American Idol

I watched last night, for the very first time.

Oh, I’d seen segments of the show, but I’d never parked my ass on the couch and endured the whole damn thing, live.

God, there are A LOT of commercials.  What a sixties business model, in the twenty first century.  A performer, a block of commercials…it was INTERMINABLE!

And I’d like to say the show itself was riveting, but after about half an hour, and it was a two hour installment, I remembered why I gave up on TV.  It’s like watching paint dry, it’s for people who have no life, who wish they had a group of people to hang out with.

Then again, the show debuts when it’s COLD in most of the country.  Would I want to dress up and get in my car and drive across town to the bar on a wintry night?  Mmm…  I can understand why people stay home, order a pizza and sit in front of the tube.

Now, having endured the whole affair, I can say with authority that the star of the show is not one of the contestants, or the music, but Simon Cowell.  Not only is he honest, he doesn’t give a flying fuck what anybody thinks.  In other words, he’s a ROCK STAR!  Yes, Simon Cowell is a man of his convictions.  Viewers are more interested in emulating him than the wannabe talent who end up with evanescent careers at best.

Randy Jackson has worked at a record company too long.  He gives phony retorts and is rarely honest.  I wouldn’t trust him in the office, and I wouldn’t trust him with my career.

And Paula Abdul?  What a genius stroke of casting.  She’s such an airhead, so out of it, so bland as to illustrate why the music business is in the dumper.  Yes, in case you forgot, Paula Abdul was once a star.  A manufactured star.  They melded her flat voice with tracks and sold the result with dancing videos.  I ask you, what does dancing have to do with music?  You wonder why people gave up on mainstream music?  All you have to do is watch Paula.  Because it got worse after her brief reign at the top of the charts.  We got ever younger, ever cuter, ever less-talented people sold to us like they were the second coming.  You didn’t want to hear a thing they had to say, they were uneducated.  And sans opinions.  Hell, opinions might alienate sponsors.  And the labels liked their artists bland, so they were putty in their hands, so they could be molded for every photo op and publicity opportunity.

But it’s not only the pop stars.  How about that Katie Couric.  She’s just as phony as Britney.  Well, Britney’s become a bit more honest now that she’s fighting for her sobriety and her sanity.  Every talking head on television is full of shit.  We revere Tony Soprano, he seems more real than anybody reading the news or spouting an opinion.  Everybody’s playing to some theoretical person who doesn’t exist.  One who is offended by sexual language but wants to view hot bodies in scanty clothing.  One who wants to drink and gamble, but go to church every Sunday.  One who wants to be rich, but really is just a family man.  That’s too many contradictions for one person.  Sure, people are complicated, but they respond to truth and humanity first and foremost.  But our whole country is fake.  Full of lies.  Played to the camera.

Except for this curious Simon.  This Brit doesn’t dress up, doesn’t know you need a suit to be on television.  And not only does he speak the truth about the performers, telling them that they suck, using metaphors that truly convey how terrible they are, he doesn’t make nice with either the aforementioned Paula or the host, Ryan Seacrest.

What do you learn about Ryan Seacrest watching "American Idol"?  That he’s short.  As for his identity, his personality, you get not a whit, not a hit of it.  I mean Dick Clark ascended in the national consciousness nearly half a century ago, a completely different era.  Bland might have worked back then.  But when Websites show Britney’s cesarean scar, can’t Ryan Seacrest reveal ANYTHING about himself?  Any real truth, any hooks we can grab on to with our velcro loops?

Yet this bland cipher ascends the TV hierarchy.  Where if you’re milquetoast, if you do nothing to offend anybody, if you’ve got whitened teeth and a nice smile, you go to the head of the class.

It’s astounding how bad some of the final eleven performers were.  You don’t need the judges to tell you they’re crap, YOU KNOW IT!  So, you give a pass to the couple of women with talent, Lakisha and Melinda, and then pick favorites based on how pathetic, how needy the rest are.  The fat guy?  I’m down with him, America needs a fat hero, one who isn’t interested in going on "Celebrity Fit Club" and isn’t fishing for a contract with Jenny Craig.  Hey, I think that’s why Ruben won.

And the insecure.  Insecurity plays well on TV.  Remember "Queen For A Day"?  If you’re a loser, we love you.  You represent us, vs. them.  Those people who control our media, who make us feel inadequate.

And then there’s the music.

Last night it was British Invasion night.

It was astounding how they could eviscerate all the soul from the peak era of modern music.  How the creativity and the excitement of that era could be replaced by limited talent hacks who don’t know that it’s less about Mariah pipes than how you sell it, how you deliver it.

God, Peter Noone went on about that.

Lulu?  She had some good advice too, but she was so angling for a comeback that it was creepy.  Being ON the show is enough Lulu.  Don’t try to sell yourself, you just look desperate.

You knew pretty instantly who had it and who didn’t.

It was kind of astounding that after combing America they came up with so little talent.

But Randy and Paula were charitable when no charity was appropriate.  You ruin a Zombies song, you should go straight to hell.  Those records were HAUNTING!  They weren’t EXERCISES!

And the version of "Tobacco Road"?  Positively EXECRABLE!

But the excitement came in waiting for Simon’s critique.

Actually, I figured he’d be more negative.  But he rations his bile.  And when it comes out, and the audience boos, he doesn’t break character, he doesn’t play to the crowd, he just keeps on with his honesty.  God, I wish I were so good.

Yes, it’s a special skill to stay the course when the public is throwing spears at you.  But if you know you’re right, you should stick to your guns.  Simon sticks to his guns.

And why shouldn’t he?  This might be a television show, but he’s got a lot on the line.  He’s got to sell the winner.  Yup, this isn’t just a TV show for him, he needs someone who can make it.  And most contestants can’t.

How long will Simon’s act play?

Well, "Bonanza" wasn’t on forever.  And the "O.C." was cancelled after just a couple of seasons.  He’s carrying the whole damn show.  There’s not enough of him, and the rest is so smarmy you want to wipe yourself when it’s done.

Then again, they sing good songs.

They’re not rapping on "American Idol".  And they’re not doing much dancing.  Hell, you know they would do both if they’d sell.  But American doesn’t want to see it.

Major labels.  Hip prognosticators.  Major magazines and newspapers.  They keep saying it’s a hip-hop nation, that rap drives the culture.  Well, Jay-Z might have just made a deal with Budweiser, but he can’t sell a fucking record.

When it comes to music, it’s about songs.  Stuff you can sing at home.  You can’t sing those rap hits at home.

All good songs, all the time.  You can’t get this quality of material ANYWHERE ELSE on television.  THIS is our American value.  Our great music.  Writing songs that touch the heart, that you want to hear for the rest of your life, those are goals absent not only in the halls of major labels, but the offices of songwriter hacks.  All playing to a lowest common denominator that doesn’t exist, just like the TV networks and movie studios.

This Internet.  It’s not only gonna bust up the major label, network and studio cartels, it’s going to usher in an era of creativity and QUALITY!  Because those creating outside the system don’t want to waste time compromising for limited sales.  Yes, right now there’s limited distribution and limited marketing of independent projects.  But that’s gonna change, when people see how uncompromised and good this new, outside the system stuff is.

But until then, if you want a music hit, don’t listen to Top Forty radio, don’t watch MTV, watch "American Idol", it’s closer to the real thing than ANYTHING exhibited on those outlets.

And if you’re a wannabe star, don’t watch what’s on stage on this show, watch Simon, emulate him, despite the catcalls, we resonate with him.  We want to hang with Simon, we want to have sex with Simon.  We want to KNOW Simon.  We don’t want ANYTHING to do with the cadre of fake acts foisted on us by the usual suspects.  God, how much time do you want to spend with even a rehabilitated Britney Spears?

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