Thursday, May 21, 2009


Last night was the final episode of American Idol, Season Whatever This One Is. Chris won, Adam lost. America is in shock.

I am not one of these American Idol groupies. I find the whole phenomenon to be... well... a phenomenon. Everyone seems to love Idol... children, teenagers, young adults, the middle-aged, the elderly... and I don't understand why.

From the outset I never watched it, then, two years ago, I started to watch it in the middle of the season. Reason being, there was a show that I used to watch on MSNBC called Scarborough Country, and in addition to 45 minutes of politics, Joe Scarborough would invariably do a segment on American Idol. The topic: SANJAYA.

Sanjaya was a cute, skinny Desi kid with crazy hair and a mediocre voice. Yet he kept advancing in the competition, and Joe would say, "Is this the end of Idol? Are voters purposely voting for the worst singer? Can Idol survive the sabotage?" Joe would have talking heads on the show, talking with great expertise about The Sanjaya Question.

So one day I started watching American Idol to see if this Sanjaya kid was so hideous as to trigger the downfall of the mighty TV franchise. And... I didn't see what the big deal was.

Sure, he wasn't as good a vocalist as the other contestants, but they weren't SO much better than him that it seemed absurd that he was sharing the stage with them. I mean, does Ashley Simpson have that strong of a singing voice? Does Britney Spears? Could you imagine Britney Spears singing, "And I Am Telling You, I'm Not Going" from Dreamgirls? Sanjaya, with the proper props, could make good money as a performer.

But I'm getting off-topic. That one and only season that I watched, I have to admit, was rather engaging. I mean, the actual show itself was total cheese-ballery. The staging, the lighting, the visiting celebrities, the backstage documentaries, the way the kids seemed to do nothing but sing a famous song as well they could, usually by mimicking the voice of the song's original singer.

And the audience! The audience who had swallowed the magic of Idol-- hook, line and sinker. The ecstasy with which they would watch these amateurs sing, the giddy energy, the emotional involvement, the way they would boo when a judge made a criticism that they disagreed with, and cheer when a judge would praise a singer that they liked. Then there was the anticipation of the eliminations, the prognostications... It fascinated me.

Yet despite how awful and tacky the pageantry and spectacle and hype was, the show kept me engaged. The main reason was that I got to know the kids in contention, and grew fond of them... just these unknown kids with good voices who are now household names to millions of people. It had a nice Cinderella aspect to it.

Of that half-season that I watched, I thought Melinda to be the most talented, but suspected that it would be a showdown between Jordan and Blake. I was right. I thought Jordan would win. I was right. I had done my duty. I had watched half a season of American Idol. I became involved. I invested. And I have had no desire to watch another season again.

This year, like last year, Idol was completely off my radar screen. I HAD been hearing talk of Adam Lambert here and there, but that's all.

Adam Lambert Adam Lambert Adam Lambert Adam Lambert.

The mysterious name appeared on my friends' Facebook statuses. I heard people speak of him as I was waiting in line at the post office or the supermarket. A old friend of mine was visiting from out of town. Like me, she is 40-years-old, yet she talked about Adam Lambert as though she had a Tiger Beat centerfold of him thumb-tacked to her wall. This friend of mine is no ditz. She's a thinker, a reader, a well-traveled, worldly woman. But Adam Lambert brought out the teeny-bopper in her. He seemed to me the second coming of Christ for the music world, and I had no idea what he looked like or how he sounded.

So yesterday evening, I was on Facebook and saw some of my friends' statuses...

"It'll be Adam tonight!"

"I heart Adam!"

"I'm betting on an upset"

"I think Adam will make a great Idol after tonight"

"I'm betting this'll be the best season finale ever"

With that, I decided to forgo Anderson Cooper 360 and watch the season finale of American Idol.

I watched it from start to finish. IT WAS SO BAD.

Look, I'm really not a snob when it comes to entertainment. I love Broadway musicals, for example. They are hokey, but I love them. I even like Brigadoon. I'm susceptible to schmaltz. I'm not some armchair William F. Buckley. But really, come on. Last night's show was just a wee bit horrible, don'tcha think? In addition to being horrible, it was terrible, and in addition to being terrible, it was dreadful.

It was such an over-the-top variety show. It reminded me of that Love Boat episode where Carol Channing, Ethel Merman, Ann Miller and Della Reese put on a variety show in the ship's theater. I love each of those old broads individually, but having all four of them hamming it up at the same time was such "show-horse overload", that I felt like slitting my wrists.

Last night's finale contained so many gaudy musical acts, one after the other, relentless, illuminated with bombastic lighting and pyrotechnics, the performers dressed ridiculously, cheered on by a frenetically revved-up audience. Most of the musical numbers began with two or more of the top-13 finalists of the season singing a well-known song, then the original artist (often a has-been) would appear to complete the song with them.

Oh I have so many bad memories of last night's show...

It began with the top-13 finalists all dressed in white, singing a really insipid song from a group whose name is "Pink". The choreography was almost as bad as the song. The audience was in ecstasy.

After a few more bad numbers (I want to stress that the voices of the singers were good, but the musical numbers themselves were bad), last year's winner, David Cook, came out and sang a ballad. It was a beautiful song sung by a beautiful voice, but the horrible green lighting, and the audience members near the stage waving their arms ruined the song for me. Did they TELL the audience to do that, COMMAND it? for them to all, uniformly, en-masse wave their arms to his singing? Or have those people drunk THAT MUCH American Idol Kool-Aid? I really wanted to chop all their arms off.

There was only one completely untainted musical number all night long. It was when the female who made it the farthest in the competition beautifully sang "True Colors" with Cyndi Lauper, who was playing a dulcimer. Soulful, simple, heart-felt and real.


Adam Lambert appeared dressed as General Zod.

A few words about Adam Lambert. I finally saw what this guy looked like last night. My first thought when I laid eyes on him at the beginning of the show was that he looks like the Wonder Twins.

"Wonder Twin powers: ACTIVATE! Form of: an ICE ROCKET! Shape of: a MORAY EEL!"

I'm not kidding here. It was the very first thing that I thought when I saw his powder-white skin, his jet-black hair, which was oddly sculpted and cut into that unnatural 'do. His perfectly-shaped eyebrows, his elfin eyes, his notable height when standing next to his diminutive rival, Chris Allen.

Adam Lambert looked like he needed to be in lavender tights, turning himself into a form of water or an animal, saving people in need.

My second thought was that he was gay. I have pretty excellent gaydar, and it went *beep*beep*beep*. I said to the TV, "I don't know how to break it to you, America, but this one is gay" (today I found out that America already knows this, because he is OPENLY gay... and there I was, thinking myself so ahead of the curve).

Well, he reeeeeeally looked gay dressed as General Zod. I closed my eyes and thought, MY GOD, THIS SHOW IS SO TERRIBLE.

I opened my eyes again. That black leather outfit, those boots... "Rise before Zod. Now, KNEEL before Zod...." The guy was dressed for the homepage of a gay S&M website.

Then he started to sing the song "Beth" and I thought he should have renamed it to "Seth".

"Oh Seth what can I do? Seth what can I do...?"

But then it got worse. Kiss appeared.

KISS?!? Are they still together and all alive? It was hard to tell, because they were all wearing their makeup and so I couldn't tell if those were 65-year-old faces under all the greasepaint. They could very well be new, younger singers. Who could tell? Anyway, NOW I understood the General Zod costume. I had forgotten that "Beth" was a KISS song. I thought it was David Soul.

The moment Adam started singing "I Wanna Rock and Roll All Night and Party Every Day" with those old campy, costumed creatures, it dawned on me that I--as a child--I had no taste in rock bands, and I went into the kitchen and poured myself a glass of straight tequila. Gran Centenario. Anejo. 100% Agave.

THIS SHOW IS NEVER GOING TO END. Drink. Pour second glass. Return to sofa.

It got even worse. Adam and Chris, dressed in white, started to sing "We Are the Champions" (Get it? They are the two champions of Idol this year?). Then QUEEN appeared behind them and started singing. Is this a TV show or a time warp? Am I back in 4th grade? I got up, went to the kitchen, and poured myself another tequila.

But the climax of horribleness was when all the male finalists, like eight guys or so, came out dressed like they were on the poster for the movie Reservoir Dogs.... or The Blues Brothers. Standing in a line, they sang, "If you want my body, and you think I'm sexy, come on sugar let me know..." Sexy? You guys? Dressed like the Blues Brothers? Sexy?

I clutched a throw pillow on my sofa and prepared for what I knew was to come: the appearance of Rod Stewart behind the guys to complete the song. I knew the drill by now. And out he came. Rod Stewart. He looked embalmed. Seriously. It looked like Rico from Six Feet Under had done his makeup. His voice was weak compared to those of the black-suited boys who were now singing backup.

THIS CAN'T GET WORSE, I thought. How can this show get worse? LIZA. Liza Minnelli. LIZA MINNELLI will come out, all bloated and slurring, and she will sing with all the female finalists next. They're gonna sing "New York, NY", dressed in red sequins, doing a kick-line as though they were the Rockettes. I need some more tequila.

Luckily, Liza didn't appear, the show was wrapping up, the moment of truth came. In a scene reminiscent of the Miss USA pageant, the two finalists stood together, arms around each others' backs, waiting to hear who won. But unlike Miss USA, it was two dudes.

I hadn't watched the show all season, but I knew that Adam would win, because I hadn't heard the name Chris Allen before that night, whereas the name Adam Lambert seemed to me the musical world's equivalent of the name Barack Obama.

And, the new American Idol iiiiiiiiissssssss.......... Chris Allen!!!!!!

Shock. Surprise. Jaws dropped. Eyes widened. Adam lost? America is astonished.

Okay, so NOW will this god-awful show end??

It did.

The irony of the awfulness that is American Idol, is that Simon Cowell presides over it all. I know there are other judges, but it is Simon who is the ringleader of this circus. The Englishman whose tastes are so refined, whose ear is so delicate, whose standards are so high, who is such an insufferable sophisticate, that he often reduces young aspiring singers into blood pudding with just one withering comment. He's the Christopher Hitchens of the entertainment world, and at the same time, he's the Dan Brown.

I admit that the show is engaging. It's like a Dan Brown novel: a real page-turner, full of great cliff-hangers, but the prose is atrocious. For me, to see this Brit who portrays himself as such an AESTHETE, to see him lording over this hodge-podge, this farrago, this stewpot of musical miscellany... is...

...well... I don't know... this is long, what I've written... what's the point of it?

I guess there is no point. What I've written is a pointless medley of thoughts, just like last night's show was a pointless medley of songs. So who am I to judge?

Sorry. Never mind. Tune into Idol next year. I know you will, and that's okay.

1 comment:

  1. What an elegant summation of American Idolatry! And Simon Cowell is the entertainment industry equivalent of the Anti-Christ, foisting all this blandness into the marketplace in the form of an overly elaborate karaoke contest.

    You bested me sitting through half a season... I can't get through half a show, and the finale you just described would have murdalized me.