Each week here on VH1 Tuner, our VH1 Top 20 Video Countdown host Jim Shearer (@jimshearer on Twitter) will be sharing his Shearer’s Spotlight with us. Be sure to tune into the VH1 Top 20 Video Countdown Saturday morning when it airs on VH1 at 9 a.m. ET/PT.
Last week, Phillip Phillips became our new American Idol. As confetti fell and bright lights shone upon his face —one that doesn’t look much different from last year’s winner, Scotty McCreery— a dark, Sasquatch-sized monster peaked through the curtains of the Kodak Theater.
The creature has no name, but is commonly referred to as the American Idol Shadow. Besides a few select performers, the Shadow haunts winners, losers, runners-up and even judges.
Simon Cowell and his U.S.-version of The X Factor know all about the Shadow.
So do former champions: Ruben Studdard, Fantasia, Taylor Hicks, David Cook and Lee DeWyze, all of whom have been released from their original record deals, inked shortly after winning Idol, when success seemed all but certain.
The Shadow makes daily appearances in the mirror of Clay Aiken, Elliott Yamin and Constantine Maroulis, while former Idol cuties Lauren Alaina, David Archuleta, Kris Allen and Haley Reinhart flinch in terror whenever they hear a rustle in the pop-music thicket.
Early on, when people didn’t believe in the Shadow, the Idol-tag was worn like a magnificent sequined-glove. I once attended an event where organizers gushed about having someone from Idol’s Top-12 present. If that happened today, attendees might not be so impressed.
Over the last decade, the world of popular music has discovered that most American Idol contestants, though very talented, aren’t necessarily artists: Performers who write their own songs and/or are really good at personalizing the ones written for them.
The days of frosted hair and Kelly & Justin frolicking on a beach are over.
A few years ago, before interviewing a former contestant, I was warned not to bring up American Idol. This performer obviously felt the Shadow breathing down their back.
One year, I interviewed an Idol who all but ignored me before the cameras were turned on, instead deciding to preen himself in the television monitor. I took no offense, because I knew I would last longer in the music industry than he did. I was correct, as the Shadow swallowed him up shortly after.
Some have been fortunate enough to escape the monster’s grasp. Kelly Clarkson’s catalog of hits —especially the eternally-catchy “Since You’ve Been Gone”— keeps her well out of the Shadow’s path, and being part of another singing-competition television show (on another network) is a genius counterattack.
Carrie Underwood’s good looks and country/pop hits have kept the Shadow at bay, as it knows to keep a safe distance from a girl wielding a Louisville Slugger.
Other ways to dodge the Shadow include: Pure talent (Jennifer Hudson); writing radio-friendly rock songs with your band (Chris Daughtry); having “Battlefield” and “S.O.S.” in your repertoire, dating a fellow pop-star, and starring in a movie with Whitney Houston (Jordin Sparks); or having the promise of being the greatest frontman on the planet as soon as the right rock band takes you hostage (Adam Lambert).
Phillip Phillips, enjoy your reign as American Idol, but just be warned, the Shadow cometh.