American Idol was all a set up vehicle for the music industry to release their 1-4 pop singers a year. Prior to Gaga and Katy Perry, who performed on Idol and received boosts to their exposure through Idol, there was a long gap with no good pop solo artist released unless they were Idol participants. Idol was the perfect vehicle. It gives you months of exposure to build a fan base through TV's highest rated show, and then a concert tour to hit the entire nation after the show. This would allow for the industry to release surer bets for their pop sensations.
The voting is rigged, the top 3-6 is set depending on quality of their crop of potential stars, the rabbits are set up for the top 12 and controversial water cooler contestants as well. I think they have the called in potentials Q rated during the initial rounds, Hollywood week, and then the whittle from 24 to 12. How a performer rates on favorability in those initial rounds refines who they bring tot he top 12 to sell to America. The tryouts are a way to get morons to perform who will be the circus part of the show, set the story for the top 12 so you get emotionally invested in them, and get the nation talking about some of the worst contestants as Idol figures out how to pace the top 12. We then get a roller coaster ride of voting and performances. In a weak year with one stand out to sell, they have to pack the top 12 with weird folks or s3x appeal. The weeks build up a resume of songs for people to sing, plus it gives the industry a feel for how many albums they can sell of an individual performer.
How many top 12 folks now have had label deals before that fell through or records produced quietly prior to contesting?
How many performers have gone on to be in Broadway shows?
How many performers have had good Gospel album releases?
How many rabbits are there?
The rabbit concept is an important one. The rabbit in dog racing is a stuffed animal that is on a bar and whips around the dog track to entice the dogs to chase after it. It is set at a pace to get them running fast. This is done in some mile races as well with a rabbit who will run a specific split for a lap to let the leads gauge their pacing off of him. The rabbit in Idol is usually an older contestant with a good to great voice who does not have commercial viability as a pop star, but is good enough to get viewers to watch and 'push' the featured star. Perfect examples of this are Bo Bice who was the rabbit for Carrie Underwood, and Melinda Doolittle who was the rabbit for Jordan Sparks. The rabbit gets a small record deal and is set for a while with being able to tour and make money due to their exposure on Idol. That's their payoff. Idol has learned that female winners are easier to push as the pop star, and that there is a bit of a turn off for some listeners if someone was the Idol winner. Chris Daughtry as a rocker is easier to sell than Chris Daughtry the rocker who won Idol. Adam Lambert was their greatest performer, but did not win as he's a bit non-pop to sell. He's easier to sell as an edgy, flamboyantly gay pop rocker to 20-somethings when he's not the Idol winner. The Adam Lambert season was the best example of this as the no. 3 finisher, Gokey, has released Christian albums, Lambert has had success and Chris whats his face has released a pop album. Brilliant.
Idol is a talent funnel, and an incredibly smart one at that. I can't believe I never thought of this before now.