It’s That Time of the Season: The British Invade American Idol

Curator's Note

Simon Cowell wasn't the only British performer viewed live by American Idol watchers on Tuesday, March 20th. On the same day that Sanjaya's strange Mohawk graced screens across the U.S., something even more unusual was viewed by more than 30 million Americans: a montage of images from "British Invasion" performers of the 1960s. Not only were the Beatles and the Rolling Stones discussed, but attentive viewers could see and hear about other performers such as the Zombies, the Animals, the Foremost, and Shirley Bassey. In addition, during this episode '60s-era British performers Peter Noone (from Herman's Hermits) and Lulu met with the contestants and instructed them on the finer points of singing such songs as "Tobacco Road," "Diamonds are Forever," and "Time of the Season." In less than two hours, baby boomers received a blast from the past while generations X and Y gained a mini-history lesson about the intersection of British and American popular culture in the 1960s. As instructor Ryan Seacrest informed us, the influence of the British Invasion expanded far beyond the recordings themselves, leading to the adoption of new films, clothes and hairstyles on both sides of the Atlantic. The money to be made from this endeavor are quite clear: long-forgotten "evergreen" titles suddenly increase their sales on outlets such as iTunes. Yet another intriguing result of this broadcast (along with the subsequent "results show" episode, from which the linked clip of Peter Noone comes) was the flurry of conversations online about the artists from this era. Of course, this is nothing new for American Idol – the show has repeatedly introduced viewers to different artists and styles over the years. But it once again suggests the ways that a show frequently dismissed by cultural critics is engaging with the past in ways that encourage interaction and debate along with consumption.


I can definitely see a boomer watching those episodes of Idol that bring in older artists with his or her gen y kid and telling him or her about these artists, pulling out the records while the child rolls their eyes. As popular pedagogy goes, at least this is, despite Lulu's last note (a case study on why pushing notes you can no longer hit is just not a good idea), much more pleasurable than the many PBS retro pop music extravaganzas that one can see during any pledge week. Indeed, one of the issues at hand in popular pedagogy is the pleasure that us, students/viewers, enjoy in berating talking heads such as Seacrest. I mean, it's fun to watch his non-expertise since anyone with a memory that lasts longer than last week's episodes of Idol can talk back to the TV (I prefer chucking koosh balls at the screen) and debate the proceedings. Indeed, while I am not an Idol fan, those that watch Idol watch it for many of the same reasons sports fans engage self-proclaimed experts with such fervor: fans have knowledge that far exceeds the popular pedagogue and, because of the informality of these proceedings, are open about their preferences and judgments.

Add new comment

Log in or register to add a comment.