Do you believe in the concept of a guilty pleasure? Or do you live by the fact that whatever makes you happy, makes you happy, all judgements aside?
I’ll admit that I am an unabashed fan of American Idol, a show which for most people, easily falls under the very definition of “guilty pleasure.” Not that there’s much to admit here, as I pretty much wear my pop culture loyalties on my sleeve. (I’m looking at you, Kris Allen t-shirt!)
For one of the best love letters written to American Idol, I’d like to offer up Daniel Fienberg’s piece, “TV’s Best of the Decade: No. 7,” which does an excellent job analyzing its merits, tackling common criticisms against it, and extolling its pleasures.
Granted, this article was written before the Paint Salesman stole the sash and tiara from Mamasox, but even that misstep can’t tarnish all these moments of great ecstasy that American Idol has showcased throughout its history: Kelly Clarkson’s coronation, Carrie Underwood’s “Alone,” David Cook’s “Billie Jean,” Kris Allen’s “Heartless,” and the list goes on…
The rollercoaster narrative of “the Search for a Superstar” (remember that original tagline?) is still engrossing after ten seasons, mixing soaring high notes with moments of “pitchiness.” How could you not root for this season’s underdog extraordinaire, Haley Mothereffin’ Reinhart? Her soul-baring “House of the Rising Sun” was a triumph unlike anything the show had seen before.
And Lady Reinhart is still slaying it all through the summer…
(Yes, I was in the audience for the above performance)
Of course, for all of the joy that came with watching Haley’s divine performances, came, too, all the extreme frustration of the inept judging panel praising every single contestant except her. The feedback felt personal, the atmosphere became hostile, the producer’s manipulation felt more and more blatant. Week after week, the viewers’ patience was tested.
This is where So You Think You Can Dance swoops in and offers up a refreshing palate cleanser of sweet summer relief.
So You Think You Can Dance provides quite a different pleasure than American Idol. Sure, they both feature performances of “artistic expression,” but at its core, SYTYCD succeeds more often than its singing counterpart.
Simply put, SYTYCD is a celebration of teamwork over competition.
Yes, ultimately a SYTYCD contestant must dance for his or her life solo, but inherently, success stems from working together with a partner, with the choreographer, with the music. He or she must make his or her partner look good, if not flawless. Much of the charm of SYTYCD lies in witnessing the growth of an artistic partnership (ie. Jess & Clarice), and it will be interesting to watch what happens next, now that this season’s duos are split.
More often than not, American Idol duets have gone the way of Jacob and James out-wailing each other, rather than Adam and Allison respecting each other’s talents. And need I remind you of The Voice duets? Oof.
Much of SYTYCD‘s joy can also be attributed to its charming host, Cat Deeley, who was finally nominated for an Emmy after being shut out the past three years. No one else in the business is more deserving and has her mix of charisma, grace, spontaneity, and genuine caring for each contestant. I don’t see Ryan Seacrest standing up for Haley against Randy or hosting an annual 4th of July BBQ for Idol contestants…
In the end, though the artistic origins may differ, both American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance can provide viewers with a sense of pleasure, guilty or otherwise.
Mileage may vary.