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Backstory: Pop! goes the curriculum

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Yes, be very afraid, America. The likes of Clay Aiken, Kelly Clarkson, and even lowly William Hung are shaping musical perceptions in many schools. Suddenly, Michael Bolton doesn't sound so bad anymore - well, yes, he does.

No, really, there are benefits to these inanities, though they may not always be apparent. "Idol"-ization has renewed enthusiasm for music education at the grass-roots level. And while some of that newfound demand may be old-fashioned stargazing, it also opens a new vista for students to behold. A vista, that is, filled with educators ready to share the wonders of sheet music, hitting notes high and low, and the answers to assorted other magical musical mysteries.

"More students want to be in choir than I have room [for]," says Annice Shear, the vocal-music director at Nathan Hale Middle School in Cleveland. She sees evidence that the students want to improve their singing and believe they could have a career in music performance. She attributes the spike in interest largely to Cowell & Co.

Teachers nationwide are happy to incorporate the "Idol" milieu and expand on it. Waldrop has even gone so far in her elementary school classes as to name-drop Il Divo, an operatic group founded by Cowell."I tell them, 'See, Simon has classically trained opera singers, so it's a cool thing.' "

"Idol" does transcend the mere notion of instant stardom, suggests Rhonda Schilling, a music teacher at Thoreau Elementary in Madison, Wis. "It also has a bit of reality in it," she says. "It puts perspective on things - not everyone can be a star, but everyone has a chance. That's important. Too many kids grow up thinking they're going to be football stars or whatever without realizing how hard it is or how much you have to practice."

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