Thursday, March 11, 2010

A New Low for American Idol

I know that's an ambiguous headline. I could be talking about the hightened tapioca inanity of the judges' comments last night (Simon excepted), which kind of boil down to "You were bad but you could be good and you're cute but you chose the wrong song and you deserve to be here but you don't, because if we admitted how bad you really were we'd have to admit we blew it. I mean -- we picked you out of hundreds of thousand of singers. And an epic fail like that doesn't exactly boost ratings."

I could also be talking about last night's guys, who with one exception were flat, boring, soulless and out of tune. It would make sense, since I can't remember a more dismal group.

But that's not what I'm talking about and neither are the grating re-cycled "this is my dream" sound-bites that precede every clunking performance. Pick a better dream dude.

Or better yet -- wake up.

No, I'm talking about one performance in particular, and the judges' response to it. The culprit is John Park, a nice looking but talentless young man who chose to perform one of the greatest works of art of the 20th century (and I mean all the arts -- stack it in there with Christo's wrapped cathedral and Guernica and Death of a Salesman; with Falling Water and Top Hat and The Great Gatsby) I'm talking about Billy Holiday's searing anthem to self-reliance, "God Bless the Child".

There was so much wrong with that segment, it's hard to know where to start. The kid had no business even trying to scale that mountain. He sang it with no heart, no feeling, no sense tht he'd ever had to take the left-overs from a rich relative's table -- and, like so many of the other boys -- with no rhythm and no tune. The song was barely recognizable ... that may have been the best thing about John Park's performance.

But it got worse. None of the judge's mentioned Billie Holiday. I found this particularly offensive since one of the standard critical tropes since the beginning of American Idol has been for the panel to say stuff like "That's a Mariah Carey song. You got to bring it when you try a song that big. That's a lot to live up to, dog" and "All I could hear was Celine Dion, honey. She owns that song" or "That sounded like a karoake version of Whitney Houston. You brought nothing of your own to it."(For extra points, guess the judges)

But when it's a Billie Holiday song, the greatest singer in Jazz history, who makes Whitney Houston (Or Diana Ross who attempted to play her in the execrable biopic) sound like big-throated school girls taking a solo at the chorus concert, no one says a word. Maybe Billie Holiday doesn't register with those people, maybe they don't care.

But I do, and this was the moment where American Idol jumped the shark for me. I don't think I'll be watching it any more. Instead, I think I'll take out my 1937 Count Basie recordings and check out Lester Young making some real music with Lady Day.

That's a lot to live up to, dog.

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