And while the theatre community has benefited from the show, I still take exception to the negative sneer of the judges who say that a singer is "too Broadway." What exactly does that mean? Even if all it means is that the "Broadway sound" isn't what they are listening for in a specific genre, to say it like "Ew! You have cooties!" is just wrong. Still, they have had show tune nights, and Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber has checked in. How about we send in some heavy hitters like Stephen Sondheim or Michael John LaChuisa? The judges often moan about a lack of artistry. Having the contestants try to do one of their numbers would certainly separate the wheat from the chaff!
Then, too, there is the unfortunate by-product of the Idolization of Broadway. The histrionic singing style that many of the Idols adapt makes for a good show in three minute bursts. But the public now thinks that is the only kind of "good" singing there is, and they expect it from their shows - just look at Wicked or this year's Tony winner, Memphis. But what works in a three minute burst is much harder to sustain for two hours eight times a week. Right, Fantasia? I wonder if that's why, by and large, the runners up can handle the Broadway grind, and the winners seem to struggle in any venue that requires more than a sound bite of exceptional quality. (Anyone who saw Taylor Hicks in Grease! knows what I'm talking about.)
Well, for better or for worse, American Idol has definitely influenced a trend on Broadway this first decade of the new millennium. Here are some of those Idols turned Broadway babies:
- Fantasia Barrino - Played just over half of her contracted performances in The Color Purple.
- Josh Strickland - Played the lead in Disney's Tarzan, to some acclaim for its entire run, rarely missing shows. He now headlines Jerry Mitchell's Peep Show in Las Vegas.
- Constantine Maroulis - Plays the lead in Rock of Ages, and also appeared in The Wedding Singer. He earned a Tony nomination, does vigorous campaigning for the show, plans to head the National Tour, rarely misses a show, and still found time to father a child with one of the chorus gals in the show! I wasn't impressed with his performance, but I gotta give the guy credit - he is sure a committed guy.
- Ace Young - Replaced actors in both Grease! and Hair. Everything I've seen of him says he could make it big on Broadway with just the right vehicle. Get in line, Ace! But stick around!
- Diana DeGarmo - Replaced actors in both Hairspray and Hair, earning solid to rave reviews. She is reportedly still starring in the upcoming revival of Godspell.
- Frenchie Davis - A long-running RENT refugee, she lent a lot of style to many charity events over the years, and still managed those impossible notes in "Seasons of Love."
- Ruben Studdard - Toured the country with Davis in a revival of Ain't Misbehavin'. That cast recording was Grammy nominated.
- Taylor Hicks - According to my avid Idol fan friends, Hicks is the most dubious of winners. And if his, um, performance as Teen Angel (how could anyone mess that up?) in Grease! is any indication, it is no wonder.
- Tamyra Gray - Replaced actors in both RENT and Bombay Dreams. Shakalaka, Baby!
- Clay Aiken - Came to Broadway in an unlikely (for his persona, anyway) vehicle, Spamalot. He came here and came out. Everything I've heard about him on stage has been positive. Maybe there's a role for him in Godspell?
And finally, I'd be remiss not to mention the imminent arrival of Jordin Sparks (one of my personal favorites) in another of my personal favorites, In the Heights, shown here with soon to be former star of the show, Corbin Bleu.