World Idol

Thursday, December 25, 2003 by

For many years, ITV has – in the shows of Chris Tarrant, Clive James and the rest – gained much mileage from the mocking of foreign television. Picking out the unusual and bizarre moments from European or American programmes is basically an attempt to prove to ourselves that we have the best TV in the world, and often extends no further than sniggering at nationalities supposedly less “sophisticated” than we are. So it’s perhaps appropriate in this season of goodwill that the rest of the world gets to see that the UK can come up with its fair share of dross. The most awful thing about World Idol was that, not only were we watching one of the most ill-advised programmes ever, but so were 10 other countries.

Make no mistake, Pop Idol is a great series – compare it to the likes of Fame Academy and Popstars: The Rivals, and it’s obviously hugely professional and likeable entertainment, among the very best of its kind. It’s no surprise that the format has been so successful abroad as it’s a simple idea that could really run forever, the sort of concept that television companies thrive upon. Equally, it’s no surprise that Simon Fuller and Simon Cowell, the two major movers behind the series, want to capitalise on this success. The idea of bringing together the winners of all the national competitions into one huge sing-off seems a logical idea.

Well, until you think about it for more than five seconds. The basic appeal of Pop Idol is that, throughout the run, we get to follow our favourites and watch them improve and become more famous as the weeks go by. So in the first series we got to see Will turn from an also-ran to a contender to a star throughout the run. Ditto Darius in the first series and Mark in the second. Their appeal didn’t just come from their performances, but the interviews and filmed items that they participated in throughout the run. The fun of the series is that there may have been better singers, but the ones who did well appealed to the public thanks to their personalities.

The obvious problem with World Idol is that this doesn’t happen. We all know about Will, and also Kelly Clarkson thanks to her hit single in the UK. The other nine, though, are complete strangers. When the German or Dutch Pop Idol comes on stage, all we can go on is their performance, and as such it simply becomes a bog-standard singing competition between a bunch of nobodies. Not caring about the contestants means that virtually the whole appeal of the programme has gone. Sure, we got the odd clip from the various editions – the Arabic version excitingly including the audience storming the stage after a shock result – but not enough to tell us much about the hapless participants.

The other obvious problem is that as well as us not caring about the contestants, the contestants don’t care about the competition. Will Young, for example, is one of the most famous people in Britain and has sold millions of records. What does it matter to him if the Polish judge doesn’t like him? He’s already a winner, as are all the other contestants. On the normal Pop Idol, the judges’ comments have value – Simon or Pete suggesting that, say, Mark is never going to be a star without charisma is a useful thing to say and Mark can learn from it. On World Idol, though, Will doesn’t need to be told that he isn’t very good because he knows that he is, and can prove it through record sales and critical acclaim. Will is not going to be losing sleep over losing that all-important Norwegian market.

That’s the basic problem – who cares who wins? Ant and Dec seemed to spend an awful lot of time asking us to vote for our favourite, but to what purpose? The prize for winning World Idol is that they become World Idol – that’s it. All the finalists already have record deals and are all famous in their own countries, which is probably about the limits of their ambitions. Maybe there’s some sort of kudos in being named the best of them all, but it means nothing to the viewer. The fact we can’t even vote for Will further diminishes the appeal for viewers at home. If it was charity, maybe there would be some incentive to phone, but this competition has been created for no purpose other than to line the pockets of the two Simons.

Indeed, it’s even more pointless when you see the contestants. The winner of the Arabic Pop Idol, for example, sang a traditional middle-eastern song in Arabic, and clearly sang it well, but it was utterly alien to everyone outside the Middle East. Similarly, Belgium’s representative was a long-haired Kurt Cobain look-alike who sung Nirvana. Trying to compare these two acts is simply impossible and makes the contest ridiculous. Similarly those from a non-English speaking country are at a disadvantage as they’re singing in a foreign language.

It’s obvious that all the participating countries have completely different tastes in music and completely different ideas as to what makes a Pop Idol. If Cowell and Fuller wanted to illustrate the worldwide reach of the programme, then they should have done it with a documentary or variety show. Making a competition out of it is ludicrous because there’s no way you can judge between them. Furthermore, when Cowell slags off the German Pop Idol, he’s not just slagging off the singer, but also the tastes of the German viewers for making him winner, and the German series as a whole for not coming up with anyone better. This isn’t a celebration of the world of pop, if anything it’s penalising it for being unique to its country of origin.

Even the execution of the programme itself was rubbish. Not only were there 11 singers, there were also 11 judges, one from each country and all sat in a giant Blankety Blank-esque panel. Obviously, this was way too many, and some hardly appeared at all, the South African judge uttering one sentence throughout the entire programme. The Polish judge, however, seemed to want to make his mark on the world stage, and continually read out bizarre statements from a piece of paper to everyone’s utter bemusement, Cowell eventually calling him “moronic”. Again, apart from our representatives, we didn’t have a clue who any of the judges were and so their comments and criticism had little purpose. The Polish judge was simply some bloke – we were never told what he’d done to deserve a place on the panel.

Even Ant and Dec couldn’t hold the programme together, mostly thanks to the fact that they were unable to interact with the judges or the contestants. Clearly, the performances and judges’ comments were seen worldwide but the presentation was localised in each country, so the duo were simply spliced in between them – hence the fact that only Will got an interview. It would have been nice to see Ant and Dec taking the piss out of the Polish “moron”, or chatting to the other contestants, but seemingly they weren’t able to do that. Again this diluted the appeal of the programme. Worse still, to allow all the viewers worldwide to vote, we now have to wait a week for the results, by which time we’ll no doubt have forgotten more or less all the competitors.

Pop Idol‘s always been about making money – Simon Cowell’s not doing this show simply to make the public’s dreams come true – but it’s normally carried out with enough wit and charm to help you forget that. World Idol, though, was devoid of any of that and its only purpose seems to have been to show off. ITV1′s Christmas Night schedules have been notoriously poor in past years, and thanks to this, 2003 was no different.


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