The recent tumult generated by Kingstonian Ryan Malcolm in his hike to becoming "Canadian Idol" now seems ancient history. That worthy competitor, trained in voice from a young age, sparked the imagination of many across the country. He looked a bit like a younger Elvis--Costello that is--when he did not look stunned, as his successes multiplied. Whether Ryan Malcolm will cash in on his celebrity for more than fifteen minutes remains to be seen.
Now, with the arrival of fall--that harbinger of snow and ice and the kind of sober reflection caused by clogged intersections and mogul-dotted sidewalks we know so well--we're poised to do it again. Reports surfaced last week of a local conspiracy to "discover" another Kingstonian to contend for Canadian idolhood. "Canadian Idol" was both dog-day phenomenon and limestone epiphany. It roused the natives as few issues had in recent years. Cynics derided the inauthenticity of the entire project, carping about a program that plagiarized an American TV show, and borrowed from several others.
Critics found "Canadian Idol" derivative and had a hard time figuring out why locals became so fond of a callow young fellow, a bit geeky (in a charming way), who could carry a tune but would never replace Bruce Springsteen, let alone Neil Diamond. The groundswell of support that he attracted proved that Kingston had the crassest of cultural taste.
There is much to support this view. But to assess Ryan Malcolm as idiosyncrasy misses the importance of media's increasing power in constructing celebrity and creating a direct relationship with viewers. For no less than Springsteen and Diamond, Malcolm owes his celebrity to media.
But there is more to the story than a mere updating of the cross of democratic ritual and vile sentimentalism that fifty years ago distinguished such interactive TV archetypes as Jack Bailey's "Queen for a Day" and Warren Hull's "Heartline". Then, studio audiences and long-distance phone calls brought succour and prizes to contestants, usually female, grievously injured by life's slings and arrows. In Malcolm's victory, cadres of devout supporters worked hard and stayed up late to ensure that viewers voted. Local politicians might heed this process. The new mayor and council should think twice about the way in which the region mobilized behind its victor.