It’s a Tuesday in mid-February, so that means it’s time for the live singing to begin on American Idol. What does that have to do with arts and culture, you ask? As the most popular program on television, plenty of artsy types must be watching even if it makes them feel a little guilty. (Not me.) What draws them and countless millions? I hate the show before it reaches this point: the endless auditions, the intentionally bad vocalists screeching for airtime. But once the judges have whittled the field to 12 boys/men and 12 girls/women there’s a lot of talent in the room. Unlike other competition programs like America’s Next Top Model, which has yet to produce a real-world supermodel, American Idol has several winners and runners-up who are making an ongoing impact on the music business. Why is that? Simon Cowell and the machine behind him are not just trying to make a successful TV show, they’re actually interested in developing singers who can have long careers. One sign is that they don’t put limitations on how much previous experience the performers can have. The only such rule is not you can’t currently be under a recording contract. Which is why my chief pleasure is the simplest one the show provides: watching and listening to people with aspirations and talent sing well. It wouldn’t be an American Idol blog without some handicapping. So while I’m not ready to predict a winner, I’ll say that from the limited screen time for the 24 finalists so far, David Archuleta and Asia’h Epperson look the most promising. There are also two locals in the hunt, Jason Castro and Jason Yeager. Stayed tuned for updates.