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Fantasy Idol

The clock is ticking down to the inevitable moment when some political pundit makes allusions to Wednesday night's baffling American Idol result and concludes that we're a nation of idiots who can't be trusted to make the right choice at the electoral booth. To that, I say -- well, maybe. But not for the reasons likely to be cited: general lack of taste, racism real and imagined, the entire state of Hawaii voting repeatedly until telecommnications cables popped and fizzled on the Pacific sea floor.

Lay the blame instead at the feet of America's gigantic narcissistic personality disorder. We have gazed upon the face of Jasmine Trias -- an activity best done while the mute button is employed -- and she is us. No way we're letting her, or Miss Piggy manque (regrettably, I didn't think this one up on my own; credit Lisa DeMoraes of the Washington Post) Diana DeGarmo off the air.

The final four in the contest came down to these two camps: the mediocre teenagers versus the talented, polished performers who gave every indication of being adults. The two most talented singers are also those with the most fully grown-up lives; they're parents, and they seem to have a clear perspective that who they are is not necessarily tied to how well they do in the competition

Jasmine and Diana, on the other hand, are at that breathless, overdramatic stage where they are what they do; vote one of them off the show, and you're likely to see an emotional meltdown that makes Paula Abdul's histrionics look dignified by comparison. The teenagers are quite visibly still trying to work out who they are and what they can be. They haven't had to live with the consequences of any big decisions yet. They are all promise.

Which is why they'll be the last to go. Americans love the idea of perpetual potential, the premise that we can always do or be better if only we have the chance. America loves its strivers, its underdogs, its malleable people always on the edge of becoming something else. This shows up in other TV shows. Teenagers are among the most obnoxious of God's creatures, yet there are countless shows about them. Why? Because watching someone else's larval development lets us viacariously live the premise that we're going to always be moving toward something, unfettered by consequences and decision. The future's the narrative currency here.

All four of those girls will have futures. But only two of the finalists embodied the protean promise of adolescence, the fantasy that one day, an A&R rep will sweep you out of geometry class and plant your mug on MTV. For an America unwilling to admit that sometimes, there's a good reason the underdog's on bottom and eventually, our lives are shaped by what we did as opposed to what we can do, voting for Jasmine Trias is the raging protest against the idea that sometimes, wanting to be something isn't enough.


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