Graham: 'American Idol' crowns a new winner, if anyone still cares

Shows like "Idol" and "The Voice" continue, even as its contestants are rarely heard from again

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

"American Idol" wrapped this week, and I am sure I speak for us all when I say I am very happy for America's latest Idol, whomever they may be. 

Same goes for the latest winner of "The Voice," which also finished up this week. Just like Whatshisname and That Guy Won 'The Voice?' before them, this newest "Voice" champion will be providing us with hit singles to soundtrack our lives for years to come. 

Farmington Hills native Jena Irene competing on "American Idol" in 2014.

Confession: I didn't watch "Idol" this year and I've never watched "The Voice." I covered "American Idol" for years, once went to a taping of the show in L.A. and was there in the audience when Farmington Hills' Jena Irene Asciutto finished as the runner-up to Caleb Johnson in 2014. 

By then, "Idol" was on its last legs. It has been five seasons since the show introduced Adam Lambert, and Phillip Phillips aside, in subsequent years the show hadn't produced any talents of note. It lasted two more seasons, and then Fox shut the doors on the show, acknowledging its time had come and gone. 

"Idol" stayed dead and buried for all of one year before it was announced ABC would reboot the show. Cher has had retirements that lasted longer. "Idol" returned this year with a big "welcome back" campaign, even though no one had any time to miss it. Its biggest moment of the season came from an offhand comment Ryan Seacrest made to Katy Perry about her mom being hot. 

I briefly flipped on "The Voice" this week and watched for long enough — about 45 seconds — to see the show's judges heap praise on a 15-year-old contestant, all telling her how big a star she was poised to become. This type of hyperbole is typical of these shows. To hear the judges tell it, these contestants are all stars-in-the-waiting, and the show is minting their careers. The truth is "Idol" gave us Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Jennifer Hudson, and to a lesser extent Adam Lambert. The rest is more or less a wash. 

That's a better batting average than "The Voice," which has produced exactly zero stars in its 14 seasons. Other shows have given us pop forces — "The X Factor" gave us Fifth Harmony — but by and large, they're not making careers. 

And they're not drawing big ratings, although they pull in enough viewers to keep going; "Idol" was recently re-upped for another season at ABC. 

So why do they continue? For one, starpower. Even if the contestants aren't going on to big things, it's fun to gawk at Katy Perry or Adam Levine on TV a couple times a week. There's an interactive, armchair critic aspect of the shows that put the votes in the hands of viewers and makes them feel in control. As shows like "Star Search" taught us, it's entertaining to watch young talents try to make it big. And there's the romance of the overnight star, made whole by the story of Kelly Clarkson. 

Without Kelly, "Idol" would have never got as far as it did. But the show struck gold its debut season in 2002, reinventing the reality TV mold, just as "Survivor" had done two years prior. And it had an acerbic presence in sassy Brit Simon Cowell, who told it like it was and wasn't afraid to tell someone they weren't good. It was refreshing to hear someone on TV dole out a little truth. Between him and Kelly Clarkson, the show became a hit.  

Cowell eventually left, the show got warm and fuzzy, and you probably can't name who won the show this week. It's OK, neither can I. The odds of them making any sort of dent on the pop charts are slim. 

As for "The Voice," that 15-year-old the judges were fawning over was Brynn Cartelli, who was crowned the show's 14th season champion on Tuesday. Will she be a star? The odds aren't in her favor. But the secret of these shows is it doesn't matter. They're in the TV business, not the music business. And business is, well, decent enough to keep the lights on for another day.

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