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RNO Roundtable: Should ‘American Idol’ Have an Age Limit?Page 2
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The answer is no. Many performers have burst onto the spotlight at what some may consider an advanced age – Bonnie Raitt, the B-52s, and Santana had their emergence (or re-emergence in the case of Santana) past their 35th birthdays. However, would it be harder for them to break through in the business – absolutely.
One of my fellow writers countered that the man filing the lawsuit should go on Star Search if he was unhappy with not being allowed to apply for American Idol. Star Search, in its heyday, was called “America’s Greatest Talent Competition” and crowned “grand champions” in categories ranging from male and female vocalist to dance to acting to spokesmodel. But did the show’s winners go on to attain great recognition?
Of those who attained “grand champion status” during the show’s extensive run, only four grand champions (three from the first season) attained any major recognition – Brad Garrett, the first comedy champion, won an Emmy for Everybody Loves Raymond; Sawyer Brown, the first band champion, has sold numerous gold and platinum albums; spokesmodel champion Tracy Ross now appears on the soap opera Passions; and third season comedy challenger Jenny Jones hosts her own talk show. Oddly enough those who have lost on the show had gone on to great prominence – Rosie O’Donnell was a comedy semi-finalist in the second season along with eventual runner-up Sinbad; teen pop sensation Tiffany was a failed junior vocalist; several acting contestants have found themselves performing on the afternoon dramas.
Of the actual vocalists who have won grand championships, several have gone on to record forgettable albums and a few have gone on to appear on Broadway. However, none of them have attained the recognition and prominence that Kelly Clarkson, Justin Guarini, and the gang received in one season of American Idol.
But is this age discrimination? Well, it all depends on what the federal courts call the prize – is it a job with Simon Cowell’s label to record an album and with Simon Fuller’s company to promote the show? If so, the answer is yes. It is job discrimination. It doesn’t matter if you’re fifty years old or twenty-six (only two years past their maximum age limit) – it could be considered discrimination.
The argument was made that the winner is an independent contractor. I asked around to a few friends in Human Resources and got their opinion. Of the five people asked, three said that they believed age discrimination laws applied to the hiring of independent contractors as well as “normal” employees while the other two were uncertain and stated that they would err on the side of caution and say yes as well.
The bottom line, in my opinion at least, is as follows – no one expects a fifty-year-old to win a contest like American Idol. But at least they should be given the chance to try. No one expected Kurt Warner to lead a team to a Super Bowl victory when he was bagging groceries a few years earlier. Everyone is entitled to a chance and to a dream. There are so many talented people out there that deserve that one chance. Let the chips fall where they may but until they open their mouth to sing why shut them out?
Let's face it: American Idol is not about finding the most unique, original, dynamic singer in America. It's about finding a safe, nonthreateningly appealing young guy or girl with some degree of talent and charisma that can be molded into a "teen idol" to sing bland processed pop pablum. Image is far more key than talent. It's a lot like that episode of The Brady Bunch where Greg became Johnny Bravo because he "fit the suit." In essence, it's more of a casting call for the part of "teen idol" than anything else.
As an actor myself, casting calls tend to be quite specific. A typical casting notice I might respond to would read something like "Blah Blah Productions is seeking caucasian male, mid-twenties, for the role of 'Colin' in their upcoming production of Bleah Bleah." This means they're only interested in caucasian males who look like they're in their mid-twenties. (Of course, there's plenty of parts that are open to "all ethnicities," but I'm just trying to show how specific they can be.) I read this, think I sound like I could fit the part, and show up at the audition. I'm not going to bother to show up at a casting call for "African-American male, fifties," or "girls, 6-10," because no matter how much talent I may have, no one is ever going to buy me in those parts! Or, to look at it another way, just because I can do a decent version of "Another Suitcase In Another Hall" at a piano bar (which is true, actually) doesn't mean I'd ever be cast as "The Mistress" in Evita.
American Idol isn't being anywhere near that specific; all that matters is that you're 16 to 24. While most casting calls are more geared toward how old someone appears rather than chronological age (I'd be turned away from most 30-year-old parts because I still look 23-26), in this case the age requirements are ironclad. The way I see it, it's largely to avoid headaches: they only have about 5000 audition spots open in each city. I say "only," but this is still a huge group of people to deal with, and this ensures that everyone taking up one of those spots meets the preliminary requirements so the production assistants aren't forced to waste time being qualification policemen right off the bat and can concentrate on making the process run smoothly. I also think, to some degree, it's because people in that age range would probably be more malleable and less likely to challenge the producers on creative direction. (For a similar reason, I think The Real World imposes an 18-24 age limit because to be honest, they seem to be seeking immature people whose worldview isn't fully formed and who will make asses of themselves on national television in the process; if you went with more mature, grounded people, where's the drama and conflict?) Furthermore, as an insightful friend pointed out to me when we were discussing this issue, the primary target audience demographic is likely around 16-24 as well, and having people be in that age group ensures the show has a relatable, "that could be me" quality for them.<--Previous 1 2 3 Next-->
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