“Couldn’t pay me to sit through that.”
The haters of American Idol are legion and the above comment came from a friend when I told him I was going to the final performance night. And this is one of the nicer comments I’ve heard regarding A.I., a favorite topic of mine. The show, to recap for those who could possibly be unfamiliar with, was originally conceived and produced by Satan. (Regular ‘lopers already know that Satan also created DRM, cable TV, and Microsoft.) Critics of the show have noted that this blight on the rich tapestry of human accomplishment—following thousands of years of progress in the arts and technology—is surely proof of the impending apocalypse. That this over-hyped, overplayed and played out excuse for reality television is still being massaged into the network lineup year after year by the evil overlords at Fox is proof that the dumbed-down masses, who get product placement so blatant as to be shameless shoved willingly in their faces, are also in league with Satan. How else can you explain why 25 million Americans fawn over these wannabe singers, these “pitchy” middle-of-the-road hacks seeking quick fame and fortune?
First of all, Idol lovers know the above is absolutely true. We get it. The problem is, once you strip away all the garbage, i.e. the old “mentors” and surprise guests trying to revitalize their careers, the product placement, the really bad singers in the audition rounds, the banality of Paula Abdul, the Randy Jackson (“dawg, you were a bit pitchy”) technical analyses and the endless commercials, you have a show with heart. A big one. And that is something missing from most television today and explains, at least partly, the success of American Idol.
The very idea of reality television has always horrified me for the simple fact that I don’t want to spend hours watching uninteresting people display their skills at being just that. A Real World/Big Brother-type show looks like a living hell. Waterboard me all you want, just don’t make me watch these shows. Survivor/The Apprentice I never got either, but I understand the appeal. We love to see people perform, be clever, and be completely shameless and cutthroat about it. That’s just not what American Idol is about; it’s about working as a team, and working as an individual. Ultimately, they all have to sing but at its center are the human-interest stories of the contestants. The judges, to their credit, usually pick a good crop of kids that are sent to Hollywood for the competition rounds and this year may have been one of the best yet. This was confirmed to me when talking to a friend working on the show who said this group was particularly great and there were no tales of gossip and intrigue, just a willingness to work, do well, and support each other as artists. Can’t really complain about that.
Should we Idol lovers complain about the haters? Nah, why bother? We understand there are many out there who simply don’t care. Then there is the cool crowd, the ones who are serious about their music and their much, much more legitimate TV shows that don’t pander to their audience, aren’t commercial at all, don’t care about how many people watch, don’t have any product placement or promotional tie-ins, don’t try to rope you in week after week or produce season-ending cliff hangers to bring you back next season… wait. It can’t be this line of reasoning as it’s-the-same-fracking-thing!
Maybe they just hate Ryan Seacrest? (Love him or loathe him, he’s actually the consummate professional. Which may be reason enough right there.) But seriously, it’s like pissing on a forest fire. It ain’t gonna change a thing. If others don’t want to come along for the ride, fine. It’s their choice. A show with 30 million viewers tuning in to finale night doesn’t need any help.
It’s comes as no surprise to me, my personal love of American Idol. No, I don’t love all the music, but I figure with the songs clocking in at around 1:30 to 2:00 minutes I can’t get too bored. If it’s a bad performance, the entertainment factor is balanced by Simon Cowell’s witty bon mots. (His mea culpa to David Cook just before the winner was announced during the finale was truly a brave statement from a man who rarely backs down from his own esteemed opinion. If you didn’t see what he was referring to, during the final round of competition the night before the finale Cowell was very rude about Cook’s song choices. This may have been Simon’s frustration with whom he secretly wanted to win [Cook] and the way that David Archuleta seemed to dominate the night. But still, it was over the top. In the end, it wasn’t a factor as Cook defied the judges and appealed straight to the voting audience. It worked and it almost gives one hope that maybe America is capable of electing the right president next time.)
So yes, here is a show that is all hype and bluster, promising great things for marginal talents with little substance, with an additional cycle of hype that will produce yet another singer who goes on to have a middling career. (Sometimes, but not always: Carrie Underwood.) And yes, the majority of Americans don’t watch the show. But the majority of Americans don’t watch NASCAR either and it’s not going away any time soon.
On Tuesday night, the final face off night, my wife and I fulfilled a small dream and were able to witness the greatness that is American Idol first hand. It was pretty much what we expected. The buzz throughout the Nokia Theatre L.A. Live was amazing, with former Idol contestants scattered about autographing ticket stubs for fans. We even sat behind Syesha Mercado’s parents. (The father told me Syesha’s voice came from her mother, and God. In that order of course.) I just wish that Fox paid us to sit through the final round on Tuesday night. Would have been a nice bonus!
By the way, we were always pulling for David Cook.
For further recaps, you can start here.