Why "American Idol" Should (and Will) Go Country
by Beville Dunkerley, Editor, The Boot
The chances for a country music singer to win "American Idol" are bigger than ever this season, for several reasons. Let's start with the obvious: Keith Urban. The three-time CMA Male Vocalist of the Year is the show's first-ever country musician on the judges' panel and was chosen not just for his handsome mug and musical expertise, but also for the huge sea of country music fans he'll recruit to watch the show. Sure, the "Sweet Thing" singer is largely outnumbered, given his fellow judges are a pop goddess, a pop producer and the hottest female rapper on the planet ... But Keith is Idol's ticket to gaining new fans who might not normally watch. And you can bet those fans will vote country.
Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey may deserve as much credit as Keith if a country star wins. That is, if they behave like Simon Cowell. Before the overly critical judge left the show in 2010, it was made quite clear that country music is not his thing. But the Brit's distaste for the genre was no match to fans' distaste for him. His sharp tongue only prompted them to vote more, sending country artists such as Carrie, Scotty, Lauren Alaina, Kellie Pickler, Josh Gracin, Danny Gokey and Crystal Bowersox, among many others, into the finals. So country fans should actually hope that Nicki and Mariah are as vocal about their aversion to country as they are about their aversion to one another.
Trumping any influence the judges may have are country music fans -- the most loyal fans in the world. Proof comes in the latest seasons of two similar, fan-voted shows: "The Voice" and "The X Factor" (featuring the country-loathing Simon Cowell). "The Voice" Season 3 winner, pop singer Cassadee Pope, did not become the front-runner until she performed a country song, the Blake Shelton/Miranda Lambert-penned "Over You." Her version of the tune went No. 1 on iTunes, knocking PSY's "Gangnam Style" out of the penthouse. Cassadee's only other song to reach No. 1 was her version of the Keith Urban hit, "Stupid Boy." (And it probably didn't hurt that she was on reigning CMA Entertainer of the Year Blake Shelton's team, either.)
Then there's cowboy hat-wearing, Garth Brooks-idolizing Tate Stevens, who was the front-runner of the latest "X Factor" season, pretty much from the start. Was he the most talented contestant? Nope. But he was the most humble, likable guy ... from the most beloved genre of music.
Finally, there's country music's sales success. The two "American Idol" winners with the biggest paychecks to date are country superstar Carrie Underwood and country-dabbling Kelly Clarkson. (Also of note, the platinum-selling Scotty McCreery was the youngest male singer in history to top the all-genre Billboard 200 chart.) While there's a long list of other successful finalists, there is no other winner who comes anywhere close to the commercial success of Carrie and Kelly. So if the show wants to boost its declining reputation as a star-making entity, producers will encourage the judges to send as much country talent to Hollywood as possible.
This Is the Year of Pop on "American Idol"
-- by Sarah Chazan, Editor in Chief, AOL Music
Carrie Underwood, I love you. I really do. And Scotty McCreery, when you came to our studios to tape your AOL Sessions, I thought you were a total sweetie. But here's the thing, as successful as you've been, I'm still not rooting for a country artist to win the newest season of "American Idol." Here's why.
I have never been more excited about an "Idol" winner than I was when Kelly Clarkson was crowned "AI"s first. And before you get all technical and tell me that Kelly has country roots, I know this. But come on, during her stint on "American Idol," she was pure pop all the way. That's what "American Idol" should be, a POP music competition. I mean, when you think of the word "Idol" itself, who comes to mind first: Justin Bieber or Brad Paisley? Exactly.
As the Editor in Chief of AOL Music, clearly I'm a person who enjoys all genres of music. You can find me singing along to Dolly Parton one minute and Jessie J the next. But music is polarizing, and most folks have pretty strong opinions about different genres. You either love country music or you don't. Most people don't feel indifferent about hip-hop. But when it comes to pop, that's just not true. Everyone at least likes SOME pop music. My dad can listen to a Top 40 station just as easily as my 13-year-old cousin. The same is not true for any other station on the radio.
So if "American Idol" really, truly is set up to crown a talent who can appeal to the entire country, that person should be a pop artist. I'm hoping this year with Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj as judges, the pop contestants will have the support to shine in a sea of wannabe rockers and country hopefuls.
I'll be tuning in tonight to see just what kind of talent pool we'll have to choose from this season. Will you? Tweet us your thoughts about this season of "American Idol," @aolmusic!