Crystal Bowersox, finalist in Fox's hit show American Idol, made the following statement yesterday minutes after losing to Lee DeWyze: "I was ready and willing ... for the outcome. We both win. It's not win or lose; it's winner and non-winner. Both of us are going to have very successful careers, and we're going to be friends for a long time."
Hm. "Winner and non-winner," eh? Surprisingly, she isn't far from the truth. Yes, yes, I know she's stupid and hideous and not at all talented, but she is useful in making a point: in American Idol, everybody wins.
Obviously, the contestants win. They get free exposure, a nice place to stay while they're doing the show and perhaps, if they're very lucky, a record deal and a nice bundle of cash. Not a bad deal for them overall.
The people judging and hosting the show win. They get paid ridiculous amounts of money to sit in a chair and squash the dreams of thousands of bright-eyed hopefuls. I would kill for that job. Take Simon Cowell for instance. He wakes up every Tuesday afternoon, still slightly hungover, in his $22 million home in Beverly Hills, pops a few Vicodin and then proceeds to drive his Bugatti Veyron to work where he gets to belittle people like Crystal Bowersox who thinks "non-winning" isn't the same thing as losing. Simon Cowell definitely wins.
The recording company that signs the winner also wins. They get to hire the one person that their very customers, the American people, have decided they like the most, thereby guaranteeing a fair amount of album sales. It's brilliant. No longer do they have to hire talent scouts or actually waste their time listening to music and evaluating it properly; they can just sit back and let the masses do their thing. Ka-ching.
The advertisers win. Companies like Ford get to have any number of the most popular contestants sing and dance around their product for a paltry price. In today's world of product associations and endorsements, this is an advertising gold mine. Subsequently, the network, Fox, makes a killing off of the advertisers. Companies like AT&T and Coca-Cola pay sums up to 35 million dollars to have their brands associated with the show. Compare this to the few million dollars the winning finalist will make and you'll start to understand just how much money Fox is really making off of this show. Cheap content and huge advertising profits make Fox a big winner in American Idol.
The biggest winner in all of this is the media conglomerate that undoubtedly owns both the network, Fox, and the recording company that will be producing the winner's music. Rupert Murdoch's News Corp is the real winner. They take a slice from everything the network makes, everything the recording company makes and ultimately, everything that the winning artist will make. This probably equates to a few hundred million dollars in the long run.
Last and least of all, the people watching this corporate gang-bang get to feel like they've won. My mother, for instance, watches this show almost religiously. I can't explain it and neither can she, but she gets something out of this show. Maybe it's the feeling that anything is possible, that despite all the obstacles life throws at you, there's always a way out. Maybe it's the feeling of achievement she gets when she votes for a contestant and they don't get voted out, maybe she feels like she helped the winner get to where they are. Whether it's living the good life vicariously through others or the idea of the "American Dream", it's obviously worth it to her and the tens of millions of other people who watch this show with such dedication.
American Idol is quite simply a money making machine that consistently does very well with ratings, and I don't see it going anywhere for a long, long time.