So, Simon Cowell is leaving American Idol at the end of this season.
Personally, I have never liked American Idol – a “singing competition,” as Simon would occasionally remind some of the more outlandish contestants, but a singing competition that really only rewarded one kind of singing on a consistent basis. If you weren’t a belter who could imitate Mariah Carey’s runs of notes, you were going down, eventually. Occasionally a rocker like Daughtry would sneak in there, but it was always a kind of palatable, arena-rock-type singer; American Idol is not and has never been a place where you would discover the next Elliott Smith, or Björk, or Lou Reed.
Still, I have to admit that the show has had a huge impact on the sound of American pop music in the beginning of the century, and at least some of that is because of Simon Cowell. Although Randy Jackson had the studio production credits and Paula Abdul actually was an American idol for a while (remember her hit song, “Straight Up”?), Simon seemed to be the one who knew something about music. Yet another boring pop singer would audition and Randy and Paula would be enthused and bubbly and Simon without lifting his head from his hand would say, “that was awful.” Little moments of truth like that were the only thing that made American Idol palatable – too bad that Simon too would inexplicably fawn over other singers who sounded no more distinctive or original. And because of his contempt for so many others, his choices somehow seemed more authoritative.
It’s not worth asking “what if Simon had used his powers for good instead of evil (or just plain crap)?” Because at the end of the day, Simon Cowell is not a musical genius – he’s a pop music genius, and has known all along exactly how to play to the pop music audience.
American Idol will continue without him, but probably not very well, or for very long.