May 21st, 2003

Well, it’s all but over. “American Idol,” that is. Nothing left but tonight’s announcement of the winner. And I think we all know how that’s going to go. The safe, white guy in a landslide. Yup, Clay will win, even though he should have been eliminated from the competition a week ago, and made that fact painfully obvious with each of his performances last night. Ruben, who was good, but not great last night (though still far better than the hollow competition) will be graceful in defeat. And I (thankfully) will never have to lay eyes or ears on any of the competitors again. This makes me incredibly happy.

I was reminded watching last night’s show of just how awful the whole “American Idol” thing is. (This is not a new realization. I’m just sort of re-annoyed by it this morning.) So here’s a show based on the horrible fact that the major labels and the corporate media can manufacture music stars out of whole cloth any time they feel like it. Look at last year’s AI winner, Kelly Clarkson, a woman who doesn’t have a lick of talent but still has an album on the charts. She didn’t fight her way up through a club scene, building an audience by making good records and touring relentlessly. She didn’t need people to turn their friends on to her music. She didn’t need to pound the pavement, flyering to promote shows in new cities only to have a half dozen people turn out. She won a contest and they made her a star. Nice work if you can get it, I suppose. But what a weird world it is where no only can these corporate interests create “our new American Idol” but can do it under the pretense that America is actually choosing for itself. As if there were any real, substantive difference between any of the contestants on this show. They’re all people who couldn’t make it on their own, have just enough raw ability (notice that I don’t say talent) to look and sound decent when everything possible is done to support them, and are perfectly content to make music for a living the way other people make cars or toaster ovens for a living (i.e. by following a set of instructions and doing what their bosses tell them, not by following a muse). The whole thing pretty much amounts to a big, public nose thumbing directed at those of us who still believe music ought to be more than a product you market to the hapless masses. I’ve had to remind myself that I only watch to see Simon tear into contestants periodically, which is easy to forget given that aside from one semi-critical remark to Clay (about his first song coming off like “American Idol, the musical), Simon might as well have been Paula last night.

Still, I’ve come this far, so I might as well say something about last night’s show. First and foremost, Clay should be thrown into a tank of hungry sharks. And whoever wrote that first song he sang last night should go in right along with him. Awful song. Awful performance. Makes me glad I won’t have to listen the record Clay will make after his inevitable victory. After that song, it just kind of got worse. I mean, man, I didn’t think I could hate “Here, There and Everywhere” more than I already did. I was wrong. And then there was “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” another fairly awful song that Clay managed to make even worse. This guy wouldn’t know heart or soul if it fell on him from out of a tree. He’s an imposter. He perfectly exemplified the difference between ability and talent. The guy hits all the notes in the right order. Usually sings all the right words, too. But there’s an emptiness to his singing that he has no ability ever to repair (OK, maybe if he were to experience some personal hardship, but that seems unlikely given that he’s about to have stardom handed to him). And he substitutes very staged, very stiff theatrics for stage presence. He’s a log, pure and simple.

I did realize recently that I’ve been somewhat off the mark in my assessment of Clay’s support, though. I’d previously believed that Clay’s backers were either drawn to the safe and bland (which I think is true of most of America) or (consciously or, more likely, unconsciously) racist. I no longer believe that. I mean, I still believe Clay’s followers include many people from both of those categories. Only, I need to add a third: the just plain old stupid. I have a tendency to forget how painfully dumb a lot of people are — until something happens to remind me. I’ve been reminded, so I have to point out that it’s not only possible but probable that there are people out there who are dumb enough to actually believe Clay has some talent. They’re still wrong, but they’re not necessarily lacking of palate or racist (though some may be either or both in addition to being stupid).

Ruben, as mentioned, was good last night, but not great. In fact, I think he just sort of walked through his first two songs and only turned it on for real for his last number. I don’t know if that was nerves, resignation (everyone else knows Clay’s gonna win; maybe Ruben does, too), or maybe overconfidence. The guy has that easy way about him when he’s on stage and it’s hard to tell if maybe he just thinks he’s got the thing wrapped up. If he were in any way aware of how much better he is than Clay, and foolish enough to believe that anything in America happens by way of pure merit, he’d have to believe he’s gonna win.

So this is probably the end of my weekly rants about AI, unless something happens tonight that I feel I absolutely have to respond to. Back to regular life. I’m gonna go listen to some real music now. You should maybe do the same. It’ll be cleansing.

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