First, I skipped last week which featured more good songs than any Idol
telecast I can recall:
the improbably great "This Love"
"She Works Hard For The Money"
"Nutbush City Limits"
"I'm A Woman"
a decent Walter Murphy-hooked Robin Thicke songs (my students adore this guy but I find him a D'Angelo wannabe and I've always had problems with D'Angelo's skeletal R&B to begin with)
"I (Who Have Nothing)"
Let's address this last one. Simon fretted that it was too adult for her, ignoring the immediacy of its crowd-pleasing melodramatics. But won't the Idol
mafia fit her for an Adult Contemporary straitjacket now that she's taken the cake? Instead of letting her be a teenager (in spirit) a la Britney Spears or Pink, they'll steer her towards big, grownup ballads a la LeAnn Rimes or Mariah Carey (or early Kelly Clarkson or Taylor Hicks or, um, Daughtry). So all this cant about remaining teenage is hot air.
I mean, did you hear that horror that won the songwriting contest? Poor Blake - saddled with such garbage, what could he do but smile through it and look forward to his guest spot with abortion foe Doug E. Fresh (dream conversation: "Sorry, Doug - I don't beatbox with anti-choice zealots. Got Biz Markie's number?" Actually, Biz might be anti-choice as well but at least the genius didn't rap about it
). But this kind of vacuous shit is perfect for the sparkless Sparks who took it to the Oscars towards the end by choking up a bit. The judges (esp. Randy) love her because she's blandly moldable and young enough for the molding to pay off longer than it would with Melinda Doolittle. But good music? Hey, the show's over.
My hope is that Sanjaya breaks out from all this and creates some fucked-up masalas - Cornershop with a Britney Spears brattishness, I'm conjuring up in my sick rock crit fantasies. He certainly was the highlight in what amounted to the dreariest finale show yet. Sure, Tony Bennett took everyone to school and Bette Midler had some mic problems (I hope). But that's barely tomorrow's water cooler fodder. The evening was simply too even-keeled overall. I kept waiting for a Prince to sweep me off my feet. Even Joe Perry whipped up a big whoop next to Sanjaya (nice geetar, though). And all that the lovely but predictably arranged (oh wow! end on "With A Little Help From My Friends" - how novel!) Sgt. Pepper
medley proved was how hard it is to fuck up such gorgeous melodies. Carrie Underwood seemed properly stunned by the beauty of "She's Leaving Home" and Ruben Studdard didn't look one bit silly singing about "cellophane flowers of yellow and green" (well, maybe a little bit...).
In short, I think Idol
is starting its downward climb. But it's not just due to all of the above nor my displeasure in Sparks' victory. From gee-whiz backup singer Doolittle to Sir Mix-A-Lot sparring partner Lewis, the show's millions of viewers are now fully aware of an echelon of popular music populated with once-weres and hopefuls barely scraping by. And it diminishes the Preston Sturges-like quality that makes the show so bracing to watch. Religious nuts, fat people, Sanjaya, even shitty singers (e.g. William Hung) try not to waste their big chance and the resulting struggle makes for television more gripping than any cops-docs-lawyers hour-long. But now that a certain level of professionalism has been introduced from the get go, the drama necessarily loses some of its lift. That's why it was hardly surprising to see the footage of Jordin Sparks on American Juniors
(look it up). But it's still a bummer - she was clearly groomed for victory in a way that Fantasia was not.
That doesn't render Fantasia more authentic (gawd forbid); it just makes her story more interesting. So yeah sure, I'll take it in next year and the year after that (and after that?). I watch so little TV that as a budding media scholar, I gotta keep my toes in somewhere beyond The Simpsons
. But even the reality TV format will atrophy (if it hasn't already - witness the "when I call your name, step forward" routine on that Spielberg-sponsored movie show afterwards last night...strictly Snoozeville). But it's the kind of showbiz head starts outlined above that will quicken the genre's demise.