Tuesday night brought to American audiences two blockbuster television events with striking resonances between them. The first, of course, was the President’s State of the Union Address, in which he outlined his sweeping economic reforms and made his case for war with Iraq. The other was the next installment of the ever-popular “American Idol.” For those of you who never watch TV — perhaps you grew up without it, which you are sure to let everyone who meets you know — “American Idol” is a television show that endeavors to, from a pool of thousands of talented hopefuls, choose one to reign as– The American Idol. (Note to those who really needed that explanation: Start watching TV. It will only kill you if you drop it on your head. And if watching it makes you dumber, the better for us all.) OK, are we all caught up? Good–
All the smarties who were paying attention to the President’s speech last night will have concluded that the state of the union is, in a word, crappy. There is trouble on the homefront and trouble abroad. America needs its idols, it seems, now more than ever. The entertainers of old, like Marilyn and Raquel played a big part in raising the spirits and blood pressure of our boys over there. Each had a unique star quality, sex appeal to spare, and consummate professionalism. In short, they were the best our nation had to offer. And how did Tuesday night’s would-be idols stack up? Well, let me put it this way: if they are any indication of the state of our union, we all had better brush up on our Arabic.
One particular contestant, a corpulent pimple-face teenager in a gigantic ribbed turtleneck — if you watched the whole show you most certainly cannot forget him, though you might like to — was deemed by that most ruthless enemy of self-esteem, Simon Cowell, to be the “Worst Singer in the World.” He began to cry, and could only think to call Simon an “asshole,” which is exactly like calling Carrot Top “annoying.” But if you really think about it, Simon probably did him a favor. He’ll be much more successful in America as “The Worst” than if he were just “Bad.” You could say I have no faith in American audiences’ ability to know good entertainment when they see it, and you would be right. But ask yourself, if you had the opportunity to see the undisputed Worst Singer in the World, would you take it? So would I.
And that’s why I am not thrilled with many of the contestants who advanced. Most of them were just– vanilla. Not idols at all. The problem is the judges’ stated pursuit of the “total package.” If we claim to want everything from our entertainers — the body, the voice, the image — then we end up settling for a bland combination of all three. (Bland is a word Paula Abdul should understand.) I would rather my entertainers be extraordinarily– something. In truth, if many of our legendary performers were ever to audition for Paula, Simon, and Randy, they would most certainly not make it through. Marilyn Monroe overcame her weak and syrupy singing voice with her other charms (I can think of two rather substantial ones) and became a legend. Britney, same charms. The reason “Dirrty” did not ruin Christina’s career, and probably helped it, is that she can sing your sweater off. America loves Christina, genital warts and all, for her brazen fabulousness. But Kelly Clarkson? Puh-leeze. She wouldn’t know fabulous if it blew her a kiss.
Certainly the “total package” is out there somewhere, but it’s so rare it’s almost not worth looking for. But the “American Idol” gang is not the only one still hunting. Some producers want to find one so badly they create one in the studio a la Dr. Frankenstein. The results are indeed monstrous, as anyone who survived Milli-Vanilli will attest. So here’s some advice for the American recording industry: don’t smooth the edges or curves, just exploit them. Also, be honest when you do. We don’t demand perfection, but we hate being lied to, something any President should be well aware of. Ashanti is not the heir to Aretha Franklin no matter how hard you cram the crown on her head. She’s just a pretender. But she does have a couple nice charms… God bless America.
Eric Eagan will never use this space for shoutouts.