Thursday, May 22, 2008

American Idol Wrap-up

Well, American Idol is over for the season, and the right person won, much to everyone's amazement. By the time they got to the announcement, at the end of a lavish two-hour variety show spotlighting over-the-hill singers as diverse as Bryan Adams, Graham Nash, George Michael and Donna Summer, I had almost forgotten the point of the evening. I never vote myself. That's a line I can't being myself to cross. Voting would somehow be going over to the Dark Side.

I remain a neutral observer. Still, it came down this year to a choice between David Cook, a genuinely talented, bright, amusing guy who never even intended to enter the competition (he just showed up at the initial audition to support his brother) -- an actual musician with some measure of charm and charisma ... and David Archuleta, a creepy 17-year old choirboy homunculus with a demented stage Dad and a tendency to squeeze his eyes shut and clutch his stomach while he sings. This kid has basically wanted nothing else but TO BE THE NEXT AMERICAN IDOL since his days as the first karaoke fetus. (He may still be the first karaoke fetus). Preteen girls -- who must make up a majority of the voting audience -- find his neutered threatless self-effacing persona attractive. And of course, he can sing. Technically, he's one of the best singers they've ever had on the show. But there's an unformed, sort of ... larval quality about him that most adults found vaguely repellent. Anyway, he's been the preumptive winner since the creepy afternoon seven years ago when he trapped some of the kids from the first season and serenaded them with his inhuman prodigy version of I am Telling you I'm Not Going from Dreamgirls. It's on youtube. You see the wormy little boy bellowing out the melodramatic finale that's meant to be sung by a huge black woman and you can see Kelly Clarkson thinking "Whoa, thank god I'm not going have to compete with this freak! I'm smiling, I'm clapping okay? Now get him the hell away from me."

Archulleta has been twirling through his performances in a kind of smug I've-already-won-it fugue state, lapping up the robotic, predictable condensed milk praise of the judges (Randy: "You could sing the phone book, Dawg" Yes, but could he sing the yellow pages? Paula: "You're just so beautiful and wonderful and I could hang you on my rear view mirror to make my car smell all musical and I'm so high I can't even see straight right now." Simon: "That was brilliant."). Cook meanwhile, just performs his ass off and has a good time.

So we were all gritting our teeth, waiting for the inevitable, consoling ourselves that even second place finalists do very well (sometimes better than the winners) in the real world of record sales. And then, in a startlingly appropriate reversal that seemed to set the Universe right for a second or two, Cook won it. He was as stunned as everyone else. I hate to think what Archuleta's father said to his son after the show: "You didn't sing it the way I told you! You didn't smile enough!Your phrasing was off! You've ruined my life! Can you dance? I'll teach you to dance! There's a dance contest starting next week! Toe heel, toe heel, back forward -- come on DO IT!"

Cook had to sing the usual treacly winners' song, supposedly written by Idol viewers and chosen in a contest, but in fact manufactured on some Orwellian 'versificator' machine that assembles standarized chord changes, familiar melody lines and trite sentiments for the consumption of the proletariat masses (The usual sludge about dreams coming true and this is the best moment of my life and whatever), but he was too dazed to really care. I felt the same way. When they announced the winner I yelled "YES!" so loud I scared my normally unflappable pug, who must now be convinced that humans really are insane. Well, I have seven months to redeem myself, reading books and watching the Weather Channel, until Idol starts all over again in January.

I hope it's enough time.