Thursday, January 25, 2007

Be Wary of False Idols

  With the new season of American Idol underway—What is this, season six?  With the sixth season of American Idol afoot, life around the water-cooler is back to normal.  Actually, it’s a little better than normal, with the god-awful, two-hour audition specials that seem to air every other night.  We have a bumper crop of talentless nobodies to gossip about, instead of the usual one or two talentless nobodies (and hotel heiresses) that normally occupy our brains’ gossip centers.

  It’s only natural that everybody is talking about American Idol, since almost everybody is watching it.  During last Tuesday’s season premiere, 15 percent of the country tuned in—not 15 percent of those with TV’s—15 percent of everyone.  According to the Nielsen numbers, the last 30 minutes of Idol had almost twice as many viewers as the shows on ABC, NBC, CBS, and CW—combined.  Tuesday’s Minneapolis-based auditions drew about a million more viewers than did the season five finale last May, Taylor Hicks’ Idol crowning.

  This season, there has been a lot of talk about a perceived heightened cruelty of the judges.  Simon Cowell, who has never sugar-coated anything, has been taking flak from critics, fans and Rosie O’Donnell alike for claiming that one pop-eyed contestant looked like a “bush baby.”  Cowell is anything but apologetic for his remarks.  On Saturday, he told the Television Critics Association, essentially, that he is just brutally honest, and adding, “If you don’t want to hear that, don’t show up.”  

  But the situation is a little stickier than that.  There were two standout recipients of the judges’ insults.  Jonathan Jayne, 21, and Kenneth Briggs, 23, met in line at the Seattle auditions and became fast friends.  When the time came for them to audition, they were both pretty bad.  Jonathan sang “God Bless America” while Randy Jackson chuckled.  Then his new friend Kenneth stepped into the spotlight and performed “Tearing Up My Heart.”  That’s when Simon told him the looked like a “bush baby.”  Jonathan later told a reporter for Access Hollywood and the Free Republic that, while he was upset that Randy was giggling during his audition, he was really upset by Simon’s remarks to Kenneth.  "They treated him horribly,” he said.  “I just didn't like what they said about him. That really made me kind of ticked off that they were treating him like that."

  Now there is speculation that Jonathan is developmentally disabled.  If this is the case, can we, as viewers, condone their exploitation?  I understand the desire to drive ratings, but where is the line?

  I’ve always enjoyed (and continue to enjoy) Simon’s criticism of the fully able, yet untalented, would-be contestants.  But it seems to me that we have to hold the producers accountable for the product that eventually reaches the airwaves—in other words, what makes the cut.  And I’m not alone.  Many bloggers and posters on AI message boards are claiming that last Tuesday’s show was uncomfortable to watch.

  It would be interesting to study the psychological motives that drive people to watch American Idol.  Because, let’s face it, we don’t usually watch because we appreciate great singers and want to see all of the contestants succeed.

 -From Pulse
   January 25, 2007