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AGING IDOL: The ominous idea that American Idol’s audience is aging got a new burst of speed with a story in the Philadelphia Enquirer this weekend on an episode of The New Adventures Of Old Christine where Julia Louis-Dreyfus and her mommy friends obsess over Idol. For Enquirer TV columnist David Hiltbrand, it wasn’t just that last week’s Idol featured guest coaches who haven’t had hits since Petticoat Junction was on the air, but that the CBS sitcom – which Hiltbrand calls “TV’s ultimate mommy show,” featuring characters that he calls “late boomer” – made Idol both a part of the plot and a character point.
“That’s a deadly cultural marker for the Fox singing contest,” writes Hiltbrand, “the equivalent of looking up to see vultures circling. It’s the ultimate confirmation that the kids have moved on and the adults have taken over. Now if only they could figure out how to text-message in their votes!”
In his column in the New Jersey Star-Ledger, TV columnist Alan Sepinwall takes issue with the theory that we have Howard Stern and the votefortheworst.com website to blame for the persistence of Sanjaya on the show. The website, whose express mission is to mess with Idol by stuffing its digital ballot boxes, has been taking a lot of credit for Sanjaya’s safe status despite his wildly inadequate performances, but Sepinwall isn’t having any of it.
“Remember,” he writes, “only three weeks ago, the Web site was backing Antonella and Sundance, and did either of them make it to the finals? No. They didn’t have enough juice to get Sundance past Sanjaya, and they didn’t have enough to get Antonella past Stephanie or Haley…”
“Sanjaya is still around for the same reason Kevin Covais made it two weeks into the finals last year, for the same reason John Stevens outlasted Jennifer Hudson in season three (pre-VFTW): He’s a nonthreatening teenage boy whom young girls and older women (by far the two biggest voting blocs the show has) find cute. No more, no less.”
And, I’d hasten to add, he’s here because guys with big record collections and snarky young people whose favorite bands include The Arcade Fire don’t watch Idol – or don’t admit to it – and certainly don’t vote. The young girls have been there from the beginning, but as I’ve said over and over, the tipping point for the older women – the “Old Christine” demographic – was probably Taylor Hicks’ win last year. Idol’s producers can either ignore this demographic shift, or cater to it knowing that these women have more money than teenage girls. So on next year’s Idol I say we can expect more commercials for menopause relief, musical guests like Neil Diamond and Christopher Cross, and the altogether depressing spectacle of young people singing songs from albums that were hits before they were born, like Carole King’s Tapestry, the Eagles’ Hotel California, and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors, a cultural fetish as boomer ubiquitous as copies of The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran.