Wednesday, April 21, 2010

American WHY-dol

American Idol is in serious decline. It's like every season someone just can't resist hitting the "SUCK" button just one extra time. Between the auditions highlighting the trainwrecks and the final three - maybe - is torturous. In our house we have to watch it; that's a really long story.

Every standard on the show is dropping. Ellen DeGeneres is bringing nothing, except for her notoriety as an actress and comedienne. Paula Abdul may have been a goofball but at least she worked in the industry and had some idea what she was talking about. When she was lucid, anyway.

When mentors/guest judges are directly involved there's a glimmer of hope that there's going to be some seriously constructive pointers during the tutorial session, and hard core, experience-based feedback after the performance. In 2004, when Barry took the mentor throne (and again last season when he gave a brief seminar and Q&A with the Hollywood finalists) he gave the same advice that he has always given in interviews and other venues all the way back to 1981: be honest. Convey yourself in the song. Pick a song that expresses you. (I'm seriously paraphrasing here.) Remember the "One Voice" special where he's having a little reivew with the teens from the choir? He said basically the same thing: If you sing it like you mean it, it will work. (Again, totally paraphrasing.)

And every time he gives this advice - AI, Entertainment Tonight, wherever - he's laying out a really easy to follow road map to a successful performance. And almost every time, the dumbass in the spotlight seems to ignore the advice and do whatever the hell pops into their head. More often than not, it's crap.

But why? I realized that the producers at AI are aiming for teenagers in their little show. A number of successful artists (Barry included) will tell you that their careers didn't seriously take off until they were in their late 20s or even 30. This past Sunday on The Celebrity Apprentice, Cyndi Lauper said the same thing - she was 30 before she really made it big. The point was to reassure her project protege, Emily West, that she has time to work on her craft and career and it doesn't have to be right now. Almost a maternal moment for Lauper and I respected how she delivered that advice that can only come from living life in that industry.

But the average AI contestant is in their teens (as young as 16) and their early 20s. The age limit is 28. Most of them do not have a whole lot of life experience. They can't express themselves because they don't know who "themself" is. There aren't too many people that age who have had to find their place in the world and understand themselves due to difficult decisions or circumstances, and then wish to express it through music. A few more trips around the sun and there's a better chance you've seen one or two things that clarify your self-perspective.

For example:
On "Beatles" night (may God have mercy on their souls....) David Archuleta made the usual rookie mistake with Lennon's "Imagine". He starts off right but then he tries to create an emotional build up for the final chorus. Problem: "Imagine" is about a world without passion or emotion. It is inherently nihilistic. So a passionate build anywhere in the song is not only pointless it's contradictory to the lyric. Not in a funky ironic kind of way either, it's just awkward and weird.

Adam Lambert started off strong in the "contest". He was my favorite all the way through the season and I was seriously pissed when he didn't win. Lambert was an exception to the above, at least to start: he knows who he is and he's so happy with it he lets it out when he gets on stage. That's probably why I liked him so much. But as soon as AI ended, he went right off the rails. It wasn't until he came back as an AI mentor this season (Elvis night - again, God have mercy....) that he managed to stop yammering on about his sex life for five minutes in a row.

The Ford-sponsored music videos. I don't know who's managing that account or measuring the ROI of that aspect of sponsorship but I'll bet they don't know how to use a calculator and there's a VP in Detroit just itching to give them a beating if they ever catch that dork alone in an elevator. Celebrity endorsements just don't have the clout that they used to and the producers are holding these "contestants" up as "celebrities". No wonder so few of them can think straight.

Vote For The Worst has become my friend. And I agree with their pic. All appearance, no substance.

Tonight we turn on "Idol Gives Back". I let my hopes get up again, thinking there may be something special here. Nope. No such luck. The opening number was stiff enough to surf on and I swear they're using pre-recorded tracks to beef up the sound on stage. It's another publicity stunt. (Don't make that face at me! If you think for one red-hot millisecond that charity appearances aren't a PR stunt, then let your fingers do the walking through Chapter 8 of Howard Bragman's Where's My Fifteen Minutes. It gets really good starting on Page 85.) It wasn't all bad; I have a very soft spot in my heart for supporting educational efforts in Appalachia and that segment tugged the heart strings. But it is what it is.

Regardless of whether some in my house feel they "have to" watch this ongoing trainwreck, I've decided to find my artistic fulfillment elsewhere. Every time I hear the teasers about who is the mentor, or some unique approach, I watch and get disappointed. Like looking forward to a night of intense and creative sex with James Bond. Only at the last minute you find out that instead of 007, you're getting Mr. Bean. THAT kind of disappointed.


  1. I think that's why Crystal is a cut above all of them. She has actually lived life. As far as the mentors this season....Mylee Cyrus???? What a joke. How do we watch it in my house? DVD fast forward. It's th only tolerable way.

  2. I felt the same way about Miley Cyrus. And agreed about Crystal - she's the only one who belongs on TV this season.