Sunday, January 22, 2006

False idols

After watching last week's installment of "American Idol," I must say (and I know I'm not the first to say it): The singers who do well on the show may be skillful, but they sound alike -- bland, boy-bandish. The singing has much fancy technique, but not much heart. What would happen if, say, Lester Flatt auditioned? He would be dismissed, after being mocked and derided.

I'd forgotten that I Tivoed "American Idol" at all, but then I read the editorial in today's New York Times that denounces the show for, in its early rounds, inviting talentless people to audition only so the judges can ridicule them for the television audience. The editorial says of the contestants,
Many appear terribly vulnerable and some seem to border on mentally impaired. The fun is supposed to come from seeing the celebrity judges roll their eyes, laugh, and tell them that they are tone-deaf, fat, funny-looking or, in the case of one young man, "atrocious" and "confused." (The cameras followed him out of the audition room, the better to make sport of him crying with his family.)
I'm with the Times on this. I get very uncomfortable watching people being made fools of, which is why I loathe practical jokes. I realize that no one auditions unwillingly, but the judging is startlingly, mercilessly cruel, and the cameras are unflinching.

Particularly dismaying was the finale of the episode I watched, which was promoted by teasers throughout the broadcast. What was so extraordinary about the last candidate? He committed the unpardonable sin of not being as gifted as Clay Aiken, yes -- but also, his gender was ambiguous. In case anyone missed the fact, host Ryan Seacrest repeatedly pointed it out in the teasers. And in case anyone missed those, there was a closeup of judge Simon Cowell making bug eyes at the sight of a well-meaning young man in high heels and plunging neckline. And in case anyone missed that, the last shots of the weeping, humiliated candidate were accompanied by "The Crying Game," the song by transgendered Boy George from the movie of the same name, about a transgendered character.

Could it get more witless, obvious, exploitative, offensive? Another triumph for humanity. I fart on "American Idol."

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