When it comes to reality TV, Cops and Intervention are more my speed. I never got caught up in who’s going to win on American Idol, and certainly the day Jersey Shore goes off the air it will be a huge boon to mankind. Still, the few times I’ve watched American Idol here and there, I can see how people get caught up in the cliffhanger element of the show and root for their favorites - I never liked the cruelty of making fun of people who just don’t understand they have no talent, though.
So American Idol’s ratings have pretty much hit an all time low, and the era of reality TV in which this show thrived may finally, thankfully, be over. And as we’re discovering, even winning the musical lottery of American Idol isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Even with the music business barely existing these days, anyone who’s lucky enough to get in usually learns the hard way there’s still plenty of thieves out there willing to stab you in the back for a nickel, and you may end up going back to the day job you couldn’t wait to leave in the first place.
As we’ve seen throughout music history, for every Beatles and Bob Dylan that goes on to make history, there’s tons of groups like The Knack whose careers are supernovas that burn fast and bright, then disappear forever. Think American Idol could be your ticket to glory? Recently the Hollywood Reporter ran a story: “Jessica Sanchez ‘Idol’ Pay Could Be As Low as $30,000,” with the subheading telling us, “It is believed to be the first time a second-place finisher was not guaranteed an album deal.”
As the Reporter continues, even if you came in second place you could still have a good shot at getting an album deal worth $175,000, which has to got to be an increasing rarity with what’s left of the music business. Sanchez got a deal with 19 Recordings, and if she records a few songs, she gets $30,000 up front, and if she records an EP, $60,000. And a full length album, okay, then $175,000. The Reporter tells us this makes sense now because Idol’s ratings are down 32%, and if anyone’s buying music at all these days, they’re buying songs, not full albums. The deal for a first place winner is $300,000 advance, or $800,000 for six albums, which an artist may never reach (like the Soul Patrol guy Taylor Hicks who got dumped after a couple of albums).
Then The Daily Beast and People did "Where Are They Now?" stories on Idol, and it was very unfortunate to see that being on one of the highest rated national television shows didn’t do a hell of a lot for many of the people who competed on the show. Like watching your average Behind the Music special, there’s plenty of woe to go around even before these people had a chance at a career in the first place. Sanjaya, a favorite of many Idol fans, is a bar tender in the East Village, NY. Camile Vlasco is working at a Subway in L.A., A.J. Gil wound up on the streets then found the lord, and Jessica Sierra had to go into rehab.
As Sanjaya told the Beast, he’s also living in Queens with two roomies, went through six managers, and wrote a book. “I was young,” he said. “I didn’t know anything. Some people took advantage. Some skimmed a little off the top, financially.” In fact, you start flipping through contestant pages in the Beast article, and eventually a section pops up, "Evil Manager," where the contestant tells how they got screwed by someone who handled them.
Ace Young also made a fatal mistake of putting $250,000 of his own money into an album, and most of it went down the drain. Jessica Sierra went the way of a lot of former celebrities desperately hanging on to anything, including Celebrity Rehab and a sex tape. She also worked at Hooters and sang for customers who asked.
Corey Clark, who was disqualified in Season Two, said “I kind of wish none of the situation would have happened at all, to be honest. It wasn’t worth the trouble that came attached to it.” And yeah, there’s a lot of grief that comes with trying to make it in the business, and even to this day if no one’s watching your back, you can get screwed left, right and center. That part of the business has sadly never changed, and until the music business finally collapses in a cess heap, it never will. (In fact, with so many people in the industry desperate to get on a half-empty lifeboat, this kind of behavior will probably get worse.)
But at least these people got their shot, and for where they were trying to go in the world, it was truly the best shot they had. So many people to this day don’t understand that to even be a supernova - forget a long term star - in the business is akin to winning the lottery. The fact that so many of these contestants made the usual mistakes many young people new to the business make is certainly nothing new, it happens all the time...except now if you don’t sustain it past your first big break, there’s no second or third chance. Although there’s plenty that have to be pissed they missed the big time bulls eye, they were incredibly lucky to even get as far as they did.