Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Ugly Genius of American Idol

Psychosomatic Virus Causes Exaggerated Belief In Singing Ability
By switters™
Posted Wednesday, January 17, 2006 at 3:15 PM CST

What is it, like, the 7th season already? Remember the very first one? That shabby little Gong Show/Star Search knockoff with a has-been, a who-again?, and a never-was?

Well, last night's 2 hour premier of AI blew the roof off the joynt in a spectacle worthy of an Emmy. Ironically, using "Baba O'Reilly" as the backdrop during the opening montage/retrospective was a stroke of genius. I wonder how much that check to Pete Townsend was? "Baba" was genius because while it wasn't used in American Beauty proper (I don't think, anyway – the last jogging scene was "The Seeker"), they did use "Baba" in the special features featurette which I believe was called "Look Closer". But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The open was picture-perfectly edited. AI could quite possibly be the only reality show that actually learns from its mistakes and capitalizes on its strengths. I.e., the video and music editors are actually listening both to you and to pop culture at large. Here's how I know this.

•Prince was highlighted, very tastefully, having performed (and killed) at last year's finale, and it was an ideal transition into the first round of auditions being held in his hometown of Minneapolis.

•Speaking of which, starting off the auditions with a complete and total meltdown is almost never a good idea, unless the contestant is being judged by one of her idols, in this case Jewel, whom I love. Not so much the music as the gal. So you've got this chubby chick from rural Minnesota basically channeling Meryl Streep's character from A Prairie Home Companion, and she's got the temerity to sing a Jewel song. And it's, well, not very good, which she's told by her idol, Jewel, whom I love. And right there, right there in front of us, in the span of about 45 seconds, we're treated to nothing short of the 5 stages of grieving:

"Really? Really? But… but… Really? No… No…"
"Yes, I can sing, I can, I really can!"
"Wait, please, let me do another song, please."
[uncontrolled public sobbing on primetime national television]
"I'll continue to sing for my own enjoyment while I'm ice fishing and being cold a lot, or whatever it is exactly that we do in rural Minnesota."

That segment should be required viewing for every Psychology 101 student, not to mention people who think they can sing but can't.

(•I really love Jewel. She looks great. Didn't she marry like a rodeo dude or something? Did they break up? Is she available? One thing I really like about her is the fact that she didn't get her teeth fixed.)

•Then, a black guy comes out dressed as Apollo Creed in Rocky 3, complete with matching boxing gloves, and sings an aria. Apparently our beloved judges are fans of neither the Rocky franchise nor opera.

•Cue crack baby. Damn. In comes this 16 year-old black chick with a sad story and an even sadder mother, apparently. As the judges are chatting her up I'm muttering, "Oh please, dear god, please let her be able to sing, please." Emotional pornography in one of it's more pure forms, because she can, and she's going to Hollywood.

•Like 6 rejected kids in a row pushed the wrong door upon exiting, at which point the judges say, "It's the other one." Hey, dickheads: put up a sign or something. They don't know that. Assholes. They can't read your minds. Fortunately for them.

•Not quite enough emotional manipulation yet? Let's bring in the enlisted guy in his sailor uniform. "Oh please, dear god, please let him be able to sing, please." He can. Tears streaming down my face.

•"Pitchiness", like "truthier", is, thanks to AI, one of those words that's not actually a word, yet everyone knows what it means. Thanks, Randy. Retard.

(•This is the point at which I switched over to CBS's The Unit, a pretty darn good little show itself.)

•Then all of a sudden in sweeps the gay orphan dude with the thing on his nose, he launches into "California Dreamin'", I chime in with the authentic Mamas and the Papas harmony parts, and it turns out all 5 of us are going to Hollywood. (Gay orphan dude, me, dog 1, dog 2, and cat.)

(•I love Jewel. I love her.)

•Still not emotionally drained? Bring in the short chubby soldier girl. "Oh please, dear god, please let her be able to sing, please." Ka-ching!

•I guess, rundeep, since what's-her-face ripped off Monheit's arrangement of "Somewhere Over The Stairway To Flower People", we're going to have to listen to it all season long. Again. Okay.

•Switch back to The Unit, which jars me back to reality because there's a bunch of oriental men with guns standing by a goat. Weird.

That's plenty for now, don't you think? Maybe even too much.

It'll be tough to top last season, which to these ears and eyes was one of the better ones. Let's hope the house band's as motivated as they were the last go-around. Oh, and just think about it: There's another 2 hours of the shit on tonight! I love this time of year! (Sad, really. See? Not just because the holidays are over and I'm not dead. Again. If I'm moved to do so, I'll nest tonight's rundown under this post, for those of you as addicted to the mellow drama that is American Idol as I am.)

Let the games begin!


Schadenfreude said...

My kid had a thing last night with his class. Billed as a "cabaret".

Dear God.

One poor deluded girl couldn't carry a tune in a bucket - perfect Simon fodder.

About another, my wife commented, "She'll either turn out to be a great actress or a stripper." This girl obviously LOVED being on stage, perhaps just a bit too much.

Most of the rest was a demonstration of just how easy it is to waste money on music lessons.

There were really only three talented kids in the class, and two of them were funny. One girl sang well enough, but looked like she'd been kissed by a Mack truck.

My kid rocked, though (although he did break character once to explain to the audience that "I'm not really mentally deficient, you know.")

symbnt said...

AI thoughts: I kinda missed the opening, but last night’s show was rather boring as far as they go. Paula, apparently calling in to Brian’s radio show this morning, agreed. The Minneapolis auditions weren’t the first of this season, i.e. they’re showing them out of order. I kinda felt bad for Jewel, seeing as Minneapolis really did suck, and even the ones they let through were mediocre at best. I was surprised no one apologized to her at the end of the day. Paula seemed kinda quiet. Otherwise, it went as expected and no real issues from my end, but if I were to be difficult, I’d complain about the overproducing, and that thing they do when they bring back all the featured losers and make a collage of them singing the same song with cuts to exasperated looks from the judges. It’s overkill, and not for a second do I believe the judges stick around for it. Anyway, tonight’s show looks promising.

switters said...

Hey Schad: I feel for you, man. 11 nieces and nephews. I'm fortunate in that 1) my brothers and sister didn't peddle their kids like so much... stuff that's peddled; and 2) they actually listened to me when they wanted an honest answer to the question of whether or not I thought my nieces/nephews had any musical talent. Imagine that. They all did, of course, naturally. It's just that I did my best to steer them away from pursuing it. Call me a sage. As for breaking character, sounds like he's got a pretty good handle on this whole deconstruction humor bit the kids are so crazy about these days.

Obsessed here lately with a scene from Magnolia, the one where all the main characters sing a part of the song. Be interested in your thoughts on it. Mine, briefly: Magnolia makes Closer look like Insert Movie Here.

'Sup, Ender. Agreed. But the opening montage, though very over-produced, was really really outstanding, and it all went down hill from there. Look for the Bham auditions to be quite entertaining in a variety of ways, whenever that's on. I figured they'd dispell with the boring auditions early, even at the risk of alienating their core audience, which is, really, impossible, considering. It's the new viewers they're gonna lose. Still, looks to be another good run this year.

Keifus said...

Hey switters,

One thing that gets me, especially with the stadium montage shot in the beginning, is the mechanics of the tryouts, you know? They brag about the tens of thousands of auditions, but it's clear enough that hte three stooges only see the fifty or so in teh lobby for any given taping. So what's the quality of the talent that qualifies as neither worthy nor entertainingly bad? How many screeners? Do they know their shit (better, perhaps, than Randy and Paula)?

And in that context, it's kind of another level of rotten, the treatment that hte no-talents receive. Think about it: here some lackwit has been pumped up by his first cut past the screeners, s/he/it (pronounced shee-it, btw) has got to be flying by the time they get to Simon and the gang. I don't feel sorry for them exactly, but I don't respect the producers much. (I'm reminded that almost as many people think they can write and can't as people who think they can sing and can't. Sigh.)

And a general observation: too much background drivel, too little singing.

Also meant to tell you that I saw Prairie Home Companion over the holidays. Had some reservations going in, but as it turned out I really, really enjoyed the flick. I think being only a rare listener to the show helped probably.


the Reverend Bacon said...

Prairie Home: loved it. Not a Garrison Keillor fan -- great voice, tho -- but really I was struck by the modesty and decency of the whole thing. Just a perfect little movie. Watched Tristram Shandy the same evening and was a little disappointed, very funny in parts but diminishing returns as the movie went on. Got very tired of it by the end.

American Idyll: the wife gambles on all these things, Survivor and Apprentice et al -- apparently her office is just one endless round of five-dollar pools -- so once it gets to the final twelve or fifteen or whatever, and the names are pulled, I'm sure I'll be subjected to it. Until then... well, I used to find the auditions part of the show thoroughly amusing, but at some point I hit Official Surfeit, and now the mere idea of watching another round of delusion, masochism and ritual humiliation makes my skin crawl. Plus someone needs to push randy down a staircase. Can someone do that, please?

switters said...

Keifus, m'boy!

I think Ender has/had the same concerns, and I really do agree. But whereas he'd say it's overproduced, I'd use the phrase "mannered and predictable". Luckily for me, I'm really superficial and slow, so it's a really good fit.

I also think you're exactly right. I've held this theory since I've been posting about it lo these many years, but Randy and Paula have no idea what they're doing, and they're really stupid retards. Simon does, though. But, yeah, the real "scouts" are the production assistants scouring the floor for 1.) real talent, 2.) no talent, 3.) freak shows, and 4.) pretty people. It's the average looking average talented folks who fall through the cracks, for better or worse.

Interesting, your take on Companion. I posited that only the people who are rabid fans of the show would "get it", whatever "it" was, or something. Maybe yours in the one exception that proves the rule.

Bacon, you asshole. For whatever reason, during the holidays I picked Refiner's Fire (Helprin) back up. I really love that book.

Simon makes me laugh. Last night after one particularly harrowing performance, he was beside himself with disgust and could only manage to say something like, "I mean, honestly, that sounded non-human…" And there was this awful, awkward silence. Add the mom daughter hippy sideshow act, and I went to bed very disturbed.

JohnMcG said...

Do you think anyone gets to the Paula-Randy-Simon room without their fate already determined? It seems like everyone's already in one of the boxes switter mentions.

I'm not a rabid follower of the show, but it doesn't seem that there are many borderline cases.

Schadenfreude said...

Haven't seen Magnolia. I'm boycotting movies involving Scientologists (starring, written/directed by, about, etc.).

Cruise can act, yes. It's just that he most often chooses not to (ungrammatical?).

Enjoyed Prairie Home Companion. Didn't love it.

Schadenfreude said...


If you're going to blow smoke up someone's ass, you'll need one of these.

rundeep said...

okay, saw part of it last night. Is it just me, or is the whole thing getting meaner year by year? It's getting perilously close to making fun of the disabled. The arrogant self-deluded are one thing, but the poor sweet programmer with the bug eyes and "Unchained Melody" did they have to make him squirm for so long? I mean really.

switters said...

John: yes, I think so.

rundeep: you nut.

The words "gratuitous cruelty" come to mind. But I think I know why they're doing it, at least I have a theory. Their fan base, by definition, probably contains a beaucoup amount of geeked-out wannabes. So, via schadenfreude, they're appeasing that contingent through mannered manipulation.

I think we're one on this notion. I certainly have no problem with Simon going off on some entitled arrogant-for-absolutely-no-good-reason talentless she-male. No sir, no problem. But I think it steps over the line when Randy starts bad mouthing people just to appeal to the producers need to make others feel better about themselves. It's not supposed to work that way. But what do I know.

The same thing happens to me every year, and it's pathetic: 1.) excitement about new season manifests itself in my enjoyment of watching people sing who can't; 2.) which gets real old after about the 1st hour of the second 2-hour premier; 3.) which evolves into disenchantment; 4.) which, yet again, for the 7th time, allows me the realization that the show really isn't any good until they all get to Hollywood; 5.) and even better when they're being backed by the whole band's playing real charts by actually pretty damn good arrangers.

Every year.

I.e., "Yes."

twiffer said...

i don't watch this show (any of 'em, actually). but i find joy in knowing that people bet on reality shows.

topazz said...

Those really dopey & pathetic contestants are hand-picked from the audition crowds and put on the stage specifically to be snarked off by Paula, Randy & Simon.

As far as feeling sorry for them? I think they're in on the whole sham from the minute they're approached. I'd even bet that the bug-eyed guy & his lispy fat pal (from last night) were given scripted lines, too - it all just smacked of it. They're laughing all the way back to their Professorships at MIT.

august said...

What I really want is for Paula Abdul to try out. It would be worth it just to hear her encouraging herself.

TenaciousK said...

Never watch it. I'm more a fan of ideas like this one here, but the site lost funding and closed for awhile, and I've never gotten back into it. Well, and I don't if they were able to revive their grand prize - a major-label recording and touring contract. It'd be nice to see an accompanying Idolesque television show, though.

Schad: I hope you've seen Little Miss Sunshine? If you haven't, you should.

Topazz - never underestimate the seductive power of self-delusion. I mean, look at me..