An “Idol” who’s neither American nor undiscovered


Today on the Chicago Tribune blog The Watcher, TV critic Maureen Ryan exposes an American Idol contestant who has already made an album. Carly Smithson, highlighted on last night’s episode of Idol, released a major-label album in 2001 under her maiden name, Carly Hennessy. She got through to the Hollywood round on Idol in 2005, but had visa issues (she’s Irish) and had to leave the show.

Apparently her MCA-backed album failed to launch her career: It sold only 378 copies in its first week. So she’s still trying to get that big break.

Is this a cover-up on the producers’ part, or no big deal? Says Ryan,

True, the singing contest is inevitably going to feature people who have had professional careers and recording contracts. But there’s a difference between someone who’s been a backup singer or had a few self-released or indie albums and someone who’s had major backing from one of the biggest record labels in the world.

Isn’t this competition about discovering fresh new talents? Smithson was hardly undiscovered. Fine. Just tell people that.

I guess that’s just it; it depends on what the competition is about and how you define fresh. Yeah, she made a record, but not many people heard it — it’s like that tree falling in the forest. Only more tuneful. How “undiscovered” can you be, anyway, in the MySpace age?

If American Idol exists to give worthy talent a boost, maybe it shouldn’t matter how elevated the singers already are when they audition. It’s still a boost; just a less hefty one. But I agree with Ryan that the producers should “just tell people that” instead of pretending we’re still in a guileless age of community talent shows.

Apparently there are a lot of contestants with professional backgrounds this year, so the producers should probably address the issue now rather than later. (Ryan suggests they’re hoping it will really blow up, so they can reap the ratings benefits of another controversy.) They could even divide the contestants into two tiers — I’ll bet viewers would still end up voting for the ones they like best. And experience is only one factor in likability (see Melinda Doolittle).

Here’s that video Smithson made several years ago:

I didn’t make it through the first minute of that (it is decidedly not my groove), but I wouldn’t mind seeing whether she can sing other things. She can keep a tune and has a fairly decent voice. And that’s what I really want to see on American Idol, especially after last year! Wait, speaking of last year, maybe Carly is too much like a Haley Scarnato. Ick.

I suppose this is more evidence that American Idol is totally fixed from day one. That’s what my dad always said — but he also said, “Doesn’t mean they can’t sing. Just means there’s no point.”

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