Will Phillip Phillips — And ‘American Idol’ — Find Success After Season 11?
On Wednesday, American Idol crowned its 11th winner, when 21-year-old Phillip Phillips triumphed over Jennifer Holliday's apparent new BFF, Jessica Sanchez, 16.
Now, Phillip -- a native from Leesburg, GA, who often drew comparisons to the likes of Dave Matthews during his run on the show -- will test the tricky waters of life after American Idol, a place where some Idols have flourished (Kelly Clarkson; Carrie Underwood) and others have, well, floundered (Lee DeWyze; Ruben Studdard).
So, just how well will he do?
"If history is any precedent, he won't do much of anything," James Montgomery of MTV News told Celebuzz. "Especially given that pop music has become a female-driven industry."
"I could see him doing well on Hot AC stations, though," Montgomery added. "If he keeps doing songs like [his 'Idol' coronation song] 'Home,' he does have a shot at crossing over. Look at Mumford & Sons, Coldplay, etc."
Emily Yoshida of The AV Club agreed.
"'Home' is probably the best Idol winner's song in years," she said. "It sounds relevant in an iPhone commercial kind of way. As of Tuesday, I'm about twice as optimistic [about his chances for success]."
Ironically, Laura Prudom, who recaps Idol for The Huffington Post, says that being grouped in with bands like Mumford & Sons couple become a major hurdle for Phillip as he kick-starts his music career in the coming months.
"The industry already has Mumford & Sons, Arcade Fire and Fleet Foxes, so why, exactly, does it need Phillip Phillips?" she said. "I suspect that making himself sound distinctive in an overcrowded male marketplace will be Phillip's biggest post-Idol challenge, largely dependent on the quality of the songs he's offered by the label, and his ability to assert his independence with people like Jimmy Iovine trying to steer him in the 'right' direction."
"He stayed admirably focused on his identity as an artist this season, repeatedly refusing to let Tommy Hilfiger give him an embarrassing image makeover and seeming to find the endless promotional tie-ins just as laughable as we all did," Prudom added. "If he maintains that sense of self, I think he has the potential to carve out a real niche for himself."
With his victory on Wednesday, Phillip became the fifth-straight male contestant to win American Idol, joining the ranks of other guitar-playing guys like Scotty McCreery, Lee DeWyze, Kris Allen and David Cook. It's a far cry from the olden days of Idol, which launched uber-successful careers for many female contestants, including Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Fantasia Barrino.
While the success of Phillip's career could go either way, Montgomery, Yoshida and Prudom all agreed that the recent male dominance on Idol could have a negative effect on the show itself -- which has been declining steadily in the ratings in the last couple of years -- as it heads into season 12.
"Thanks to the folks who actually vote for this show, American Idol has become completely antithetical to the current state of pop music," said Montgomery, who has written extensively on the topic over at MTV. "You just don’t see male solo artists dominating the charts these days -- though, to be fair, Gotye is certainly making headwinds."
"At this point, thanks to five-straight years of white guys with guitars winning, it's pretty easy to say that the show has become sadly predictable, which probably hurts it more than anything else," he added.
"Unless Phillip reaches the kind of universal success of a Kelly or a Carrie, the WGWG thing has officially become a joke that is impossible to ignore," said Yoshida. "I remember people making similar comments when Scotty McCreery won last year, but nothing approaching the derision this time around."
"I think the audience will continue to lose interest as long as the outcome remains totally predictable. People don't want to invest in shows that are only going to frustrate them in the end, and that's as true of reality series as it is of primetime dramas," said Prudom.
At this point, does a female contestant even stand a chance at winning?
"I'll never say never, but it's looking like it'll be increasingly difficult for a female to ever win Idol again, or at least one that has a shot at being like Rihanna, Beyonce, Katy Perry, Adele or Lady Gaga," said Montgomery. "None of them would ever win Idol, and given that they're the biggest stars on the planet, that doesn’t exactly bode well for the show's future -- or its present, really."
When Idol first premiered in the summer of 2002, it was a novelty of sorts; the first popular singing competition to hit primetime network television since Star Search. In 10 years, however, we've seen the birth of multiple reality-competition series; on TV today, viewers can choose between everything from The Voice, to The X Factor, which features former Idol judge Simon Cowell, to the latest incarnation, ABC's Duets.
According to our expects, Idol's purported predictability will only hurt the aging show as more and more newbie products try to win the illustrious ratings' battle.
"As much as the judges and producers snark about it, The Voice has obviously taken a fair chunk out of [Idol's] viewership," said Prudom. "With The X Factor and Duets also vying for attention, you've got to expect a fair amount of viewer fatigue. Haven't we reached the point of oversaturation with singing competitions yet? At some point, the well of talent will have to run dry."
Montgomery agrees, adding that The Voice seems to have beat Idol -- a show that dominated the ratings for an unprecedented amount of years -- at its own game.
"It's a hip show, with contemporary judges; it even created an actual hit, 'Moves Like Jagger.' Idol just seems old and sort of obsolete now ... I think audiences will continue to leave the show."
"Though, c'mon, it still KILLS in the ratings!" he said.
Indeed, while Idol did have its lowest-rated season finale ever on Wednesday, with 21.5 million tuning in, it's still a much higher number than most shows can produce on television today; last year's winner, Scotty McCreery, also became the first platinum-selling winner the show has seen in years -- an encouraging sign for Phillip, whose single 'Home' currently sits atop the iTunes singles charts.
Could it be that Idol, a show that was famously known for its brutal honesty, especially from Cowell, has simply become too nice in its later years? According to Yoshida, the answer is "yes."
"Get some judges in there who can actually do their jobs and foster some kind of evolution among the finalists," she said, criticizing the two-season-long panel of Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez and original Idol judge Randy Jackson. "Then we might once again have a show that is engaging and interesting and worth the three hours a week. What do you think? Will Phillip be successful after Idol? And will the show ever reclaim its glory? Sound off in the comments, below!