves onstage (and don’t lip synch or use 36 dancers per song, either).

If they’re playing slavishly derivative garage rock, so be it. No one affiliated with ”American Idol” seems to realize any of this, but that’s part of the perverse fun of watching it: As a living, breathing, singing corpse, it wins the prize hands down.

Episode Recaps

American Idol

Ryan Seacrest hosts as Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan guide aspiring singers on their way to superstardom.

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