Thursday, February 17, 2005

A Word From Our Sponsor: American Idol

We take a break from our regularly-scheduled program (wedding blabber) to bring you a message from one of our sponsors...

American Idol...

I watched my first episode of the season a few weeks ago (St. Louis, Missouri), and saw Tuesday's and Wednesday's episodes with David.

Can you say... morbid fascination?

Since it started, I might have seen a total of two or three American Idol shows at Eliza's place, but that's about it. I haven't watched any Canadian Idol, but I saw the grand finale of the French version called Nouvelle Star when I was visiting friends in Brittany last year. People go wild over this show in France, too. Nolwenn's mother and sister were glued to the TV screen. (I think Nolwenn's father went to watch footy somewhere else. I don't blame him.)

Watching one episode of city auditions, it was amazing how many people with so little talent could get as far as a televised audition. Aren't there any preliminary auditions just to weed out the truly awful? Isn't there an objective idea of "you stink!" that needn't waste the time of a 3-judge panel?

On Tuesday, they were showing the four rooms of prospects, and for the love of Mary, there were enough tears to drown the Titanic! All that crying! It's bad enough to be trapped in a hotel room with 24 other nervous people, but the camera operators must feel like they're stuck at a funeral or in a hospital waiting area. Either that or they're too busy zooming in on the sidelong glances between contestants who are obviously thinking, "There's no way I'm getting through with this bozo in the room."

On Wednesday, they narrowed down the two rooms of 50 people who made it through down to 24 finalists, and David and I tried to pick which ones would make it through. David guessed wrong on all his picks. After watching some of my picks make it and some of them getting the heave-ho, I came up with some theories:

1) The two long-haired, rocker types -- Constantine and Bo -- were sent through just for diversity. If either of these two win, I'll eat my shorts, although I think Constantine has a better chance because he's simply better-looking. Neither of them thought they'd both get through, but hey -- there's an audience for rock and roll, and American Idol wants them to watch. At least the boys will have each other, they won't need to listen to screeching ballads alone (well, until the first one gets eliminated, anyway).

There was this one goth girl who sang a song from Phantom of the Opera who made it through the city audition, but most of the theatre-types were sent packing. It looks like the diversity card is extended to the larger of the minority genres, rock. Country might stand a small chance, too, but it seems that screeching ballads are here to stay, ad nauseam.

2) "Niche" audience doesn't cut it, eg. Aa'shia Jackson, who sounds like Michael Jackson in his younger days (when he looked like a person) on helium. With her hat, big baggy shirt, big baggy pants and a scowl, it's tough to even tell she's a girl. Something tells me androgyny is not an advantage in this competition. So how did she get so far? Did Simon, Paula, and Randy think "Oh look! A novelty! Let's get her on an early episode but eliminate her in the semi-finals! Her feisty mother will scream at the camera, for sure! But Michael Jackson's on trial, so we can't let her win!"

3) Anything for suspense and drama. Let's put 25 people in a room and make them wait for an eternity, and see if any of them will kill each other on camera. Walk into the room and lead people on emotional rollercoasters as much as possible. Bring on the tears, people!

4) Women are hysterical. Show the hysterical women. If you were from another culture and were to judge Americans by the show American Idol, it wouldn't take long to reach a conclusion that ALL American women were emotionally unstable. There should be an official American Idol psych ward. Or, at least a sign:

A team of shrinks are on stand-by, for the ladies.

The camera crew shoot specifically for this and it's highly edited to show the emotional highs and lows, certainly, but oh boy. I felt badly for some of these people, especially one who got rejected and ran right out of the hotel and down the street. Of course, they sent Ryan Seacrest out after her, but as with everything about this show, that's for show.

I suppose that is endemic of all reality shows, as David mentioned earlier -- the situations are orchestrated as such to provoke the strongest emotional impulses, because that's what makes "good television", or at least high ratings.

That is why, in a nutshell, I don't watch reality shows. The fact that they're real people vying for a real prize is exciting, but when the cameras are turned off, the ones who don't make it are remembered for enduring camera-ready spirit-crushing by a panel of three judges (NONE of whom can sing -- and that includes Paula Abdul!) AND millions of viewers. I can't handle that kind of voyeurism on a continual basis, but moreso because I really do think some of them are being played like a fiddle for ratings. I cannot imagine the judges think these 24 are the cream of the crop. Selecting the finalists reminded me of the Spice Girls formula -- a bunch of people brought together and called a "band" because each one represented a certain type of girl, thereby broadening the appeal, and broadening the fan base. American Idol want as many viewers as possible, so they threw in a country girl, some rockers, and of course the biggest draws: the ballad-screechers.

I don't know if we'll be watching next week, I don't know how many more floods of tears and running mascara I can stand.

(Weirdly, it suddenly occurred to me that I can actually VOTE now. Any Canadians want me to put in a vote if I watch next week? And who for?)