Dr. Luke Joins Idol


This is the end result of a culture based on fame. Which too many people equate with fortune. My favorite story about this took place at a restaurant where patrons were stunned to see a cast member of the “Real World” waiting tables. They asked him, “What are you doing here?”

I ask Dr. Luke the same question.

The “Real World” star was earning a living. Everyone knew his name but MTV pays poorly, and if Martha Quinn couldn’t convert her fame into further riches, good luck to the evanescent stars of reality shows.

That’s what “American Idol” is, a reality show. And a decade plus of intense competition has taught us it’s never about talent and always about drama. Whether it be the shenanigans on the “Real World” or the competitors on “Survivor,” we don’t care about the game but the interactions, we want to see real life played out on the screen. At least until the producers hired writers and scripted interactions to the point that we know in many cases it’s just entertainment.

So what we have with “American Idol” is a dying franchise. Hell, even Simon Cowell can no longer succeed, his “X Factor” is a bust, even Britney Spears couldn’t prop it up. We’re more interested in Simon’s sexual peccadilloes than both his show and his artists, we’ve seen that reveal, where he’s been putting his unit and the results thereof are much more interesting, along with the moral questions involved.

So the ratings for “Idol” are never going back up. We see faux criticism and snark and a bunch of half-talented wannabes competing to be molded by a Svengali and overpromoted to little success. What’s so interesting about that? Especially in a world where Miley Cyrus left TV and has been remaking herself more bizarrely every week. As did Amanda Bynes. But at least they had fame previously, the contestants on “Idol” have no history, no track record, and if you think we can relate and believe in someone over the course of a TV season you can list all the competitors on the “Amazing Race.” No, you need multiple seasons to get people to truly care. So no one cares about these contestants, not really.

And they don’t care about the judges. Because there’s a revolving door of people doing it for the money and exposure. Keith Urban is an amazing guitar player, but he’s got about as much personality as the cardboard inside your shirt that comes from the laundry. He grew up practicing his licks, not learning how to speak. He speaks with his guitar. As for J.Lo… Famous for her posterior, anybody who thinks J.Lo can sing has no ears. To make her the arbiter of a singing competition is to make Stephen Hawking a gymnastics judge. As for the vaunted sales bump… J.Lo had one single that moved and Aerosmith’s album tanked after Tyler’s appearance on “Idol,” where he actually displayed a personality. But once you’re fodder for the masses, your core shrugs you off, they figure you don’t need them anymore.

And unless I didn’t get a memo, Dr. Luke is not starting a performing career, he’s a behind the scenes guy. What advantage is he gaining here? Oh, he’s got a deal with Sony, he can find talent. I’m telling you now, Dr. Luke already has access to the world’s best wannabe talent, he doesn’t need to be on this show to find it. And we’ve learned from past seasons that all that exposure does not help the winners sell records. You’re better off building something from scratch.

And you punch up, not down. You attach yourself when something is growing, not failing. It’s the essence of business, it’s why Steve Ballmer had to walk, he was more attached to a dying past than a growing future. Ballmer said the iPhone wouldn’t get traction, suddenly not only are PCs cratering, so is the need for Microsoft’s cash cow Office. You don’t wait until it’s played out before you move on, if you’re smart you leave at the peak, or just thereafter, you get off the merry-go-round when public opinion is still positive, and then speak crap about what happened thereafter when you’re queried in the endless interviews as time goes by.

And to tell you the truth, my aged brain is having a hard time locking on to the name of that songwriter… Oh yeah, Kara DioGuardi? Did she die or something? Because we haven’t heard from her since. What did “Idol” do for Kara’s career other than reveal her to be a narcissistic, fame-hungry person who clawed her way to the top? Like they all are…you don’t make it by being nice, by being unwilling to edge out others. Hell, isn’t that the secret of Madonna’s success? But at least Madonna knew how to leverage what she had. And to get in early on trends and then abandon them. Give Bowie props, he tried to stay ahead of the game. Now both he and Madge are flummoxed as to what to do next.

But that’s a different issue. A TV performer is different from a musician. A musician is cerebral, he writes his own material, a TV performer reads off the prompter, plays to everybody or his show gets canceled whereas a musical performer can appeal to a tiny sliver of the audience and do quite well.

But today everybody wants to appeal to everybody. Which is why art loses its edge. If you’re not willing to write some of the audience off, you’ve got no core. We’re addicted to edge. If you smooth yours off, you’re done.

And that new Katy Perry song… It was cowritten by Max Martin, the unknown Swede responsible for Britney Spears’s “…Baby One More Time,” one of the greatest tracks of the nineties, there, I said it, as well as the Backstreet Boys hits and Kelly Clarkson’s and…

Martin’s had a longer career than the acts he’s worked with, longer than most of those appearing on the VMAs last night, because he knows his place, he knows that pop acts need fodder, and he’s a master. He’s worked at his craft and knows that fame has got nothing to do with it. Hell, all those famous people prepubescent kids adore come and go, and Max remains, he’s nobody’s punch line.

But here we’ve got Dr. Luke saying yes in an era where almost nobody knows the word “no.” They can’t say no to the corporations, to anybody. And since the handlers get a percentage and everybody says to do it everybody does. Not realizing there’s a cost. That playing to everybody on national TV erodes your core and makes you a laughingstock. Yes, we watch TV to snark, not to glorify. This is where the money culture has brought us. If you get paid, no one can criticize. But I am.

Hell, if I were Luke, if the ink weren’t dry, I’d pull out. I’d publicly say no. He’s got enough money. Other than getting paid, all I can see is downsides.

Each and every TV star who joined a show after its peak… Adam Arkin still hasn’t recovered from trying to resuscitate “Northern Exposure.” He’s actually a talented actor, but he looked desperate by taking that gig, he appeared second-rate.

You want to be someone’s first choice. If you’re not in on the ground floor, forget it. If Dr. Luke wants to create a TV show, I’m much more interested. Then again, what does TV have to do with music?

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