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Backstory: Pop! goes the curriculum

'American Idol,' for better or worse, is filling music classes with eager singers.

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When Jane Waldrop's fifth- and sixth-graders report for her mandatory music classes, they are rarely eager to volunteer for performances of any kind. Or, rather, they weren't eager to perform before Ms. Waldrop turned her kids into believers by adding a dash of "American Idol" reality to the curriculum.

It seems the students at Clearview Elementary in Herndon, Va., just needed a bit of prodding, reality TV-style.

"We actually call it 'American Idol' and have kids come up and serve as judges and have others volunteer to sing," Waldrop says. "They get up there and really ham it up. It makes them interested in music in a whole new way."

Can Simon Cowell save the music?

If the music being saved is overwrought pop singing, then the answer seems to be yes. And if it brings attention to the oft-overlooked notion of honing a craft, all the better.

At a time when music education budgets are in constant peril, even the unabashedly shallow Top 40 machinery of "Idol" makes some teachers cry for an encore. The smash Fox show - known for crowning newly minted pop stars as well as for the critiques offered by the snarky Mr. Cowell - is a cultural touchstone, for better and worse.

"The fact that so many kids dream about being on ['American Idol'] shows that music is a draw," says Sue Rarus, director of research at MENC: The National Association for Music Education.

"Children all across the country are watching and dreaming. Kids are looking for something to strive for - and as superficial as this show may be, it's holding that out to a lot of people."

Now in its fifth season, "Idol" has made students more interested in singing and in school music programs, say teachers on the front lines of auditorium risers across the country.

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