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Goths could invade ‘Idol’

Times Staff Writer

As the “Idol” audition tour wound itself up in Atlanta on Super Tuesday night, we pored over the last returns in “American Idol’s” own primary season and had some thoughts on a looming, potentially huge demographic battle shaping up -- one that could spell R-E-A-L-I-G-N-M-E-N-T for seasons to come and bring millions of disenfranchised voters into the “Idol” system.

Long considered by many the sleeping giant of “Idol” voting blocs, this may be the year when the goth vote at last awakens. For six seasons, America’s vampires and ghouls were relegated to the margins of the electoral process, merely allowed into the public stage as oddities to fill out the audition episodes. Last season, however, the goth bloc made a tentative step into the arena when partial goth Gina Glocksen made it as far as the Top 10. This year, goth nation may be fielding a standard-bearer with the resources and potential broad appeal to be a serious player in the race. Amanda, the nurse/biker chick, showed in her audition that she has the vocal power to potentially be a true factor in this race.

That said, Amanda may want to look at the Glocksen experience as a cautionary tale. My experience canvassing the crucial 5- to 11-year-old electorate who turned out in masses last season at the Idoldome indicated that these critical voters considered Glocksen’s gothiness “scary,” not in a fun way, and upsetting. If Amanda can show the ability to move past the scary factor, she has the potential to do for goths what Blake Lewis did for beat-boxers -- end seasons of disenfranchisement and bring them into the system. Or could Amanda take it one step further, even?

Another thought to chew on at the audition period’s end: The rocker demographic may turn out to be the great white hope that in the end was too good to be true. In Season 4, “Idol” voters were stunned by the from-nowhere emergence of two quasi-rockers in the Final 12, Constantine Maroulis and Bo Bice, with Bice reaching the finals. In Season 5, “Idol’s” purest rocker, Chris Daughtry, was considered the favorite for much of the season and went on to become the fourth-bestselling Idol of all time. In Season 6, however, the bottom fell out of the rocker bloc and not a single candidate reached the Top 24.

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This year, we’ve had a few glimpses of rockers with some potential, but the advisors to the rocker camp must be very worried about the emergence of a strong goth candidate -- a rival clique whose appeal targets the same voters.

Potentially favoring the rockers however, is the change in “Idol” laws this year, allowing contestants to use instruments during Hollywood Week. But will this change turn out to be a double-edged sword? Will the reliance on the instruments prevent the rocker candidates from taking the painful but necessary journey to get out from behind their bluster and emotionally connect with the voters, offering them a glimpse of their souls, moving beyond showmanship to sincerity?

Bice and Maroulis, followed by Daughtry, broke the alterna-barrier on “Idol.” This season may see goth take its seat at the table. But what about all the demographic groups still waiting out in the cold? Would the arrival of goth open the floodgates in Season 8 to emos, electronicas, Celtic punks, ambients, free-stylers, glams, grunges, rockabillies, acid housers, reggae zouks, riot grrls and speed-cores? Could our system, could any system, withstand such a sudden and dramatic influx? And would the world that they create be one that we recognize or even want to belong to?

That future may turn on the fate of one motorcycle-riding goth nurse and whether she can touch the hearts of a couple of million very influential 9-year-olds in the coming months.

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richard.rushfield@latimes .com


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