10 Years for American Idol; 100 Years for John Cage

Kelly Clarkson as she received one of the Women’s World Awards in 2009 in Vienna Austria, a program to honor women making a difference in the world that was co-founded by Nobel Peace Prize winner Mikhail Gorbachev. launched. TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 4: Just 10 years ago, Kelly Clarkson belted out her versions of A Moment Like This, Respect and Before Your Love—to become Ameria’s first American Idol. In the process, she and Idol forever changed American pop culture. Over the past decade, Americans have come to expect that their votes will matter in crowning future pop stars.

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 5: A century ago, the late John Cage (who died in 1992) was born in Los Angeles to an inventor father and a journalist mother. Cage’s reputation for daring experiments in music ran smack into the middle of the Simon Cowell idol-making machine in 2010, when a popular groundswell in Great Britain tried to defeat a Cowell campaign with votes for Cage’s surprisingly silent 4’33” during the Christmas season.

How fitting that these anniversaries converge!

Remember Clarkson before she became a star?

Today, Clarkson is everywhere in pop culture and even has a reputation as a humanitarian advocate on behalf of proudly accepting one’s natural weight. Clarkston is widely lauded for performing around the world while shunning any undue attention to watching her weight. The singer is fit and as popular as ever, but newspaper and magazine profiles report that fans appreciate her pride in her own less-than-model-like physique.

Ten years ago, Americans met the first—and most successful, to date—winner of American Idol (check out the official site). Just after the season ended, Clarkson released A Moment Like This as a single and the tune went on to break a 38-year-old record for the biggest jump to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. TV ratings agencies show that Idol has been the most-watched TV series from 2005 to 2011—a record—and Clarkson alone has garnered more than $23 million in worldwide album sales since 2002. The show is scheduled to resume in early 2013.

This week, Idol fans are buzzing about the Season 12 judge selections: Early reports are that Mariah Carey will be joining rapper Nicki Minaj and country singer Keith Urban. (Read more at FOX News.) Even FOX Entertainment president Kevin Reilly seems excited about Carey’s new spot on the show. “I think it’s the biggest recording artist that any of these shows have ever had,” Reilly told news outlets. “It’s an artist that many contestants have tried to emulate.” Carey sealed the deal for a whopping $17 million for the season, joining Simon Cowell in ranks of highest-paid Idol judges.

Religion and Idol? Oh, yes. Just last season, finalist Colton Dixon stirred up controversy over his overtly Christian comments on the show and in social media. (The Hollywood Reporter has the story.) While warned that he might lose fans over the comments, Dixon made no efforts to hide his faith. After singing “Everything” and bringing judges to tears, Dixon posted to Facebook that he believes “one hundred percent” that God gave him his voice. He continued, “Anything that I can sing that’s directed to Him … It’s just music that moves you where you’re just like, ‘Wow, God, I feel you in this.’ That was totally me tonight.” Will religious themes arise in Season 12 of Idol? Fans will have to watch to find out!

John Cage Irony: A Musician Best Remembered for Silence

You’ll enjoy clicking back to read our 2010 story about the campaign to beat Simon Cowell at his own game by promoting John Cage’s infamous composition of 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence. That story also includes a marvelous video of a full-scale British production of the Cage composition.

Update on that 2010 competition: Our story was published before the end of the rivalry. When the dust … errr, snowflakes cleared, Cage’s composition didn’t reach No. 1, but it did rise all the way to No. 21 in the UK singles chart!

Throughout his career, Cage experimented with instrumental sound and was, interestingly, motivated by elements of East and South Asian cultures. Acclaimed one of the most influential American composers of the 20th century, Cage led the world in post-war avant-garde composition. (Wikipedia has details.) When he wasn’t placing objects between or on the hammers of a piano to create a unique sound, Cage was writing modern dance pieces and drawing inspiration from Zen Buddhism. Today, his best-known composition is that 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence, which calls listeners to not listen to silence but, instead, to the symphony of sounds around them and in their environment. In a 1957 lecture, Cage furthered this idea by proclaiming music as “a way of waking up to the very life we’re living.”

This week, venues around the world will be paying tribute to Cage’s centennial with concerts and lectures, such as the drama center at the University of Michigan. Can’t make it to a concert? Click through the LA Times’ interactive timeline of John Cage’s Los Angeles (where he spent most of his childhood) or read through his story in an LA Times article. An alternative? Pay your own tribute by setting a timer for 4 minutes and 33 seconds, closing your eyes, and taking in the sounds all around.

Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

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