Friday, September 28, 2007

This Man

American Idol has been “rewinding” this year. Tribune Entertainment is distributing the episodes of all the seasons, compressed into one hour episodes. New interviews are included and Season 1 ended with a “Where are they now?” retrospective of the first season.

I only caught the last couple of episodes. I recalled how bad Justin Guarini's hair was or how strange his nose looks now. I noticed how much more genuine Kelly Clarkson was then and how she resembles the thinner (via photoshop) Kelly of today. Cool Beans! I did not realize how pretty Niki McKibbon was, dayglo fuchsia hair and all.

The season that etched Idol into the American culture was Season 2 where Ruben Studdard prevailed as the show's winner.

Or as the press release noted

the year that put American Idol on the map with legendary talent and unprecedented ratings

Ruben versus Clay. The Velvet Teddy Bear versus The Vox. The ratings were huge and so was the vote count, given the set up at the time. Much was said about the bigger vote counts for Season 3 and beyond but since Ruben and Clay only had one phone line each as opposed to the three each the finalists get now (not to mention the million of my votes that wouldn't get through), it really did electrify the country. And the two artists who were the most responsible for making that happen remain friends to this day.

Season 2-where I found Clay Aiken and have had my fingerprints almost etched onto a keyboard since then. Clay returns to season 2 as the narrator of the Rewind series, beginning September 29th.

Four and a half years later, the boyish looking guy with the big voice is still a big part of my life. He's changed a lot. Some changes are obvious, such as his physical appearance. He's no longer the too skinny guy. He's filled out with broad shoulders and a fuller face one would expect from a man who will be 30 in a little over a year.

The impression Clay gave was that of a shy, goody-two shoes, awkward kid who could sing. Dance? Not so much. But the real Clay is a loud take charge guy with a quick wit and a little bit of a bawdy, wicked sense of humor. He can move as the music fills his body but choreography is still not his friend.

He's a good man who has made a difference as he sought to do but he's no goody-two shoes. Nor is he a bad boy like some of the pop stars of today. He walks the talk. On the music side and the philanthropic side. He's imperfect but will be the first to admit it. Well, all except his horribly bad habit of forgetting how to blog.

The green eyed spark is still there but the twinkle is joined with a more worldly knowledge and hardness born of enduring tabloid lies and label battles. I like this Clay. I think much more of him was always there. While I'll forever be fond of Idol Clay, I admire this man, this 2007 Clay so much more. He's more open with his fans, he's not taking crap and (thankfully) he is much more comfortable with his sex appeal.

So while Clay belongs on the concert stage and will be returning there in November for this fourth consecutive holiday tour (and his 8th solo tour overall), he also belongs on television.
So he takes us back to Season 2 and the juxtaposition of the manchild and THIS man will be a fitting “bookend” to his AI2 career. To find if your cable system shows Rewind, visit

Many thanks to Invisible926 for the side by side pictures from her collection.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Time in a Bottle but Not on the Radio?

What's really wrong with radio?

So, I'm sitting on a Southwest flight to Tampa on a business trip, eating my traditional inflight Milky Way. Funny thing is I only eat Milky Ways when I fly or when I steal them out of my kids' Halloween bags. Before I turned my ipod on to watch some concert video of Clay Aiken, I browsed through the Southwest magazine known as Spirit.

I came across an article by assistant editor Mike Darling (and how many fights did he get in while in middle school with that name?). He was interviewing a guy named George Gimarc who used to manage a radio station in Dallas and who has a great idea about saving radio. His solution? Make the songs shorter.

Huh? Make the songs shorter? How about make the songs better? How about getting rid of the 2000's version of payola which may not involve straight cash for airplay but still involves things like a car giveaways and other perks.

His theory was that people tend to punch a new station in their car about every 2 and a half minutes and that overall song length has grown from years past. He figures by shortening the songs, you eliminate people changing stations and keep listeners longer and advertisers happier. He calls this SASS for Short Attention Span System and has even spent six figures to patent it as a radio protocol. (Note: the article wasn't clear if just the protocol was trademarked or the name as well.)

But here's the deal. Audience listening has dropped 30% and that means people aren't listening at all, not just station hopping. It's because, in addition to internet available music and portable music via ipods and mp3s, people are probably sick of the same old crap. When Clear Channel owns (or has owned) 8 of the top 10 top 40 stations and they play the same songs in rotation over and over by people who all sound alike, listeners simply get bored. In the book The Future of Music by David Kusek and Gerh Leonhard, they say
The Berklee Media division of Berklee College of Music conducted a study in June 2004 of radio airplay patterns across CHR/Rhythmic, Country, Urban and CHR/POP in multiple cities in the US. The study showed that the biggest stations in the biggest markets played the same songs an average of 58 times. When station owners were taken into account, the five top CHR/Pop stations owned by Clear Channel were playing the same songs 78% of the time.

And the songs? I asked my teenage daughter the other day as she assaulted the inside of my car with a Top 40 station "Do all male singers on the radio whine their songs?" Nan says that the women all sing in this kind of whispery voice as if they are trying out for a 1-900 line.

So is the real reason that people have short attention spans? I can still listen to the whole version of Hotel California.
Or is it because there is nothing worthy of keeping their attention. Is 2 minutes 45 seconds of crap really any better than 3 minutes and 45 seconds of crap? The article states that "shorter song lengths translate to a larger catalog of music, giving DJs more freedom to play tracks that don't normally receive mainstream airplay." Yeah right, is there anyone out there that still believes the DJs decide what goes over the airwaves?

I agree with Andrew Whiteman (lead singer of an indie Canadian band Broken Social Scene) who argues against this idea.
It's heinous. Music is not meant to be hook after hook.

Darling thinks the idea is refreshing. Hmmm, about as refreshing as Febreze. It covers up the stink but only for a short time. I think putting real singers with interesting lyrics and strong melodies would be more refreshing.

Gimarc hopes that with the pending sale of 400 of Clear Channel's smallest stations, that new owners might be more open to the idea. Just the fact that Clear Channel has 400 smaller stations to sell is appalling. I should go into how George Bush and TBTP of Clear Channel have done business deals together but this isn't a political blog. (Yet..wait until 2008.) I'd rather new owners be more open to playing new acts who can't afford the high cost of airplay or whose labels won't play it, so that the listening public can decide what they want to hear. Not some program director who talks to his liaison at corporate who is cutting a deal with the label's radio liaison. Gasp! A novel idea, I think I'll call it a radio protocol and patent it.

I'd rather they give the opportunity to real singers like Clay who should be all over the radio regardless of what his dinosaur label thinks. His new Grammy winning producer obviously knows what good music is, but it won't matter in the end if the label doesn't give in to the cost of a top 20 single. And it won't matter how long the song is either.

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