"The end of an empire is messy at best." - Randy Newman
For everyone who tuned in to the 5 hours of American Idol spread over 3 days this past week, we were treated to the most awkward, uncomfortable, and, frankly, quite sad 5 hours of live reality TV ever produced! The most obvious reason for this train wreck is that this year's finalist just aren't very good, Simon knows it, Randy knows it, and Seacrest knows it, and it shows. Kara is too busy being self-involved and Ellen is too new to know any better. But simply having weak contestants is not justification enough for how incredibly uncomfortable watching America's most popular TV show was this week. Adding to the sucky singers, were weird contestant personalities, production mishaps, the unbearable Seacrest/Simon rivalry (sexual tension?), Kara's continued awfulness, the oblivious producers' desire to send this show way over-the-top into self parody, and blatant American racism created a bizarre week of Idol! All these signs seem to suggest that American Idol is imploding, and we get to watch it all fall apart, live, three days a week, making this perhaps the most interesting season of Idol yet! The fall of the Idol empire is nigh, and it is a spectacular mess to behold.
Tuesday's show, the decidedly least insane, began with some predictably unforgettable performances from mediocre vocalists...though not horrible. Then Lilly Scott came on with a top notch indie cover of The Beatles's "Fixin' a Hole." It was at this point when I thought "hey, this might be a pretty good season," unfortunately, it was by far the high point of the entire week. Haeley Vaughn, the African-American country-singing teen, countered with a groovy, though not quite all together version of The Beatles's "I Want to Hold Your Hand" that the judges for some reason weren't that into, I dug it though. Katelyn Epperly murdered The Beatles's (sensing a theme?) "Oh Darling!" and Kara said something heinous. The show went along with a few more forgettable karaoke performances and wannabe Ingrid Michaelsons (for some reason this season is rigged for an indie female win). The only real weird occurrence was the wonderfully named, glassblower apprentice, Siobhan Magnus's haunting version of "Wicked Game." Her world-of-her-own personality and dark song choice made for a very un-Idol 7 minutes, I hope she stays in the competition for a while, Idol has never seen anything like her. So, for the most part, the signs of destruction weren't glowing too brightly on the first night, other than the fact that the contestants are pretty week and Simon knows it. His harsher-than-usual comments suggest a deeper annoyance with the declined quality of contestants and I think the fact that he has to deal with Kara and Seacrest 3 days a week is really getting to him. But it was the second day that truly showed the rumblings of the Idol empire's foundation.
Wednesday's guys' performances were unbelievably terrible! Either the producers are stacking the deck so an indie girl wins this year, or America's talent has taken a significant downhill turn, and Simon is pissed and done with it. Last season's contestants, which were easily the best of the show's run, just make this year's shitty-ness all the more apparent. Starting the show was Todrick Hall's unrecognizable hip hop rendition of Kelly Clarkson's "Since You've Been Gone," an omen that foreshadowed the out-of-control spiral that followed. Things really started going sour after Jermaine Sellers's amateurish version of the Idol standard "Get Here," led to a weird interaction where Sellers fakes making up with Michael ("Who's Michael?"), the reheasal leader, which then led to true animosity between Seacrest and Simon. Seacrest then forgot to announces the number for which to vote for Sellers; Sellers was mad. Of course, we returned from the commercial break with Seacrest awkwardly righting his wrongdoing. "Cute," yet last minute contestant, Tim Urban, singing the wrong notes to "Apologize" was the most unbelievably horrid performance of the night, all the judges seemed truly embarrassed that someone so untalented made it this far (and didn't get voted off during the results). No confidence, Alex Lambert, gave perhaps the most uncomfortable performance to watch Idol has ever offered. After 70's left-over Tyler Grady's outrageous "American Woman," the only two performances that even reached typical Idol quality were from Casey Jones and Andrew Garcia. Casey Jones's performance was, unfortunately, over-shadowed by Kara's uncomfortably obvious sexual attraction to him and Andrew Garcia, I'm afraid, will never live up to his ballin' cover of "Straight Up" during Hollywood week. Simon's obvious annoyance with the whole show was an underlying theme as well as his mutual hate for Seacrest which is clearly coming to a boiling part...and it's all live!
Thursday's results show offered even more signs of a crumbling giant. Firstly, the group number was terrible. Then there was the uncomfortable cut to Kara's husband...who was apparently there to stop his horny/crazy wife from jumping Casey Jones on the spot. The most disturbing, yet predictable, occurrences of the entire week, however, were the eliminations of Ashley Rodriguez and Joe Munoz. Although they both gave forgettable performances, their vocal abilities were definitely in the top half of this rag-tag group of contestants and really the only explanation for their departure is that America does not want a Hispanic Idol. There are people on this show that are far worse (but far white-er) then them, and it is truly a shame to see them go on while Ashley and Joe get sent home. As Ashley got pulled on to the stage as one of the last two girls with the obviously safe Didi Benami, her anger was fuming. It was much more than the usual disappointment you see as the hopefuls normally get sent home, Ashley was clearly doing all she could to quell her rage and not punch Seacrest in his much-deserving face. As Joe took the bad news with dignity, his parents' disappointment flooded into thousands of homes across America. But not disappointment for their son, disappoint for the fact that the Idol voters would rather vote for some cute white boy who can't sing, than their clearly more talented, Latino son. It was a sad week for American Idol and a sad week for America. I won't be surprised to see the semi-talented John Park (this year's only Asian) get booted next week.
As crazy as all this was, my biggest issue with Idol this year, is that they are encouraging the contestants to really make songs "their own," but it's not turning out well. Unlike fan favorites David Cook, Chris Allen, and Adam Lambert, this year's contestants just don't have the musical talent to make good versions of the songs we all know. Too many of the week's arrangements were over-the-top and unrecognizable. It really is ok to sing a song the way it was written, especially if you lack the ability to change it in a good way. Although, I wonder how much of the arrangement is dependent on the contestant or if the producers have something to do with it. The fact is that this year's batch of Idol hopefuls are barely passable contestants who mostly lack the musical training and talent to create their own arrangements, so lets stop this silliness right now! Actually let's just jump ahead to the top 5, because Lilly, Crystal, Didi, Casey, and Andrew are the only contestants who actually have a realistic chance of winning this thing...and Didi and Casey are pushing it.
I have to hand it to Ellen though, she is the only one holding this burning wreckage of a once great show together. Despite her lack of musical training, her comments are loaded with intelligence and humor that bring an interesting and entertaining element to the show, someone who truly stands their own against Simon. After the incredible mistake of allowing Kara to be a judge last season, bringing Ellen on to the show is the best decision the producers have made yet. She's certainly an upgrade from Paula. If this show continues on to a 10th season, it will be carried entirely on Ellen's back, and it has already got to be buckling with the weight of Randy and Kara already riding it. However, with Simon's announcement of this being his last season, I can't imagine this show returning next year and if it does it will be a seriously inferior reincarnation. As the great Randy Newman once sang, "The end of an empire is messy at best," and lucky for us, we get to see that mess televised three nights a week. (Speaking of Randy Newman, when are they going to have Randy Newman week on Idol?)
On November 22, 1963 John F. Kennedy was assassinated. A month later the Beatles's "I Want to Hold Your Hand" was released in America and after a few Ed Sullivan appearances the four lovable mop-tops pulled our grieving country out of a national depression. Eight years later, The Beatles had completely imploded, crumbled from the inside out, leaving behind a rich musical legacy that impacted our culture in a huge way. On September 11, 2001 terrorist forces destroyed the World Trade Center, perhaps the greatest tragedy in our nation's history. The following summer American Idol: The Search for a Superstar hosted by Ryan Seacrest and Brian Dunkleman premiered on Fox and pulled our grieving country out of another national depression. It is now eight years later. Now I'm not saying American Idol reaches anywhere near the greatness that is The Beatles, but history does repeat itself and Idol has made a huge impact on our culture, for better or worse. Now we just have to ride out its slow, inevitable decline. This season of Idol won't be good, but it will certainly be interesting. All things must come to an end, and although we had some fun moments with Ryan, Randy, and Simon, it's time to say goodbye.