"Idol" kids grew up in the postmodern era, long after the throes of the civil rights movement, long after interstates and Wal-Marts had made small towns in north Alabama look a whole lot like small towns in Michigan. The old days are gone. Listen to two iconic Southern recordings: Hank Williams's (Alabama) "Your Cheating Heart" and Robert Johnson's (Mississippi) "32-20 Blues." The first is twangy beyond description and the second is almost incomprehensible.
People don't talk like that anymore. But a softer Southern accent persists, as does the cultural memory of things long gone. There is still an emphasis on church and family, both entities that, in the course of Southern life, heavily influence music, particularly among the working class.
"There's still an awful lot of old-school singers who got their starts in church, and many mainstream country musicians still do a gospel album," said John Reed Shelton, professor emeritus of sociology at the University of North Carolina and one of the region's most respected observers. "Everybody tends to go to church, and Southern evangelical Protestantism, both black and white, emphasizes and rewards musical performance."
Plus, as Wilson, the Mississippi scholar, points out, the only way a lot of kids stuck in one-horse towns know that they can find life-changing fame and fortune is on the stage.
April 18, 2006
Some analysis from WaPo writer Neely Tucker. It's not that southerners watch the show more and vote more and vote for their own, Tucker argues.