My friend Trevor is a music enthusiast. Most of our conversations revolve around Rihanna’s transition from pop star to pop artist with Rated R, Whitney’s greatest vocal (for the record, it is “I Believe in You and Me”), and, much to the chagrin of our friend Jennie, Aguilera’s dubious choices as an artist, particularly Bionic. He also is a very good singer and a burgeoning producer of sweet neo-house; he lives and breathes music.
I, of course, am a film/TV enthusiast. Most of my moments not working revolve around watching classic movies, the sitcoms of Seth MacFarlane, and, as of late, a steady stream of Bad Cinema. However, I hate Reality TV. It plays to the absolute lowest common denominator and amplifies our worst qualities to cosmic proportions. It has taken away innumerable jobs and dollars from people with talent who can no longer get support from the Industry because it is dedicated to cranking out crap on the cheap. So naturally, American Idol was not a part of my television rotation.
For Trevor, this was an almost unforgivable sin. In one of his numerous, hilarious texts, he called Idol, and I quote, his “lifeline” and that we should watch it together so we can talk about it. And now that our mutual obsession Mimi – that’s Mariah Carey for anyone who is not a part of Honey B. Fly – was going to be a judge, it would at least be full of diamonds and her perfectly coiffed hair. So I agreed, begrudgingly, to return to Seacrest and his douchiness.
You see, I watched the second season pretty religiously. That was the one when Ruben and Clay went head to head for a chance at anonymity. (Honestly, when was the last time either of them were marginally relevant? Oh, yes. When Clay “came out” of the closet. As if his gayness wasn’t blinding us from the cracks in the door…) I may have even voted. For whom I can’t remember. Neither of them, I am certain. It was whoever that girl was, the one who came in third, she sang “Over the Rainbow”…clearly, Idol is the place to begin your road to fame. Of course, fame does occur – Fantasia, Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, even I must have thought it would lead to the life I wanted; I auditioned back in New Jersey a million years ago, during a crazy eight hours I will never get back – but look at the record sales of the last five winners. If you can even name the last five winners. It is not an encouraging sight. Which garners the greatest irony because America actually voted for these albums – and then didn’t buy them. So it was with a heavy heart and a hint of embarrassment that I was going to actually tune in week after week and watch kids not only doing what I want to do – and was denied the chance! – but watch kids who for the most part are, to put it mildly, Me.Di.O.Cre.
I know what you’re thinking. “God, what a bitter, whining baby. There is no way he can be objective about the show and the singers because his jealousy is blinding him!” OK. Unlike black female singers who hate Beyonce (or how I used to hate Lady Gaga), I can most definitely separate my personal failings from the successes of others. If someone is talented, I have no shame in saying it. The great thing about the entertainment industry is that there is more than enough room for everyone on the billboard. I welcome talent. I love talent. In fact, unlike many people in America, I am not tuning into American Idol to see people fail. I actually want them to be good if for no other reason than to not make me want to tear out my ears and eyes while suffering through two hours of bogus drama and pseudo-feuds between the divas sipping Coca-Cola. Unlike other reality shows I watch – yes, I admit it. I watch RuPaul’s Drag Race, Tabatha Takes Over, and Judge Judy. And all those killer shows on ID – with their completely engaging fits of throwing shade, shampoo bottles, sass, and shanks, I really don’t give two shits about the “drama”/backstory of any of these kids on American Idol. I don’t need to know them, like them, root for them. I need to enjoy their voice and/or the persona they are giving us. I know nothing about Rihanna’s personal life (except, you know…that) and I want to keep it that way. She is a fascinating mystery who churns out hit after motherfucking hit and that is enough for me.
But this is not American Idol‘s way, which is evident in the people they choose. Ostensibly, AI is a singing contest. And lest we forget, Randy is on hand to remind us, ad nauseum, like he needs to convince himself and the other panelists. The truth is that they are looking for a pop star who sings well. Or sort of good. The most important thing is marketability. And fuckability. Something Nicki reminds us every time a male contestant comes on stage. Seriously, she just needs to have an orgy with these guys and get it over with. That would be reality TV worth watching.
But alas, we will never be granted a window into some Paula/Corey realness (allegedly). Because the unspoken rule of American Idol, despite the drip-drip-drip of Minaj’s Niagara Falls, is that the “American Idol” must be innocent, bordering on Disney, and appeal to everyone from pre-teens to senior citizens. Could they have gotten more down homesy than Taylor Hicks? More girl next door than Carrie Underwood? Really, Kelly? “Dark Side”? Is this your attempt at edginess? The only one who has broken out and taken ballsy chances is Adam Lambert. And he didn’t even win. (Nor did the most arguably successful alumnus of the show, the Oscar/Grammy winning, White House singing, Jennifer Hudson – who came in 9th, folks). Which doesn’t make any sense from a branding stand point. Perhaps they are trying to be noble, or promote what they feel to be American id(ea)ls, but if we look at the most successful musicals acts of all time – and by successful I am speaking not only in terms of album sales, but cultural relevancy – from Prince to Elvis to Jagger to Janet to Madonna to Britney to Beyonce to Rihanna to, yes, Mariah Carey – sex was driving their train all the way to the bank.
Yet, ironically/tellingly/inevitably these kids – and I say kids because all of them are younger than me; God, when did I get to be another demographic? – are attractive, some of them bordering on porn worthy, usurping any talent (or lack thereof) they may exhibit (or attempt to).
The most obvious example is Lazaro, a boy so sexy that he very well could single handedly replace all five members of One Direction on the cover of Tiger Beat (or the centerfold of my dreams…). But he can’t sing. Like, really can’t sing. He also can’t speak. He has a terrible stutter that miraculously disappears when he is, I guess we are obliged to call it, singing. And the judges go crazy for him! Of course Nicki does. He has a penis. And rocks form fitting pants that leave very little to the imagination. (The jokes on you, Roman! He is as gay as a picnic basket!) But something must be getting lost in translation from stage to screen to living room because this viewer, who is dying for him to be good, making him even more hot, is hiding his head in disgust at America’s ridiculous softness for a sob story, only choosing him because they feel sorry for his disability. This ain’t the Special Olympics, folks. This is American Goddamn Idol!! A singing competition that somehow has very little to do with singing.
The drama continues as we go through some of the other dubious choices the producers/judges have made us sit through these last few weeks. Like Charlie. Poor Charlie. With the peach fuzz ‘stache who thought it was a good idea to try and become Axel Rose with that stupid earring, ponytail, and mike stand antics. We also had to sit through Kez Ban because she was some manic rocker chic with a bass voice and a stank attitude. And the most insane, ridiculous, straight-up for ratings piece of foolishness maybe ever seen on any reality show ever, Zoanette; a screaming – caterwauling! – girl with an obvious cocaine problem and way too much confidence for some one with way too little talent. Thankfully, all of them have been cut from the Top Ten. Insultingly, none of them should have made it to the Top 40. Or 80. But they made good TV. And so it goes.
But not always. Sometimes they have a contestant who not only is great TV, but a great voice and the potential to be a stand-out artist, not only from the other Idol mediocrities, but the other pop stars from YouTube to LA Reid’s proteges. JDA was a high heel rocking/Adele belting/MTV “Like a Virgin” rolling force of nature that they inexplicably cut to make room for someone like Nick. I’m going to sit here and pretend that JDA’s dismissal had nothing to do with him being androgynous and femininely gay; this is the 21st Century, after all. But I can’t really imagine any other reason they would choose him over Paul, a super cute boy next door type with a completely ordinary look and sound, that without coincidence, is now a Top Ten finalist.
Now let’s take a moment to look at the other 8 finalists:
3) Kree – I have a hard time remembering who she even is.
4) Janelle – Of course they had to keep a country singer. But Underwood – even Taylor – she ain’t.
5) Devin – Sings in Spanish better than English. Well, if it works for Shakira…
6) Amber – To quote Trevor: “Ugh! She just seems really full of herself. And she’s not as good as she thinks she is. And don’t give me that, ‘She’s 18′ crap. Aguilera was lubin’ up her poon and slidin’ into her chaps when she was 18, gearing up for Stripped!”
And then the four who are in a different league…
7) Curtis – God. Damn. Taking it to Church!
8) Angela – Already performing her own material, banging out the piano, belting it to China.
9) Burnell – One of the only two who seriously deserve this show. His voice is incredible. Studio ready. I would buy his album.
10) Candace – The one to beat. Her performance of “Ordinary People” was the best of the season.
Coming back to JDA for a moment, I would like to address the topic of Performance. I would be OK with these singers not possessing fantastic vocal talent if they had enough courage, uniqueness, and nerve to compensate; no one loves Rihanna, Brit, or Madonna for their voices (although Madonna’s is better than she gets recognition for – “Borderline”? Shit, gurl…). We love these women because they give good face, sashay like panther’s on the runway, make us hard, fuck the camera, and somehow, almost in spite of ourselves, get us to doll out our wallets at the drop of a boa. But these Idol singers, with the exception of Curtis (He puts you through it!), lack anything that could possibly be construed as a strong stage presence. JDA could play Vegas yesterday; half of these kids would be lucky to sing the National Anthem at their community college and would be swallowed alive if put in a music video.
“Oh, but that is all part of the process!” I’m sorry, but it shouldn’t be. American Idol should not be a televised summer camp. It should be a national stage for people who have not had the exposure to become nationally famous. Herein lies my biggest problem with the show. Why are there only four out of ten – and really what they are telling us, four out of the tens of thousands who auditioned – worthy of even marginally listening to? And we still have two months of this bullshit? How?! WHY!? If this is the best America has to offer, it is a sad day for America. Please. Make it be over already.
And now we come to the judges.
The only two who say anything of any merit are Nicki Minaj and Randy Jackson. Minaj, on top of her highly inappropriate borderline sexual harassment style compliments to the male contestants, will actually boo them. Jackson will tell them it was awful. Keith Urban and Mariah Carey are both filling Paula Abdul’s role of Ms. Nice Guy and prance around criticism with the fear of ever so slightly hurting anyone’s ever so delicate feelings. If anyone has the right to criticize vocals, it is Mariah Fucking Carey. Suck it up, gurl, and give ’em what they need to hear.