Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Schadenfreude And "American Idol"

I've never been a fan of "American Idol" and probably never will be. But it's a cultural phenomenon that can't be ignored.

I have to admit, I will take a peek over to Fox during commercials when they run the audition shows, as they will tonight (Fox, 8 p.m.) because they are usually pretty funny.

But after last night, I may stop doing even that. As I was getting ready to leave for team trivia, I had the TV on "AI" while I was getting ready, and they had this one guy on who was a vocal coach. He made the rather unfortunate choice of trying to do an Aerosmith song, something that was not really in sync with the sort of voice he had.

In addition, he made the song sound more like a Broadway show tune than hard rock, and he didn't have the greatest voice in the world (though hardly the worst either). You could tell that his entire life was waiting for this one moment to prove himself.

Naturally, he didn't get picked. But the judges seemed especially cruel with him, particularly Randy. When Simon Cowell turns to you and says, "Boy, your comments are a little excessive," you know you may have gone over the edge.

As for the poor guy, he seemed more crushed than most of the rest, and I did have to ponder the guy's future. I hope that being a voice coach wasn't his day job, because it's hard to imagine he was going to have a huge list of students after being humiliated in front of 30 million people and having Randy say "I wouldn't tell anyone to take lessons from you."

I don't know, a lot of these people do embarrass themselves, but it's because they have no business being on stage in the first place, but none of their friends or family tried to stop them from humiliating themselves on TV, you know, the William Hungs of the world.

But some of these people aren't terrible, and though they will never have a music career, it's a little sad to see their dreams crushed like that. I'm not sure I'll be catching the audition process after this.

Frankly, the judges themselves have a spotty record at best in picking the winner, as do the fans who vote. "Dreamgirls" star Jennifer Hudson, who may end up with an Oscar in the next few weeks, got knocked out relatively early the year she tried out. Clay Aiken didn't win, but has a bigger career than the guy who did.

Sure, you have some people with talent like Kelly Clarkson who won, but you have some headscratchers in there as well. None was worse than Fantasia.

OK, I never watched any of the "AIs" with her, but I had the misfortunate of catching Fantasia's rendition of the National Anthem before baseball's All-Star Game a couple of years ago. Now, being a professional sports writer, I've heard my fair share of bad National Anthems, but Fantasia's was far and away the worst. (OK, technically Roseanne Barr and Carl Lewis were the worst, but neither of them ever won a singing contest). For the excruciating four minutes Fantasia performed, I envied the deaf.

In the end, music comes down to individual taste. None of my tastes coincide with that of "AI," but unfortunately that puts me in a small minority.

R.I.P. BENNY PARSONS: I never knew the NASCAR commentator personally, but I did hire his son Keith when I was the sports editor of The Hickory Daily Record, and Keith was far and away the best guy on my staff. The massive success of NASCAR in this country owes no small debt to Benny Parsons, who made it very relatable to the average person in his role as a broadcaster.

WEDNESDAY'S BEST BET: A rather quiet night, as the other networks shy away from "American Idol." As always, I will plug "Friday Night Lights" (NBC, 8 p.m.), continually one of the best dramas on TV.

Also, the delayed second episode of "Knights of Prosperity" (ABC, 9 p.m.) finally airs, though I fear it may have been permanently harmed by being pre-empted last week and going head-to-head with "AI." Way to kill a promising show, ABC.


Anonymous said...

I was a little more than ticked off after watching the first audition set. First of all, since we did Jewel make it habit of humiliating people? I've heard her be called a sell-out on more than one occasion, but this was ridiculous.
How can someone who claims to be so "peace loving," join the ranks of Simon?
Secondly, I think the excessive humiliation was just a little disturbing. They broadcasted a 16-year-old literally weeping to her parents after not making it "to Hollywood."
Holding a talent contest is fine, and I'll even admit to laughing at those who choose to make fools of themselves for the sake of getting on TV, but watching someone be humiliated and crushed is not something I enjoy watching. I don't think I’ll be tuning into the auditions anymore, either.

Phillip Ramati said...

You bring up a good point about Jewel, Anon. Like I said, I don't watch it very often, but when I have, Paula Abdul seems the least mean when it comes to the contestants, perhaps because she remembers what it was like to struggle before she made it.

I thought Jewel would be the same way, but I guess success went to her head a long time ago.

I missed the 16-year-old. Was she really bad or just not good enough to make it? Because if it was the former, I wonder about her parents allowing her to subject herself to that; if it's the latter, I hope the judges weren't too mean-spirited about it like they were with the voice coach.

Anonymous said...

these people know what they're getting into when they stand in that line, so i don't feel bad for them. i've personally never been a huge fan of the audition shows, but that's because i think they're annoying.

as for jewel, i didn't see all of the show, but i never saw her being cruel. i did see her being honest with people, but i never thought she came across as mean.

Phillip Ramati said...

Jewel came off as a bit stuck-up to me, at least in the bits I saw.

I agree that these people leave themselves open to criticism because no one forces them to audition, and having seen previous editions of the show, the contestants know they might be humiliated by the judges.

But it doesn't mean the judges necessarily have to go out of their way to be cruel, either.

Anonymous said...

Also, some of these people genuinely believe they have talent, like the 16 year old. She wasn't God-awful either, she was just imitating her favorite singer, Jewel.
I think it's one thing to humiliate a person who comes in dressed in a chicken suit, but another to be cruel to someone who actually believes they have an ability.

Zodin2008 said...

I'm confused here...I don't watch nor will I ever watch crud like "Idol" but did Paula Abdul leave the show? Has Jewel replaced her? I thought Jewel was on that "Nashville Star" show?

Either way, I have ZERO interest in this program, but I do give them credit for people like Clay Aiken and Kelly Clarkson who are legitimate music talents. But for the ones they got right (like Clarkson) they seem to be wrong every year--from what I understand, this Taylor Hicks guy isn't selling nearly the albums that a runner up last year like Chris Daughtry did?

Plus, Fantasia is awful, agreed, and back to Aiken, another 'runner up' who lost to a guy Ruben Studdard, clearly far less talented.

Just because I have no interest in this show doesn't mean they should get it right...these are supposed to be musical experts, Simon, Randy and Paula and they have apparently only gotten ONE winner correct?

As for tonight, I too will be watching "Friday Night Lights" and "Knights" but unofortunately for 'Knights', the same thing happened last year to Fox's ill fated "Reunion" a show my wife and I really got into.

"Reunion" lost a key airing as it was just starting to build momentum in late September thanks to a Bush speech, and then, it was gone 4 more weeks because of the 2005 World Series/MLB post season. Between Bush & Baseball, "Reunion" never had a shot to recover and Fox really screwed fans over and to this day, I still wish I know who the killer was.

Phillip Ramati said...

Jewel was there in addition to the regular judges.

I agree, Anon #1, you can tell the difference between who is there as a joke and who is there who actually does have a dream. Like the guy I mentioned in the posting, he wasn't so God-awful that he deserved the humiliation. It was kind of sad to see him asking the judges why they rejected him, to see if he could improve for the future, and not get a straight answer.

Zod, you can't fault the judges for Fantasia winning or Clay Aiken not winning, since the results are all done by fan voting (of which there have been accusations of rigging in the past). Certainly, the judges comments may influence the people who call in to vote, but in the end, it's up to the fans of the show.

Zodin2008 said...

I firmly don't want to go into certain places on this Blog as to why I definitely feel there's been rigging in pretty much every year except year #1 (which is the only year that the actual best person WON, with Clarkson).

Fox (News Corp.) is a BUSINESS and ultimately, they want to do little things to make sure they keep getting AI maximum exposure and attention and one way is to make sure you are popular with ALL population segments.

All I am going to say is I don't care what your background is, if you are the most talented singer, you should win AMERICAN IDOL, end of story.

Anonymous said...

Taylor Hicks hasn't released an album yet, so of course Chris Daughtry's is doing better than his. Ruben got caught with drugs, so of course that ruined his "idol" status in America's eyes. Carrie Underwood is doing really well. Though I don't like her either, Fantasia isn't doing bad. She and Carrie Underwood are not doing huge pop albums, but instead releasing to their own markets, Fantasia to hip hop/r&b and Carrie Underwood to country.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Phillip Ramati said...

I tend to think there is less likely rigging now than before, because they already had a votes scandal once when they claimed one of the computers counted up Clay Aiken's votes wrong.

Regardless, AI has been a legitimate springboard for a lot of careers, even those who haven't won. People watch and see how people like Daughtry and Hudson - neither of whom were even finalists - have made names for themselves and it inspires them to try out for the show all the more.

That Taylor Hicks beat out Katharine McPhee is more proof of the lack of taste among AI viewers.

Zodin2008 said...

That Hicks beat out McPhee is more proof that the thing is fixed because based on LOOKS alone (plus talent) McPhee should have won.

Zodin2008 said...

As for Fantasia, I've heard plenty of good R&B and she aint it. There are some successful and talented R&B artists who would probably be insulted to be has nothing to do with her style. It has to do with how bad she sounds everytime I hear her.

Anonymous said...

For the record (pun intended), Taylor Hicks released his debut album in December.

Phillip Ramati said...

Thanks for clearing up Taylor Hicks' album, Anon. You couldn't pay me to listen to it, let alone shell out my own meager cash for it. At least with a CD, we don't have to suffer through Hicks attempting his constipated dance moves.

And, for the record (no pun intended) I'm way in the minority of AI viewership, since Tuesday's episode brought in a best-ever 37 million for the show.

Anonymous said...

For someone who admittedly doesn't "try to watch AI" you sure know more than the casual observer. I suspect you are a closet AI fan.

Phillip Ramati said...

Well, Anon, you may suspect me a closet AI fan, but you'd be wrong.

I just happen to know a lot of things about a lot of things.