‘American Idol’ By Any Other Name Would Be ‘American Dream’

Penny Starr
By Penny Starr | May 21, 2009 | 9:18 AM EDT

Say what you will about “American Idol” – it’s too contrived, it’s lame, it’s a phenomenally successful reality show – but I believe the No. 1 rated television show in the United States is, above all, a living testament that the American Dream is not only alive but available to any singer brave enough to pursue it.
First, a disclaimer: I never watched the program until Season Seven when Idol contender Bruce Dickson was chastised by Simon Cowell and the other judges when he announced that he wanted to remain celibate until he married “that one special woman.”
Only Simon and his colleagues know if it was Dickson’s stand on abstinence or his vocals that ended his dream to become the next “American Idol,” but the singer from Texas went on to tour the country performing at pro-abstinence events and I went on to be transformed from objective reporter to subjective – and devoted – fan.
Now that Season Eight has come and gone, with long-shot Kris Allen taking the Idol crown, I realize why millions of people religiously tune in, cast votes and become emotionally involved in who wins this oh-so-hyped singing contest.
In an era of celebrity worship, it is ironic that the celebrity-making machine called “American Idol” is the antithesis of the usual “it’s all about who you know” route that lead most performing artists to fame and fortune.
‘American Idol’ is, at its core, about young men and women who might otherwise never have a chance to prove to the world – or at least the millions of people who watch and vote – that they have the talent and showmanship to turn their passion into a profession.
It’s understandable that some people claim the contest is fixed, especially when some contestants who have worked as professionals are allowed to compete.
But Clay Aiken, Jennifer Hudson and – I’m betting – Danny Gokey, are proof that the public can definitely be wrong about who is the most talented contestant.
And even if there is some manipulation of contestants or voters by savvy producers and judges, it doesn’t take away from the fact that just a few months ago Adam Lambert was just another Californian with stars in his eyes and a soft-spoken guy without stars in his eyes rose through the ranks to become the latest Idol phenom.
Another disclaimer: As someone has sung in bands and in theater and whose children performed at Carnegie Hall and at Scotland's famed Edinburgh Fringe Festival, becoming a fan of  "American Idol" was, in part, a matter of falling in love with a vehicle for individuals to rise from anonymity to stardom by making it through months of grueling auditions.
That said, the journey from Nobody to Somebody on "American Idol"  is really about people having the freedom and opportunity to make their dream come true.
For those who haven't gulped down the Idol Kool-Aid, the show begins with more than 100,000 people lining up at venues around the country to sing - a capella - in front of judges who would rather roll their eyes and give a snarky critique than give you a pass to the next round of the competition.
Over the next few months, 20 singers are plucked -- for the most part -- from obscurity and coached, coiffed and cajoled into becoming the next vocal superstar in the land.
This year's contestants included an oil-rigger from Texas, a single mom, a blind man and Gokey, who heads up the youth music ministry at his church and whose wife died just weeks before he auditioned for "American Idol."
The fact that Allen won  -- despite the popular prediction that Lambert would prevail, hands down -- is proof, I believe, that the people really do decide who is crowned American's Idol each season.
And, moreover, Allen's victory is a reminder that the vision of the nation's Founding Fathers that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are God-given rights are not just words penned on a fading document.
For singers, at least, that sacred right is as close as Season Nine, when hopefuls across the land will line up once again for their shot at becoming the next "American Idol" -- a crown that gives voice to the treasure we call the American Dream.