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"Idol" Chatter

I missed American Idol on its first couple of go-rounds. No… "missed" isn't exactly the most accurate word. More along the lines of "ran away screaming like a Mensa recruiter leaving the Lachey-Simpson home." There are many reasons for this one-man American Idol boycott, chiefly that the siren of reality television, she does not sing for me. Also, back when I lived in Northern California, we had an open-mouthed-breathing simian of a neighbor who blasted American Idol at top volume as part of her one-woman campaign to turn our luxury apartment complex into a flophouse for hillbillies. So naturally, I began to blindly hate all that she held dear — certain television programs, the Oakland Raiders, her children — and vowed to never rest until every one of them had been driven into the sea.

Besides, why bother to tune into a show when you can hear it perfectly clearly through the walls?

Anyhow, I had never really set eyes on American Idol until I returned to the San Francisco area on business and flopped at the plush estate of fellow Vidiot Jason Snell. And the Snells, they are an American Idol household. They watch the shows. They review the candidates. They argue over which one will get the coveted Snell votes and engage in the kind of horse-trading that would make seasoned legislators look as if they just rolled into Capital City on the 4:28 turnip truck. If just a simple majority of the American electorate vetted the presidential candidates with the same rigor the Snells apply to American Idol hopefuls, it's a cinch that our next president would be a lot better than the simp we're stuck with now.

Sure, we'd be stuck with Clay Aiken. But improvement — however nominal — is still improvement.

Anyhow, I was staying with the Snells, and they watch American Idol. And as a thoughtful house-guest, I can't just whine and complain and stomp my feet until they feel obligated to watch something else. I mean, I certainly tried my level best, but they just wouldn't budge.

They're very selfish people that way.

Now, as it turns out, the night of my first, and what I hoped would be my last, exposure to American Idol occurred the night the second group of semifinalists performed — an evening widely regarded by Idol-ologists as quite possibly the worst evening of pained caterwauling since Roseanne Arnold crooned the National Anthem before a San Padres game in 1990. Which would make it the worst evening of pained caterwauling since human beings developed the ability of speech. I know I'm hardly the first person to make this observation, but I realized right then and there that the thrill in tuning into American Idol is not to see which obscure talent will emerge from the competition to clog the pop charts with hit after hit of bland, overproduced pap or to pull for a gutsy underdog to turn back the challenge of a field of unworthies. Rather, it is the chance to watch people with just as much talent as the next guy but a limitless capacity for embarrassment crash and burn on a global scale.

And — big surprise to regular TeeVee readers accustomed to the special brand of life-affirming malice served up 'round here — I'm pretty OK with that. I mean, I've long since given up the illusion that the Kiwanis are about to make me grand marshal of the Nice Guy Parade, so why not have a few hearty chuckles at the expense of some teenybopper mutilating "I Wanna Dance With Somebody?"

So I'm hooked. I've tuned in every week since then. I don't miss a minute of the voting-results show (45 seconds of action jam-packed into 30 minutes of programming). I have reasoned, deeply help opinions on people named Amy Adams (huzzah!), Leah LaBelle (put a sock in it, sweetie), and Matthew Rogers (Oh dear God in heaven, no.) I read the article penned by my fellow Vidiot Steve Lutz on Jon Peter Lewis and John Stevens, and I understood every single word.

You can imagine how chilling this all is. I've known Lutz for more than a decade now, and the best I've ever been able to manage is ever third word and most of the nouns.

Nevertheless, American Idol is now part of the regular Michaels viewing rotation and will remain so until the last deluded wannabe is kicked to the curb. And there's not a damn thing I can do about. Change the channel, look away, stuff throw pillows into my ears the next time someone gets it into their skull that they can out-Whitney Houston Whitney Houston — all forms of resistance are futile in the face of American Idol's relentless assault. But there are a few things Fox can change about the show to make my voluntary captivity a little more enjoyable.

  • I do not like it when the contestants — foolishly deciding to show off the limits of the pipes — take a note and begin sliding up and down the musical scale like an escalator gone mad, and the audience responds by cheering lustily. First off all, such vocal pyrotechnics usually fizzle out, turning what was once a passable performance into Drunken Sorority Sisters Karaoke Night at the Elephant Bar. So when the audience starts cheering as if Beverly Sills just nailed a high C, it naturally confuses and alarms me and makes me think that I'm receiving an alternate satellite feed of Bizzaro Idol where the worst singer wins a record contract. Second, that sort of behavior only encourages future contestants to make similar mincemeat out of vocal arrangements, and that can't be good for anyone's eardrums. I realize that some production monkey is doubtlessly prodding the studio audience to go bananas whenever a singer cranks up the ol' fortissimo meter to 11, but still…
  • I do not like it when Simon Cowell — really, the only reason besides the schadenfreude to watch American Idol — offers up a perfectly valid criticism of someone's rotten singing and the audience boos robotically. Again, it's probable that some production monkey — likely the same one sending the mild electrical shock into the audience's seat cushions to get them to cheer everytime someone goes hideously off key — is pressing the button on the "Boo!" sign until his index finger goes numb. That doesn't mean I have to like it. Often times, Cowell is the only one giving an honest assessment of the singers — Randy Jackson is far too generous with his praise, and I think the only time Paula Abdul would ever utter a discouraging word is if one of the Idol hopefuls was a tone-deaf mute, and even then, she'd probably laud his spirited grunting — and all Cowell gets for his efforts is the mob's scorn. That's suppression of dissent, pure and simple, and no good can come of it. Sure, it's all in good fun to boo and hiss at the acid-tongued limey today, but in a month or two, when Rupert Murdoch overthrows the U.S. government to begin his brutal czar-like reign, we're going to wish we had been more supportive of Simon Cowell when he told that hapless chanteuse that she sucked rocks.
  • I do not like Ryan Seacrest. Then again, outside of the 14-year-old-girl demographic, that's not really that unique of a sentiment.
  • I do not like it when one of the contestants clearly crashes and burns — by singing the wrong notes, by making faces like they're trying to clean-and-jerk a 500-pound weight while belting out "I Get So Emotional," by causing car alarms to go off and dogs to yowl piteously in a five-county radius — and the judges do nothing but rave about the contestant's "potential." That this usually happens when the contestant is young and pretty and malleable is probably just a coincidence. I have long given up the illusion that we live in a meritocracy, but it seems that, in a talent competition, the participants should actually be judged on their talent and not their potential to one day — if all the conditions are right and the planets are aligned and nobody's listening too closely — actually remain on key.

But mostly, I do not like the fact that I am spending valuable hours of my life watching this show. And for that, I blame not Ryan Seacrest nor Paula Abdul nor the overeager production monkey ordering people to boo — I blame Snell. I will never forgive Snell. I will make Snell pay.

Right after I finish dialing up the American Idol hotline to pad the vote total for Amy Adams and John Stevens, that is.


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