Thursday, May 31, 2007

From Average American to Idol

One of my favorite things about American Idol is that it's the contestants are, and look like, real people. You get a real cross section of America, people of different races, from different economic backgrounds and different parts of the country, (relatively) old and young, overweight and thin. Most of the contestants are average looking, but what I love most is that even the best looking idols are attractive in a normal-person way, not at all on the Hollywood celeb level.

Katherine McPhee is arguably the most beautiful contestant in idol history and no one could stop talking about how pretty she was when she was on the show. But even when she had hair, makeup and wardrobe styled, she still looked like a really cute girl you'd run into at the supermarket. She was a little overweight, maybe a size 10, and had normal proportions, no perfect body.

Of course, once the show is over, the top contestants move from "regular person on a reality show" famous to legitimately famous people who are featured in magazines, stalked by paparazzi and permanently surrounded by a large entourage. Instead of being on stage with other normal looking people, the bar has been raised- they're on awards shows and red carpets with A-listers. Try having your picture taken next to Mischa Barton after you've been with Ruben Studdard for 6 months... you might be a tad more self-conscious about how you look.

What's happened is that many of the idol winners and runners up have undergone fairly dramatic makeovers. Obviously this is far more prevalent among female contestants, as they're being judged on their looks in a way men are not. But compare a couple of the before and after pictures of top idol contestants:

I'm happy for these women that they're looking so good, but it saddens me that they no longer resemble the average women they once were. Since Idol is such a family show, I also have to wonder what the millions of young girls who watch the show, go to the concerts and buy the albums must think when they see their favorite star morphing into a hotter, skinnier, magazine-friendly version of herself. Is that something women have to do to succeed in this industry, and was there something wrong with how they looked before?

I've been thinking about this a lot lately, ever since Jordin Sparks won the latest season of American Idol last Wednesday. She's a very pretty girl, and at 17, at a particularly vulnerable age. But she's also at a weight that is far above the Hollywood norm, and if the rumors that Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson were pressured by their label and handlers to lose weight are true, I think it's very likely that we'll see an even more dramatic weight loss from Jordin. And yet again, the idea that a normal-sized woman isn't marketable and can't succeed in Hollywood will be reinforced to women and girls everywhere.

What do you think?


Gwen said...

Not having watched those seasons with Carrie Underwood or Katherine McPhee, I had no idea what transformation they made, esp. in weight, they had undergone. I feel like Kelly Clarkson did not end up losing as much weight as these girls had.

I also expect that in addition to Hollywood polish, Jordin Sparks will change drastically. I did see her on Regis and Kelly yesterday and wondered if she's currently in limbo not being groomed by AI people but not yet in the fold of her contract because she looked much more "everyday" than we have seen her recently.

B. Goldenwood said...

Funny... I was just discussing that with my husband. I'm with you on this one. And totally on-board with the McFee analysis.

Sarah said...

I caught Jordin on Ellen yesterday, and she was discussing how she used to be a "plus size" model for Torrid. And Ellen said, "You're not plus sized, you're healthy!"

If only everyone thought that way... but I have a feeling Jordin will be hitting the treadmill this summer.

Teresa said...

I think Jordin is absolutely gorgeous. She's so tall that she can carry "extra" weight without looking remotely plump. She'd be almost physically imposing if she weren't so young and open, like a grecian statue. I sound kind of creepy trying to explain it but in short, I think she's just beautiful.

I really hope she's not forced to lose a whole lot of weight, but I suspect you're right. I haven't really been following Carrie Underwood since c. 2005 and I was kind of freaked out by how skinny and plastic and tan she looked: I'm glad you proved to me that I did remember her being really cute and wholesome and not orange.

Kelly Clarkson has lost maybe less weight than the others - maybe hovering between a 6-10ish? And people are HORRIBLE to her when she looks like an average woman, caling her "fatalicious" and "fatty little piglet" and all that. (not that anyone on dlisted is ever kind.)

Anonymous said...

It is amazing to see the difference in their before & afters. I have watched the show since the 2nd season & in the auditions neither of those girls even looked big to me...& now that they are Hollywood stars & look so thin & gorgeous, their before shots make them look frumpy. It is sad that that is what happens and I would hope that it doesn't happen to Jordin, but I can't imagine that it won't.

franki durbin said...

It extends to all celebrities, be that small screen, reality, music or movie. If you've ever gone back and seen an old Nicole Kidman movie, she haad a different nose, was more plump and just wasn't the same as her all-star look of late.

Once you reach a certain level of fame and have stylists, trainers and the like banking on your success, the requisite makeover becomes the defacto standard.

Is it right? That's too large of a question to answer. It is just the way our current American culture operates and we've come to expect it, if not accept it.

Honestly, I'd love to see what I'd look like with six months worth of stylists, trainers and gurus working as a team to transform me. But then again, I don't have teenaged girls looking to me as an icon (or idol) for inspiration.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, it is normal to lose a few pounds when ur rushed around from city to city. These girls are on the move, they dont sit around and have time to watch tv. But I find Carrie Underwood lost too much weight, Katherine , looks good , she hasnt lost such a drastic amount of weight

Jeda21 said...

The entertainment business is way plagued by the "tv will add a few pounds" syndrome. It's too bad they force healthy individuals to drop to unhealthy weights, and by force too. Remember Donald Trump and the Venezuelan Miss America? Television in other countries is still showing healthy or average weight individuals. We're advanced in so many ways as a country, and yet viscious vanity standards hold us back still.

blogger said...

holy i didnt realize how much weight carrie underwood has lost, but i like her way better than katharine mcphee. i dunno what the hype is w/ katharine mcphee, she's overrated, in my opinion. kelly clarkson is still the best, and i think she looks healthy, she DID lose weight but she's not Nicole richie.

Anonymous said...

So true - I'll be sad when Jordin loses the weight, she's so beautiful now. But then again, I never thought that Katherine McPhee was overweight in the first place - I wanted to look like her from the first audition!

Anonymous said...

Oh please don't tell me that you called size 10 "overweight." Please tell me that that girl is 5'2'' and in that case, ok.

Anonymous said...

Thin, or even skinny, doesn't mean unhealthy. Some people are naturally like that and it's their perfect weight. Most people pack too much weight anyway, just like these girls. They're not fat, just a bit overweight for their stature. If these girls, once they become popular, get the help of trainers and physicians to lose the excess weight, then I say it's a good thing: it sets a good example for everyone.

Ruby said...

I agree with the previous poster that losing a bit of weight may be a good thing.
When it extends to plastic surgery, eating disorders,etc: definitely a bad thing.
Female stars are expected to look great. That's the way our culture is.
I do not defend being overweight. I would love to have a trainer to help me lose my (very) few extra pounds. So if these women lost weight and are healthier, all the better.