Pop Idol

Saturday, February 9, 2002 by

A review of the final of Pop Idol somehow doesn’t seem appropriate. Better instead to bring together for a final time, the rumours and the trivia; and to confer once again on the relative merits of the contestants’ performances.

For this writer, the desire to actually evaluate the musical merit of each of the performers rather than focus on their personality, or the artifice of the programme itself has come as Pop Idol‘s biggest surprise. Certainly I never recall caring whether or not Darius could actually sing properly when he “did Britney” back in Popstars. However with the last weeks of Pop Idol I found myself ranking and rating each programme based purely on its musicality; and as such, the Bacharach episode was the best (closely followed by the Big Band one). Unlike previous rounds then, it was not the degree of controversy per programme that defined its entertainment value, but actually how good the tunes were.

Of course it has been controversy and countless rumour that has allowed Pop Idol to gain its distinction in the first place from bland bedfellows such as Star for a Night. Our desire to evaluate each performer has arisen directly from the rumpus over Rik, from the return of Darius, the accusations of contestants propositioning voice coaches, the vote rigging, the pronouncements of poison chalices, the argument over Ollie and all of the rest of the hurly burly that has made up the main grist of the series. Quite simply, the inclusion of so much artifice somehow compelled us to hope ever more earnestly that someone who actually had genuine talent would walk away with the crown.

And so to the final. This was a week of disproportionate publicity. Pop Idol has never consistently attained the ratings of Popstars and has undoubtedly lacked the originality or genuine drama of Big Brother, yet the careful machinations (which all and sundry have been keen to credit to Simon Fuller - Pop Idol‘s unseen mastermind) of the last few weeks has born fruit in the form of almost blanket media coverage. Decking the two finalists out with Battle Buses was an inspirational piece of publicity, providing the kind of gimmick that the media revel in, yet perversely the overwhelming press attention received by Gareth and Will resulted in the dilution of the programme’s central purpose.

Not only was it obvious that the eventual winner of Pop Idol would gain little more than the runner up (Cowell has snapped up both Will and Gareth), but there was a growing sense, that the conclusion of Saturday night’s results programme would actually bring down the curtain on the most successful (in terms of media exposure) part of the winning Pop Idol‘s career. This week Will and Gareth were the biggest stars in Britain – no question. As of Monday, this will no longer be the case, and it is difficult not to foresee a descendent path from herein. It’s fair to say that the attainment of the Pop Idol title had become little more than a pyrrhic exercise ever since Zoë made her departure from the show a couple of weeks ago; it became simply a conduit to allow the final few to strut their stuff each Saturday night.

This recognition was reflected by the Judge’s contribution during the final. Their function was declared officially redundant as they made scrupulous efforts to ensure that both contestants received equal amounts of praise (culminating in bringing forth Will and Gareth at the end to project platitudes to both of them at the same time). In terms of ensuring fair play, one could appreciate the value in doing this, however much of the devilment and enjoyment of Pop Idolhas been its arbitrary horribleness, and bristling honesty. Perhaps the opportunity for one final sensational headline has been missed, but I for one would have welcomed an honest appraisal from Simon Cowell of the Gareth Gates’s final performance (“totally average”). The resultant headlines placing the blame for Gates’s defeat at the door of Cowell would have provided Pop Idol with a resonance and an afterlife that it now seems deprived of thanks to it’s decision to opt for a feel good finale instead.

Still it was nice to see the return of old friends and perhaps conciliatory enemies (although any exposure for Rik Waller right now will be leapt upon by a man who has set the record for becoming the quickest ever has-been), and the return of the final 50 (not just the last 10) was a welcome nod not only to the contestants who have shaped the programme, but also the long road that the viewer has also travelled to arrive at this moment. Ultimately, the final will be remembered for poor performances, the unveiling of a truly terrible pair of songs, and a typically entertaining performance from Ant and Dec. Talk of TV history being made is a little premature and grandiose (certainly the strains of Daft Punk failed to fill the air as the winner was unveiled). Nonetheless over the course of the last few months, Pop Idol has been consistently gripping and entertaining television. The final brought closure but also left one question unanswered. Where next for our duo? Not Gareth and Will (chart success predictably beckons for both), but Ant and Dec. Bruised by the failure of Slap BangPop Idol has resolutely brought the duo into the heart of British light entertainment, and reinvigorated their careers. What they do with them now should make for enjoyable television.


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