Wow! Sting is so not amused! The man who’s collaborated with everyone from P. Diddy to Toby Keith because, he once told me, he doesn’t know how to say no, is no long playing Mr. Congeniality. Considering that he’s promoting a new holiday album, If On A Winter’s Night…, he’s sure not spreading Christmas cheer. In a recent interview, he lashed out at TV talent shows like American Idol and the UK’s The X Factor, calling them “televised karaoke” and “a soap opera which has nothing to do with music.”
I understand where he is coming from, but in my opinion, true talent can be discovered anywhere, from a street corner to a local dive to a prime-time star search where the popular vote is the one that counts.
Yes, creatively speaking, the various contests have spawned far more misses than hits, but can we dismiss the talent of Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson because they were discovered on a TV pageant? And although I would agree with him that these Idol and X Factor kids “are not encouraged to create any real unique signature or fingerprint” (exhibit A: Clive Davis vs. Kelly Clarkson, after she tried to go her own creative way on her third album, My December), I wouldn’t call any of the above Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston clones.
Sting also disses the talent show judges as having “no recognisable talent apart from self-promotion, advising [contestants] what to wear and how to look.” He has a point, but isn’t that also the job of label executives who pluck fresh talent — like Sting’s old band, the Police, back in the day — off the street?
Where Sting really stumbles, though, is when he underestimates The X Factor‘s star- and money-making potential: “The music industry has been hugely important to England, bringing in millions. If anyone thinks The X Factor is going to do that, they are wrong.”
I think Sting may have had his head stuck in the sand for most of this century. The last three UK No. 1 singles all have been by acts (Alexandra Burke, Cheryl Cole and JLS) who were discovered on a TV star search. In fact, the fastest-selling UK single of 2009 so far is “Fight For This Love” by Cheryl Cole, a member of Girls Aloud, a group created on Popstars: The Rivals that has amassed a multimillion-pound fortune over the last half-decade. Meanwhile, on this week’s UK singles chart, the U.S. rock band Journey scores it’s biggest ever UK single with “Don’t Stop Believin’,” which shoots to No. 19 (making it, incredibly, the group’s first Top 40 UK hit) after being performed by a contestant on The X Factor.
Sorry, Sting. I love you to bits. But when you’re wrong, you’re dead wrong.