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Silence of the Hams

Now that TeeVee has decided to go all-Idol, all-the-time, there’s one other thing about Fox’s hit reality series that bugs me. It struck me this week when former American Idol finalist Tamyra Gray returned to the show to perform a number from her forthcoming debut album.

You’ll notice I said “former finalist” and not “actual winner.” Gray didn’t take the Idol title like Kelly Clarkson and Ruben Studdard. She didn’t even fall into the woulda-coulda-if-only-more-folks-would-have-dialed-my-number category enjoyed by Clay Aiken and that creepy kid with the big hair. She came, she saw, she failed to conquer. And yet, that hasn’t stopped Gray from nabbing her own record deal and scoring a handful off acting gigs — yes, gigs on Boston Public and Tru Calling, but at least they’re both paying jobs, even if Boston Public has to pay off its actors with David E. Kelly FunBucks.

My point is that although Tamyra Gray came up short, Idol-wise, that hasn’t stopped her from enjoying the beginning of what may or may not be a lucrative career — a fact she stressed to the caterwauling numbskulls that make up this year’s Idol finalists during her appearance on Wednesday night’s show. And that would seem to diminish the tension and stakes of the Idol competition — at least it does to me.

Sure, the winner gets the record contract and the entourage and the ready-made pop music career. But the finalists get something almost as valuable — exposure. And unless one of the finalists is completely devoid of talent and charisma — not an improbability, actually — they’re making a name for themselves each week in front of tens of millions of viewers, including record producers and industry types who wouldn’t mind getting a little rub from inking an American Idol hopeful.

And that doesn’t seem right to me. I mean, who cares if the cruel fates deny, say, Jon Peter Lewis or Diana DeGarmo a shot at instant stardom if, the second they’re voted off, there’s some gold chain-wearing record exec waiting in the wings to offer them a shot at slightly less instant stardom? Close should only count in horseshoes and hand grenades, not in amateur talent competitions to find out whose caterwauling is the least horrific.

So I propose a simple twist to the American Idol ground rules. Continue to shower the winner with record contracts and appearances on minor award shows and ill-advised feature films costarring that creepy kid with the big hair. But the losers should get bupkis. In fact, if they fail to win the contest, they should be banned from singing for one year. No close-but-no-cigar record contracts, no appearances on Sucking Up Live With Ryan Seacrest, not even a singing gig down at the local karaoke bar on Torch Song Tuesday. Nothing but the sweet sound of silence.

And if that happens, then the real winner is the audience.


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