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Monday, January 30, 2006
The name of the show is American Idol.So why is it the bad singers we love?

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear;
Those of mechanics -- each one singing his, as it should be,
blithe and strong ...
-- Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

WE HAVEN'T SEEN ANY MECHANICS YET AT THE AMERICAN IDOL fifth season auditions. But there was a dental assistant. And a deputy sheriff. Twins - several sets. A husky-voiced Ukranian chanteuse desperate for a performer's visa. The inventor of the Cosmic Coaster, a floating beverage holder. ("Center it!" he coached judge Paula Abdul as she set her glass teetering on the contraption.) A white guy who said he flunked the audition because America is "prejudiced and racist." And "Flawless", a wispy-bearded dancer of limited talent who appeared to be a perfect candidate for the job of Britney Spears' eventual third husband.

Most shows in their fifth season have begun to flag in the ratings, and nearly every hit reality show has faltered this season. But American Idol pulled 35.5 million viewers, its biggest debut ever. What's more interesting than how much the audience has grown is where it has grown. As the show has aged, the audition episodes -- weeks of oddballs, naifs and some of the worst singers God ever cursed with larynges -- have become the most popular.

American Idol is really two shows. There's the American half, in which America turns up to petition Paula, Randy and Simon, that cruel trinity of fame gods. And there's the Idol half, which doesn't get going until March, in which the show hypes up to its 12 finalists, the better to have a marketable product after one of them becomes champion. So why do the worst singers draw higher ratings than the best? You can thank in part microcelebrity William Hung, who torured Ricky Martin's She Bangs during the third season auditions and ended up with a record deal. But more than that, American Idol is the TV show that best understands America's schizophrenic twin desire to celebrate underdogs - and to destroy them.

America, after all, is an overdog nation with an underdog mythology. We were founded when a scraggly, improvised army of renegades beat a superpower. Now we're a superpower that squashes scraggly, improvised armise of renegades. Our popular idea of a self made businessman is Donald Trump, the billionaire son of a millionaire. We cheer for Seabiscuit when the rest of the world knows that we're really War Admiral.

As for AI, the show that offers to the little guy is not shy about advertising its overdog status. On the season debut. host Ryan Seacrest narrated a tribute to the show's popularity. "What started as a simple talent quest become a national phenomenon", he said over video of seas of teen and twenty something applicants thronging stadiums and audition halls like pilgrims on the hajj."It's become a modern rite of passage, like going to the prom. You get your first car,you graduate from high school, and when we roll into your town, you audition for American Idol."

Seacrest's description may be self-serving and creepy one imagines herds of wannabe Mariahs staggering through the streets, Dawn of the Dead - style, answering AI's irresistible call -- but it's hard to argue with. According to the show, nearly half a million people have auditioned so far. But if the auditions have become the closest thing America has to a national-service program and yet so much of the show is devoted to the awfulness of the applicants, then American Idol's message is simple and unambiguous: America, you stink.

So why would 35.5 million Americans tune in to agree? The AI auditions tell Americans as a country -- with our massive army and troves of Olympic medals -- that it's OK to root for the overdog, because, face it, the underdog is usually called that for good reason. But they also make us, as individuals, feel better about our own place in the pack. The American ideal of opportunity for all, which AI embodies, may be a blessing or a myth. But either way, it can also be oppressive. Because the corollary is that if you don't achieve your dreams, it's your own fault -- you have your chance.

After winning the first season, Kelly Clarkson took the stage to sing her first single: "Some people wait a lifetime/For a moment like this". She was right. In fact, most of her audience is still waiting and probably always will. That's where the audition episodes come in: they show us that failure is not the end. Because of all the things that most bad auditioners have in common -- loud clothes, a taste for the oeuvre of Celine Dion - the greatest is faith. Insulted and denied, they leave believing that the judges are idiots and fame is around the next corner. That is how AI earns the American half of its title. It is a Whitmanian collection of strives, dreaming of their own Clarkson coronation, ready to wait a lifetime, if need be, for a moment like that.

(Source:TIMEMAG/Essay by: James Poniewozik)
posted by infraternam meam @ 10:58 PM  
  • At 6:19 PM, Blogger Brown said…

    Can somebody summarize what this article is about.I have to write a summary of this..Can someone please help me? would appreciate any help,thank you.

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Name: infraternam meam
Home: Chicago, United States
About Me: I am now at the prime of my life and have been married for the past 25 years. Sickly at times, but wants to see the elixir vita, so that I will be able to see my grandchildren from my two boys.
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