Few people know of my interest in David’s music. For one thing, I usually anticipate their negative reaction to my interest in a singer who was twice a television reality show contestant.
The day after the Season 8 finale, friends with an interest in popular culture mentioned they had watched the episode. We talked about the show’s results. I questioned why Adam did not win even though the show itself and entertainment media promoted him so heavily. Did voters on the East Coast have an unfair advantage? Did Adam’s sexual orientation dissuade voters in more conservative parts of the country? Did some voters have an unfair advantage because their cell phone provider allowed them to vote multiple times at once?
I casually mentioned my disappointment about Cook’s win last year. I shared my belief that American Idol strategically positions their hoped-for winner through song choices, media coverage, and other tactics. I told one person that I no longer watch American Idol after realizing how heavily it is produced. He dismissed my conspiracy theories and asked why I even cared. “It’s a show where people call in and vote,” he said.
It is intriguing to see the different and often dismissive reactions to both American Idol and David among people I know. It’s sad to admit, but I even remind myself not to internalize these attitudes. Recently, I attended a dinner party and was pleasantly surprised to find that an acquaintance was a native of the Murray, Utah area. Without thinking, I mentioned that I followed a young singer from there. Naturally, he asked the singer’s name. I stammered out David’s name because I felt embarrassed that I had watched American Idol.
It’s certainly true that shows like American Idol are less scripted and cheaper to produce than a news program or made-for-TV movie with a famous guest star or two. The proliferation of reality shows in this current weak economy attests to their affordability and appeal to audiences already immersed in celebrity culture.
At the end of the day, most reality shows will not stand the test of time. These shows are examples of disposable consumer culture. For most contestants, American Idol and other programs are steps toward a larger goal of getting public exposure for singing, acting, or modeling careers. However, many American Idol contestants will probably never have a long-term career, or even a short public one. The entertainment business is a harsh animal that spits out the current Hot Thing for the Next Big One.
Although many reality show contestants will come and go, I believe that David will stand the test of time. I did not discover him until late in Season 7 because I stopped watching the show after Season 4. However, I was immediately intrigued by David’s demeanor and voice that communicates depths of emotion and past pain that we are now just beginning to understand.
I am sure that all of us can point to specific moments that clinched our desire to follow David’s burgeoning career. For me, that moment was the split-second look on David’s face after he finished singing, “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” on Top Two Night on May 20, 2008.
His face bespoke emotional and physical exhaustion from complete submission to the music. I can honestly say that this moment was one of the most moving images I have ever seen on television. It was raw, passionate, and utterly real. I knew right then that this shy, diminutive boy was strong.
I found later that David had confessed to his vocal coach, Dean Kaelin, earlier that day that his gut instinct told him Cook would win. Still, David decided that no matter what, he would go out with self-respect and the knowledge that he truly tried his best.
In that fleeting moment, that look on David’s face and its projected vulnerability in front of millions clinched my position as a lifelong fan.
What was the moment for you?