With all the talk about who would be on the judges' panel next year, apparently behind the scenes a much bigger change was afoot for American Idol as it goes into its ten year. It has huge implications not only about the future of the show but for the contestants signed by now out-of-the-loop Sony -- and for Season 9 contestants not yet signed.
American Idol is first and foremost a huge commercial. Aside from the obvious corporate tie-ins, it is about building up contestants that its partner music company will then sign. With the title and confetti and light show, it says to America -- here is a star. Now go out and buy their record. American Idol continues to promote those contestants in subsequent years. The winners' faces are plastered everywhere as a constant reminder of the connection between the show and the recording artists. Other contestants also signed by the record company are brought back during subsequent seasons to mentor or to sing -- but always as a subtle commercial. They were on AI, now go out and buy their record.
Yesterday it was announced that after a nine-year association with American Idol, Sony Music is out. Universal Music Group is in as the new record company that will be signing American Idol contestants. From a business and artistic standpoint, it makes sense. UMG is the largest record company in the world and has an impressive roster of talent from every genre. If AI wants to stay on top -- and fight off attack from the competing X Factor -- you should have the biggest and best in your corner. Creatively, it could mean huge things for contestants lucky enough to be signed by UMG. They will now have the benefit of legendary producer Jimmy Iovine who will finally give AI contestants a real chance at making quality records after they leave the show (something, that only a few of the past have been able to achieve).
But for Lee DeWyze this is not good news. His new album will now not be promoted by American Idol. He will likely not be coming back to perform next year. He will probably not be mentoring any future contestants. Lee may not even have his mug up behind the auditioning contestants, at least from here on out. Let there be no mistake about it -- AI promotes what's best for AI. That had been its former contestants -- especially those that had done well. But it will no longer be in the show's financial interest to be tied to unproven prior contestants. The AI brand, and its future contestants, will now be associated with a different record company. There is no reason for them to promote past Sony-signed contestants.
It is unclear how this news will effect Crystal Bowersox. It may actually be a blessing for her. She will not be forced to appear on future shows or otherwise associate herself with AI -- and she of all the contestants seemed least happy being a big corporate trained monkey. She will still get her record and it will fit the niche of singer-songwriter-chick nicely -- which means it won't do gang-busters but will give her a spot on any upcoming Lillith Fair tour. She'll make enough to support her son and her subway days are over, but even better, she won't have to come back next year for a duet with Aaron Carter.
What is even more up in the air is how this news will affect Casey James and others who are either unsigned, or whose signing has not yet been announced. On the plus side, if Sony goes ahead and signs Casey after its association with AI has been severed, it means that they want hm for what he offers as an artist and what they -- not AI -- can do with him. It would actually make poetic sense if Casey were signed to Sony and simultaneously freed of his connection to American Idol. He could then start on the path of developing himself as an artist in his own right. In the same way that Chris Daughtry had more freedom courtesy of his fourth place finish, Casey could then forge his own path to do his own type of music and not what AI wanted to shoe-horn him into.
The concern, though, is that Sony won't see it like that. They may want to wash their hands of AI altogether and simply move on and in the process pass on the one artist out of Season 9 who actually has huge potential. I doubt this will happen because Sony, like every company, wants to make money and with Casey you have an artist who will get radio play, sell records, sell merchandise, sell concerts -- and make you money. I've said it before, but it bears repeating -- Casey has the whole package. Great voice, great guitar skills, great look, great musical knowledge, great cross-over appeal. Sony is lucky they have first crack at him. But, if they don't and Casey becomes a free agent, fear not. Now that Casey and his music are out there, he will be signed. It just may take a little longer. As with all things -- time will tell.