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American Idolatry

by Neena Louise

Kelly's Single



American Idol Book


As much as I hate to admit it, I found myself sucked into the phenomenon that was American Idol - at first. The audition phase was filled with delightfully dreadful performances of the tone-deaf and denial-filled wannabes. The finalists were comprised of no-talents, some-talents, and stars-in-the-making. Killer comments from resident grouch Simon Cowell made the whole thing worth watching. At first.

That was until we were tortured with bad group numbers and even worse "skits" as the competition progressed. The group numbers were a very bad concept from the start: the participants have such diverse styles, voices and personalities, that they made the worst singing group I've ever heard. And I guess the skits were supposed to be cute, but the participants are singers not actors and their obvious lack of acting ability was painful to watch (though Nikki McKibbin surprised me - the camera loves her, and she could actually develop into a decent actress with minimal training). The second-to-last elimination show - at 60 minutes long and essentially a rerun of the night before - was a shameless ratings grab and complete waste of time. It only took 10 seconds to announce the final two contestants; we didn't need the 59 minutes, 50 seconds of utter crap that preceded the announcement.

The integrity of the voting process (and, consequently, the show) was also compromised, leading to Idol's further decline. Rabid fans with power-dialers and other computer-aided cheats flooded the phone lines, leading to the outrageous elimination of mega-talent Tamyra Gray (15 million people voted that week, but only 12 million people watched the show). In this technological age, surely the producers could find a way to keep the voting process pure - web voting, perhaps, though that would also be too easy to cheat on. Or perhaps make the voting numbers toll calls - say, 95 per call. I've always been against television shows charging for votes, but since it is painfully obvious the public has absolutely no qualms about cheating (in fact, they seem proud of it), it could be a solution to keeping the voting pure.

Now that it is all over, and Kelly Clarkson's been given the well-deserved title of American Idol, it's time to make some objective observations:

The Hosts

Ryan Seacrest and Brian Dunkleman
These Kings of Dorkdom were the worst thing about the show. This pair of knuckleheads would make great announcers for cheesy off-the-strip Vegas acts or demonstrating cleaning products at the mall, but they didn't belong on something like American Idol. Though slated to host the sequel, let's hope the producers get a clue and we never have to see them again.

The Audience

After the hosts, this bunch of shrieking morons was the second-worst thing about the show. It was so difficult to listen to and evaluate the performances with all that screaming going on - especially when they deemed every single performance (no matter how bad) worthy of the racket. It didn't help that the Kings of Dorkdom kept encouraging them to be louder and they didn't even have the most rudimentary manners to shut their big fat yaps when others were trying to speak. I wish I could have muted the audience and still heard everyone else.

The Judges

Simon Cowell
I don't know why people seemed to hate him so much. He gave brutally honest feedback and, really, if these young people want to make it in the music business, they will have to grow mighty thick skins if they want to survive. Cowell's comments weren't nearly as nasty as the music-buying public's can be (if you read any of the message boards at idolonfox.com you'll know what I mean); nor are they anywhere close to what music reviewers' and critics' opinions can be. Though Cowell started to develop into a caricature and became more annoying than amusing in his trademark nastiness, he was still entertaining.

Paula Abdul
The Anti-Simon, Abdul's sugar-coated sickeningly sweet feedback wasn't helping anyone, least of all the no-talents who thought they could be stars. Even her mildly negative feedback came out sounding like praise. Or maybe it actually was praise ... it was so hard to tell.

Randy Jackson
The most honest of the three, shameless name-dropper Jackson always gave the truest feedback. If you listened, his comments to the performers were as nasty as Cowell's - he was just more diplomatic in his delivery.

The Finalists
(in alphabetical order)

Christina Christian
With such a wimpy voice (I've heard it compared to a chipmunk) and apparent lack of personality, Christian could never be an "idol". Though I don't think she deserved to be eliminated when she was, it's a good thing she had a stress-related meltdown when she did. The pressures of a show biz career are leaps and bounds greater than that of a mere competition, and it's better she found out sooner rather than later that she doesn't have the stones to handle it.

Kelly Clarkson
Clarkson has the look, the voice and that all important "X Factor". And she's - dare I say it? - NICE. She was the most-deserving of the final three and I'm relieved the public could recognize talent when they saw it and dubbed her American Idol. The criticisms I've heard about her are the outrageous "she's too white to sing R&B" and she's "too fat". What kind of racist, shallow nonsense is that?!?! So, if she's too white to sing R&B, does that mean some people are too black to sing pop? And how many people would kill to be such a "fat" size 6? Like a clothing size has anything to do with singing talent. Puh-leeze. Leap into the 21st century, people, and leave those narrow-minded comments back in the 1900s where they belong.

EJay Day
A last-minute finalist after another was disqualified for being too old, Day wowed the judges with his amazing vocal range. I predicted his demise for one reason only: he's not very good looking. I suspect he was ousted early on for just that reason. It's a shame that people are actually that shallow.

AJ Gil
He has a fairly good, clean voice, but absolutely zero personality. He couldn't dance, couldn't seem to wring a facial expression out of his frozen mug, and was, well, boring.

Tamyra Gray
She has the look, the voice, and always seemed right at home on the stage. Some have called her a Britney Spears or Whitney Houston wannabe, but I don't understand that characterization at all. She doesn't depend on sex appeal like Spears (because she has a LOT more talent and doesn't have to), nor does she oversing everything like Houston. I'd buy a Tamyra Gray CD in a second and the fact that she was eliminated before Justin Guarini, speaks volumes on how tainted the voting process was.

Justin Guarini
Though careers have been made on less, Guarini seems to have more personality than talent. He'd make a great lounge singer (since there is something vaguely creepy and slimy about him), but I doubt there's enough there for American Idol status (more like teen heart-throb of the minute).

RJ Helton
How many of us felt his panic when he forgot the words on the Big Band night of the competition? I found it endearing. I'm sure others did as well, and was probably the reason why he wasn't voted off that night, considering that was his worst performance ever. He has a good voice, good looks, and those dazzling pearly whites, but needs some help in the moves department. That pigeon-like head bopping has to go.

Nikki McKibbin
Some have called her a "Cindi Lauper Wannabe", but I don't see it that way. She is just too interesting and different to be in a competition like American Idol. She has a voice that, while not quite traditional singing, isn't horrible either and has a certain "something" - just not the something screaming preteens want. Combine it with the look and the stage presence, and she could make it big in the business if she chooses her material wisely, though I think she'd make a better actress than singer.

Ryan Starr (aka: Tiffany Montgomery)
With a voice like a tuba, she couldn't sing at all and danced like she had to pee. The only reason she made it as far as she did was that she's very attractive, knows it, and knows how to work it (who else in their right mind would wear a crop-top and low-rider jeans to do construction work?). She's the Britney Spears wannabe, but Spears has a LOT more talent than Starr (which isn't saying much). With the porn-star name change and increasingly abbreviated clothing, Ryan Starr could make it big in adult films.

Jim Verraros
His sob stories about his deaf parents and weight loss couldn't hide the fact that he just can't sing. I agree with judge Simon Cowell wholeheartedly: Idol would have failed if Verraros had gone any farther in the competition. I wouldn't call Verraros a loser, but I wouldn't call him a singer, either. Perhaps he should write songs instead.

The Sequel

Slated for January 2003
Will people watch the sequel? Probably, but if Fox is expecting the ratings it got with American Idol's first installment, they will be sorely disappointed. For one thing, it is too soon to air a sequel; for another, there won't be the advantage of summer boredom to lure viewers in. Fox will have to make it a more interesting, less silly, less hype-filled show in order to get the ratings. So, to make American Idol 2 an even better viewer-sucking show, I'd:
  • Dump the Kings of Dorkdom (hosts Seacrest and Dunkleman). Suggestions for hosts: Dick Clark, Carson Daly, Sean "P. Diddy" Combs.
  • Fire judge Paula Abdul for all her non-judgmental judgments.
  • Bring back contestant Tamika as a judge - she's even better than Simon Cowell in the nastiness department and is infinitely more entertaining.
  • Insist the audience shut up or be ejected from the studio.
  • Develop a way to keep the voting process pure (I heard some brag about voting as much as 1,000 times for the performer of their choice. If true, it explains a lot).
  • On the "results" show, announce the winners without the stupid, supposedly anticipatory (more like irritating) "right after the break" teasers. Plus, the results show should be only 30 minutes long and devoid of the tortuous group numbers, stupid skits and idiotic commentary from the host(s). Fill it instead with insider information on what a music career is really like from people who are already successful artists: the constant travel, hours of studio time, being away from loved ones, being on stage, etc. etc. I think that would be a lot more interesting than watching insipid drivel about what the contestants did during the week. Like, we care that they went shopping. Or rehearsed. Or got a haircut. Or got their picture taken. Or went to a premiere/awards show/concert/mall. Yawn.

American Idol, like so many other British imports, was a huge hit in the American market. I suspect it was a ratings success because, unlike other let's-make-a-star shows like Popstars and Making the Band, it included the public in the selection process (a very rare occurrence in the world of television). But I can't help but wonder: why would anyone want to be an "idol"? Teen idols generally have careers with very short lifespans and usually plunge into the depths of obscurity when the teens that idolize them grow up and become ashamed of their infatuations (observe: Shaun Cassidy, Leif Garrett, New Kids on the Block, Hanson, etc., etc.). Let's hope these idol wannabes are ready for that, and don't ruin their lives when their popularity inevitably wanes.
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