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The dangers of worshipping an 'Idol' - Jason Smith

The world is coming to an end.

How will we ever survive?

Don't know how I'm supposed to cope, after hearing the news:

Simon Cowell is leaving "American Idol."

As I was listening to the radio this week; that's all anyone was talking about. Radio disc-jockeys were pondering how different the show would be without Cowell, whether it would have the same appeal and -- the all-important question -- who would take his place as a judge.

I confess I've never watched an episode of "American Idol" from start to finish, since it first aired in 2002. This is perhaps strange, considering how much I love singing in public myself.

I've caught a few moments of the program, here and there, enough to know whether someone will stick around, or will be sent home after being humiliated on national television. But, I think what bugs me most about the show is how obsessed its fans get each season.

Certainly, the show has been good for something over the years. It has launched the careers of people like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and -- one of my personal favorites -- Kellie Pickler.

Singers Clay Aiken and Taylor Hicks have also earned their respective places in history, as a result of the show.

Of course, there are also those individuals whose fame has resulted from nothing more than how unbelievably badly they sang in front of Cowell and the other "Idol" judges.

I suppose this kind of humiliation is nothing new in the music business. Record company executives, and talent scouts, have spent a lot of time, over the years, discovering diamonds in the rough who might never otherwise be famous.

Those same executives and scouts have, I'm sure, encountered some duds along the way. The difference with "Idol," is that the American public takes on the role of the scouts, leading some aspiring singers to be humiliated on a much grander scale than they would, otherwise.

Don't get me wrong. There are programs on TV that I enjoy watching on a weekly basis, and I can be a bit obsessive in doing so.

For me, though, they're mostly crime dramas, as opposed to reality shows.

At any rate, none of the shows I watch receive nearly the amount of attention from viewers and media alike, as "American Idol." With the news that Cowell is leaving to focus on his newest show, "X-Factor," yet another dimension of coverage has been added to the show.

I guess what bothers me the most about this obsession we collectively have with "Idol," is what it says about us as viewers. A generation ago, TV viewers asked the question, "Who shot J.R.?" knowing the actor who played him would return to "Dallas" in due time, unscathed.

When Cowell, or his soon-to-be successor, dashes the hopes of a singing hopeful, millions of people are witnesses to very real heartaches.

I've said for a number of years that reality TV shows like "Idol" are proof that Hollywood has run out of ideas. I shudder to think about the effect our viewing obsession will have on generations to come.

Jason A. Smith covers crime and courts for the Henry Daily Herald. He can be reached via e-mail at jsmith@henryherald.com.