I’ll be a teenage idol, just give me a break ... You can’t imagine what it means to me, I’m gonna grab myself a place in history.
— Elton John
Real-life rumors (Oh, glorious Facebook!) I heard last week as Phillip Phillips hysteria swept Southwest Georgia:
Dave Matthews had contacted Phillips and told him he’d bring the budding singer on his current tour if Phillips would leave “American Idol.”
Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler was munching down on a heated hen at Harvest Moon the night before Phillips was honored with a parade in his hometown.
Jennifer Lopez and her entourage had rented 18 rooms at Albany’s Hilton Garden Inn and would join Phillips at the Leesburg parade.
You’ve gotta love when there’s a little excitement in a small town. Where else would someone’s 24th-cousin, twice removed, be interviewed on local television as if their miniscule genetic tie somehow automatically made their words worthy of broadcast to a spellbound audience?
The Lee County Chamber of Commerce, local law enforcement and other Lee officials heaved a huge sigh of relief last Saturday evening when the madness over the hometown “Idol” finalist’s appearance had died down. Chamber officials certainly deserve heaping helpings of praise for pulling the event off with less than a week’s notice. (At this writing, they’re reportedly preparing for an “Idol”-planned finale event Wednesday.)
People throughout the region who have fallen in love with the Leesburg singer during his magical “Idol” run lauded “American Idol” in the wake of “Phillip Phillips Day,” using phrases of praise usually reserved for Sunday-morning pulpits. In doing so, they showed how little they understand the TV show’s unconcern for their — and their hero’s — interests.
The Phillips parade and concert Saturday were not about the return of the native, a heart-tugging hometown-boy-makes-good event. It was simply “Idol” showrunners collecting footage to fill up time for the next two weeks’ shows. It’s hard to fill an hour (or two, not sure how long the show lasts) when you’ve got only two or three people left in the competition.
So they dispatched the remaining contestants to their hometowns, ordered up a made-for-TV celebration and sent along their camera operators to shoot footage. In Leesburg, whose population is slightly more than 2,500, a crowd estimated at between 10,000 and 15,000 came to see Phillips. By all reports, the day went extremely well with only TV-created delays dampening the crowd’s spirit.
But such an event could have been a disaster. That many people in a town not accustomed to such crowds — and with insufficient law enforcement to monitor and inadequate facilities to comfortably accommodate such a gathering — could have gone bad in a hurry.
As one official, who admitted to being frightened by the mad crush when the TV folks encouraged everyone to crowd around the stage on the Lee County High School football field, said Monday, “We pretty much feel like we survived Phillip Phillips Day.”
Like the rest of Southwest Georgia and people all over the country, I’m proud of Phillips for his showing on “Idol.” The show is (inexplicably) extremely popular, and it’s given the young entertainer an opportunity to showcase his talent for an amazingly huge audience. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy, who is part of one of this region’s nicest families.
But “Idol” is not about making stars. It is about making money for the people who own its rights. Phillips may be one of the lucky ones — like Chris Daughtry, Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson — whose talents take them beyond the immediate post-”Idol” crush that fickle TV viewers hold onto for a few months, until reality hits and they realize (a) the show’s finalists are really not that talented (Taylor Hicks anyone? Justin Guarini?) or (b) who cares about last year’s winners, it’s time to get ready for the new season of glorified karaoke.
No, “American Idol’s” honchos are not in the Phillip Phillips business or the Jessica Sanchez business or the Joshua Ledet business. They’re in the “American Idol” business. They’re into squeezing every penny they can out of the people who appear on the show each year and then moving on to the next bunch.
Phillips will be a hot commodity on the “American Idol” tour that capitalizes on the popularity of the show immediately after the season ends. He’ll also most likely get a record contract out of the deal, especially if he wins. Then ... well, it’s really up to him. Some contestants have actually found their “Idol” exposure to be a detriment to their careers once the “honeymoon” period ends. Life is hard, they realize, when they don’t have a Randy Jackson or a J-Lo overhyping every aspect of their often so-so talents.
Meanwhile, all of us in Southwest Georgia who appreciate our homeboy who made good will be pulling for him to be one of the “Idol” few who reach beyond the glitz of the TV show. Maybe if Dave Matthews (who married an Albany girl, after all) is really out there paying attention ...
Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at firstname.lastname@example.org.