The Challenges of a Hip-Hop ‘American Idol

I love the idea of a competition reality show based in hip-hop rather than the country-pop fusion that dominates American Idol. In reality, I have no idea how Snoop Dogg, if he gets the show he’s pitching off the ground, would actually execute the show. Idol works, in as much as it works, for the same reason Glee does: the audience is familiar with the songs they’re singing, so it’s all a matter of who can mount a persuasive reinterpretation.

It’s not that covers don’t exist in hip-hop—searching “A Milli” on YouTube brings up 60,400 results—just that the more productive territory in the genre tends to crop up in sampling, which is effectively what Lil Mama’s doing here semi-collaboratively with Avril Lavigne (The get-out-of-my-way declaration of “Eight bars and stop” as she starts a verse is awesome great. Can she and Rye-Rye please record together?):

and in radical lyrical revamps of existing hip-hop tracks, a la Lupe Fiasco’s amping up of the politics in Kanye’s “Diamonds from Sierra Leone,” complete with explanation of how bling is a depreciating asset:

But in terms of demonstrating competitors’ skills, I’m not sure it would make sense, for example, to ask competitors to recreate Eminem’s verse on “Forever.” And in terms of pulling a mass audience (as would, of course, be the goal if they put the show on a network rather than a niche channel) that might not be versed in hip-hop’s back catalogue, I wonder if you’d have to get artists freestyling over pop songs, like Queen Latifah does with “Poker Face” here, and hope it’s enough to jump demographics or bring in audiences who wouldn’t normally turn in to a singing competition show: