No American Idol contestant enters the game without a past — the lucky ones just hope that it won’t get them disqualified, as with Frenchie Davis in 2003 for a topless photo shoot, and this year’s Chris Golightly, who had a previous recording contract with a boy band. That could be why semi-finalist Andrew Garcia has gone dark on YouTube.
The 24-year-old performer from Moreno Valley, Calif., was cited today by the New York Times as being “the most plainly relevant contestant this season” — not because his overall life story particularly captures the cultural zeitgeist, but because Garcia has been uploading acoustic guitar covers of pop songs to YouTube since June 2008 — just like hundreds of other aspiring musicians who might one day yearn to be Idols. Garcia’s past covers include Keri Hilson, Neyo and Kanye West’s Knock You Down and a Michael Jackson tribute that’s topped 1.2 million views.
However, the only surviving evidence of Garcia’s YouTube experimentation are the videos that were uploaded to the YouTube accounts of friends with whom he collaborated on the above songs. Since joining the show, Garcia has set all of his own videos to private, most likely to avoid offending the likes of Fox and 19 Entertainment over copyright violations and getting himself disqualified. However, a subversive touch does remain — the only video that now appears on his account page (which is currently nearing 50,000 subscribers) is a bootleg upload by another user of Garcia’s Idol performance of Paula Abdul’s Straight Up, which was his breakout moment of the competition.
There’s little doubt that Garcia’s YouTube-demonstrated style (unconventional re-dos of pop tunes that, to borrow a popular judging catchphrase, he can really make “his own”) will play well on American Idol as the reality competition begins its audience voting phase this week. And watching the videos that do remain online crafts a picture of a talented, engaging young man, one who’s not afraid to get into the occasional tickle fight while honing his craft for the Internet audience.
His profile on the official Idol site, though, has no such flavor or personality — Garcia is reduced to some bland Q&A and show excerpts. Which doesn’t just do Garcia a disservice, but represents a missed opportunity for Idol to build out its online presence, and perhaps even demonstrate that it’s not afraid of other web sites — including MySpace, which is owned by the same megacorp as Fox Television and is currently struggling to prove its relevance.
The fact that there isn’t a link between Garcia’s Idol profile and his MySpace account just seems bizarre — to do so would promote the show on yet another platform, engage a potentially new audience and increase the profile of a social network that could seriously use the boost. You could, I suppose, argue that what the folks at Idol are trying to do is create an even playing field for all its contestants, but they’re kidding themselves if they don’t think the other kids have MySpace accounts as well, the links to which are not hard to dig up. Guess what, guys — 9-year-olds can effectively Google these days. Maybe it’s time to stop being so afraid of your contestants’ pasts.
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