Well, it’s down to two on American Idol. And for the third time in four years, Birmingham has one of the finalists. (Four if you count Diana Degarmo, who was born here but raised elsewhere.)
For the past few weeks, there have been a slew of articles and blogs and broadcast pieces about why “the south” does so well in the world’s most-hyped karaoke contest. Some account for the Birmingham success with the “church factor,” some with other cultural and anthropological underpinnings. Jake Tapper at ABC did a piece looking at Idol votes through a political lens.
So far, nobody has it right, and we see such mind-numbing stereotypes as this:
“Perhaps most intriguing, as the fifth season continues, is to consider how much more talent remains out there in the hill towns and dust buckets of the South, and will rarely be heard past the local 4-H show, halftime at the high school football game, or at Sunday church.”
Amateur anthropology aside, there are a couple of important factors that get overlooked… a major key and a minor key, if you will.
Minor key: The South still has an underdog mentality.
If you know anything about college football, you know that the SEC takes it more seriously than anyone else. Lives revolve around football season. To know why, you have to go back 80 years to the Rose Bowl. Southern football teams were often disregarded and ignored by the pundits and voters in the northeast. That is, until the University of Alabama finally broke through with an actual invitation to the Rose Bowl, where it upset a highly regarded Washington team. That was a milestone achievement in Southern pride — and that’s why college sports get royal treatment, befitting the first arena where the region levelled the post-Reconstruction playing field.
Take it to the bank — Southerners are competitive in everything else, too. (And they also keep score on who “gets it” from the outside. I’m sure there is a lot of grumbling over the fact that Tapper included Oklahoma and Texas as part of “Dixie.”)
Major key: Ratings, ratings, ratings.
Lost in all of the analysis is the fact that Birmingham has the highest-rated Fox affiliate in the country. WBRC was a powerhouse long before Rupert Murdoch purchased it in 1996. Nearly ten years later, it remains locked in a close battle for number one in each newscast, each sweeps period being a tossup. Outsiders will claim that Idol props up Fox-6, but it’s really the other way around. WBRC has been savvy and effective in promoting and hyping American Idol, and has the viewership to make a difference.
The point? You can spend a lot of time musing, pondering, and cogitating about a situation that you can’t explain — but often the answer is simpler than we think.