Category Archives: 1900-1930's

American Idol: Miseducating the Masses

I don’t watch American Idol. I have, in the past, but these days I occasionally will just watch a YouTube clip of a finalist when it comes up. Truth is, they do sometimes manage to come across some good singers. But in the grand scheme of things, the producers, judges and anyone else involved in putting the show together are complicit in a large campaign of misinformation being disseminated to their millions of viewers.

As you may expect, my main anger arises at the complete disregard for the writers and original performers of some of the older songs performed on the program.

Due to its performance at Michael Jackson’s funeral, Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” has become forever associated with the King of Pop. When I first heard it sung at his funeral, I was very surprised and extremely happy, because its a great and underappreciated song. Unfortunately, it has since been falsely attributed to MJ by aspiring, uneducated singers everywhere.

It has also been licensed by American Idol and added to their ‘stock’ list of songs to be performed at any time, and I can’t tell you how many times I have seen contestants pick it, and open by stating how much they were inspired by Michael Jackson and how they wanted to sing one of his songs. While looking for a particular instance of this that I remembered from a few seasons ago, low and behold I found a contestant from this season doing the exact same thing:

Now, i’m going to give a TINY bit of credit to the producers this time, because at least they show themselves trying to inform the contestant in question, but it just becomes even more infuriating when it becomes clear that she a) clearly doesn’t care and b) doesn’t even know who Charlie Chaplin is. They have let this and much worse slip many times before. Is it too much to ask that a program with such a huge reach across the country could at least help inform its viewers (and at the very least the singers themselves) about the music?

I was particularly angered just last week when I saw an article with links to the most recent episode’s tribute to Elton John. Not once on the program or in the video notes did anyone mention that 99% of Elton John’s lyrics were written by Bernie Taupin. To be honest, I am surprised that John himself would let this pass, because by all accounts he seems like a very gracious person. But with each clip you hear, the contestants talk about how moved they are by ‘Elton’s music’ and ‘Elton’s lyrics’ and it seems like such an injustice done to his partner.

And perhaps Taupin doesn’t like the spotlight, maybe he’s content without being recognized. But that isn’t the point: the viewers and the contestants need to know whose music they’re listening to and performing. By not giving credit where it’s due, American Idol disrespects the thousands of artists it licenses from and just promotes misinformation and laziness to a whole generation of aspiring music lovers. But perhaps thats what they want.


As I have mentioned before, it’s pretty easy to mask the influence of others’ music on your own and call it an original composition. Whether this is done intentionally or innocently (or both), it still surprises me when I find antecedents to songs which show that, in essence, they were essentially already written.

Maybe I’m a little out of the loop on this one, but in all my years, no one has brought this to my attention:

1. Written: 1938

This 20th century composer was popular in the early to mid 50’s among jazz musicians, enough to inspire this interpretation:

2. Recorded: October, 1955

Now, if you haven’t noticed it already, check out 1:36-2:17 on the first track, and 1:36-1:56 on the second…

It’s really interesting to see the progression of influences that helped lend a hand to the development of modalism. It would be interesting to know if Coltrane wrote “Impressions” based on the latter or the former, but its far more likely that it was from the latter (which should be a hint).

Oh, and if you’re wondering, October 1955 was certainly prior to the writing of Coltrane’s “Impressions”. November 1955 was the first recording session John Coltrane had with Miles, meaning he was at least two or three years from beginning to explore modalism.

So does anyone know the sources?

Re-harmonization of the Week ~~ When the Saints…

A little less than a week late is better than never.