Monday, January 15, 2007

LET'S GET REAL

Confessions of an Idol fan
There are plenty of reasons to hate American Idol, but it still commands viewers' attention. Here's why.

American Idol should've run out of gas a few seasons ago. Most everyone thought it would. Yet it marches forward, an unstoppable marketing force, stomping all over the popular myth about TV attrition.

"It's the greatest music talent show ever," judge Randy Jackson said last week. That's very true, if only because previous music talent shows have been consistently and persistently awful.

Yes, it's easy to hate the show's sketchy aftermath: seven months of post-season awful prefab releases overseen with green diligence by music kingpin Clive Davis. I refuse to listen to the lousy-to-middling albums by Idol alumni such as Taylor Hicks, Ruben Studdard, Clay Aiken and Fantasia Barrino. I do keep William Hung's Inspiration around — but only because his shrill, wheezy Hotel California is astounding in all the wrong ways.

But that's not to say I don't get American Idol. I watch — and vote — with the loyal vigor of a Packers fan. I care. I care deeply. Often I co-opt my wife's cell phone in order to place three votes from three phones for one singer.

Idol exudes a different allure for different viewers. Here are 10 reasons I watch it:

1. Healthy frustration: Premature exits (Jennifer Hudson) show what's wrong with America today. It's infuriating to see lesser talents get by on looks, charisma or appeal to teenage girls.

2. Underdogs: The show teems with glorious dorks and lovable losers enjoying their 15 minutes. During auditions, it's closer to 15 seconds.

Taylor Hicks was my favorite, starting with his audition last year. But once he showed signs of front-runnerdom, I kicked my votes to the erratic Bucky Covington. (Admittedly, the paunchy, gray-haired Hicks was still a surprise winner.)

I'm still smarting from the departure of Season 4's Round Mound of Sound, Scotty Savol.

3. Nostalgia, loathesome nostalgia: Idol's most inspired moments come not from the myriad covers of Alicia Keys' Fallin' (Idol's deadest dead horse) or that ballad by Celine Dion or Whitney Houston that you've never heard. The best moments strike that thrilling chord of unpredictable familiarity: Plastic Carrie Underwood cutting loose on Heart's Alone; Fantasia's show-stealing Summertime; Scotty Savol's She's Gone ... and Against All Odds.

4. Lousy guests/cool guests: Season 5 offered a parade of both. Few grated more than the curt, self-important David Foster (not Wallace), whose sole cool credit is working with Gordon Lightfoot. (Worst album title ever: A Touch of David Foster.)

Prince, on the other hand, was shrewdly and silently mercenary about his promotional spot. And a big thumbs up to Queen for putting the kibosh on brawny dingbat Ace's ghastly attempt to mess with a classic.

5. The judges' inflated self-importance: "There's nothing we don't know about the music business," Jackson said — which is like Capt. Joseph Hazelwood saying there's nothing he doesn't know about vodka. The three judges are responsible — to varying degrees — for some pretty dreadful, disposable pop unrelated to Idol. If they know so much, why don't they shuffle up their commentary a little? But then there'd be no Idol drinking games, Dawg. Gulp.

6. Kelly Clarkson: With the line of creative and financial credit she achieved through her award-winning, multimillion-selling second album, Clarkson could hire Paul McCartney to play bass on her upcoming third album if she wanted. Instead she picked '80s underground, post-punk legend Mike Watt. That's econo. The goofy movie with Sideshow Bob has been forgiven.

7. Paula's critiques: Once in a blue moon she puts away the softball and unleashes some chin music (the most damning phrase uttered on Idol). Six words that cut in ways Simon's recycled criticisms cannot: "How do you think you did?" The question leaves only one response, and it's not "pity."

8. The rare opportunity to hear Fallin' : Many's the audition where I find myself wondering, "Will anyone sing Fallin' tonight?"

9. It's good comedy: I love the way judge Paula Abdul claps like a seal; I love the way she breaks into tears during treacly songs or when cute-yet-talentless singers get the boot and Daniel Powter gets queued up. Not to mention Cowell's stoic commitment to his hedgehog haircut.

10. Ryan Seacrest: Seacrest is smarmy and persistently punchable, but check out the other hosts out there. A sampling includes wooden Brooke Burke (Rock Star) and kiss-up Billy Bush (Grease: You're the One That I Want). Seacrest may be a doofus, but he's a pro.

1 comment:

Philip from Chicago said...

I agree with most that you say, Except for your negativity about Kelly Clarkson. Kelly is the True real thing that has come from the show. She is truly a class act and is I feel thus far is showing her staying power. Come on her second album was released November 2004, and still she was the artist most played in 2006. So Talk ALL the Idol trash you want, but please leave Kelly Clarkson name out of it.

Sincerely,
Chicagos #1
Kelly Clarkson Fan

Philip Leodoro