End Times For 'Idol': There Are No More Songs Left To Be Sung : The Record Once, American Idol helped establish a new pop songbook and distilled the essence of contemporary stardom. NPR Music's critic, Ann Powers, says those days are gone.

The End Of 'Idol': There Are No More Songs Left To Be Sung

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

The latest season of "American Idol" wraps up this week. It is still the highest-rated show on TV, but the ratings are not what they used to be. This season's first episode was watched by fewer people, in fact, than any other season since the debut a decade ago. And the median age of people watching gets older every year. Even its competitor, "The Voice," has lost audience. Yet new shows, like ABC's "Duets," keep popping up.

We're going to talk about this with NPR Music's Ann Powers; she's in our studios.Welcome, Ann, once again.


INSKEEP: So singing show fatigue - is that what's happening here?

POWERS: I know I'm experiencing it. After six years or so of writing about "Idol," being a huge fan of certain "Idol" winners and runner-ups, I have to say - I'm bored.

INSKEEP: Oh, come on, come on. There's dramatic suspense every season. You never know who's going to win. You never know what might happen. It's a live show. You've got the judges, everything. What's wrong with that?

POWERS: Well, in fact, one problem is that we generally do know who's going to win. "American Idol" has been won by a, quote-unquote, "white guy with guitar" many times in a row now. And Phillip Phillips is another one, and he's onboard to possibly win tonight.

His competitor, Jessica Sanchez, is in another classic "Idol" mode. She's a teenager with a huge voice, who sings ballads and is very soulful. She would be the first Filipina Latina to win "Idol." But really, we just aren't seeing anything new on "Idol" this season - and it's getting crazily repetitive.

INSKEEP: I suppose there is some repetition in the music that's chosen year after year.

POWERS: Well, this is another key problem, Steve. We hear songs again and again and again. The songbook is not - if it's growing, it's growing incrementally.

INSKEEP: Well, let's just mention, there are millions of songs in the world, but there are certain songs that get repeated year after year after year. And in fact, we have brought you clips of one of those songs heard again and again. Let's listen.


UNIDENTIFIED CONTESTANT #1: (Singing) How can you just walk away from me when...

UNIDENTIFIED CONTESTANT #2: (Singing) ...all I can do is watch you leave? There's...

UNIDENTIFIED CONTESTANT #3: (Singing) ...there's so much I need to say to you, so many reasons why. You're...

UNIDENTIFIED CONTESTANT #4: (Singing) ...the only one who really knew me at all.

UNIDENTIFIED CONTESTANT #5: (Singing) So take a look at me now...

INSKEEP: Yeah, take a look at me now that my day is ruined - because I'll be hearing that song all day long.


POWERS: Well, that - of course - was "Against All Odds," by the immortal Phil Collins. This season, we heard other songs we are so over. "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Leaving" - come on, just leave. Let's not hear that one from "Dreamgirls" again.

INSKEEP: OK. One final thing to ask about, then. Let's bring up the phrase "jump the shark"...


INSKEEP: ...which we should explain for people. I think people think that means the series is over. But actually, that's the moment in the series when the producers realize they're running out of ideas ...


INSKEEP: ...and so they do something crazy to try to shake it up.


INSKEEP: Have we reached the jumping-the-shark moment for "American Idol" yet?

POWERS: "Idol" has jumped the shark so many times ...


POWERS: ...it has its own exhibit in Marine World. What happens with "Idol" is that just when you think you want to walk away - like in that Phil Collins song - something interesting does happen. So...

INSKEEP: (Singing) Take a look at me now...

POWERS: So we were so bored, and then Adam Lambert came along and was the most fascinating Idol of all time. However, the past two seasons, I've been so bored. And I haven't had that magic moment. I fear it's just - every element's played out.

INSKEEP: And the competitors?

POWERS: The competitors are fun. I like "The Voice." And they do feature a wider array of music, and a wider array of contestants. But again, it's boxed into that particular musical structure of the big song, the big ballad, that doesn't allow for real musical change. So in the end, you had a guy - Jermaine Paul - who won by singing "I Believe I Can Fly," the R. Kelly song that is one of the most overused and abused songs in signing competitions. It's just really hard to break the mold.

INSKEEP: Well, Ann Powers, enjoy watching the "American Idol" finale - if you can.

POWERS: I'm going to be out at a rock show, Steve.


INSKEEP: NPR's Ann Powers.

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