The Idol topic of the moment appears to be Simon Cowell’s eye roll after Chris Richardson said that he wanted to dedicate his performance Tuesday night to his many good friends at Virginia Tech. Richardson had just gotten beaten up by the judges for his performance of a song about wanting to be back with Opie, Andy, Barney, and Aunt Bea. It hardly seemed to be the sort of song one would dedicate to friends under such somber circumstances. Richardson also could possibly have said his bit before singing instead of after. Of course, it’s not clear if it was either possible to change his song to some more broken-hearted country dirge, say Patsy Cline, or if he could have said anything before his performance.
In any case, Chris’s “dedication” had the unfortunate feel of being a vote-getting ploy because of the way he wound up doing it. Simon maybe shouldn’t have rolled his eyes (if that’s in fact what the eye roll was about), but I did too. My guess is that Chris didn’t intend it that way, it just sort of came off like that.
The whole incident was one of those reminders about how tricky it can be when reality intrudes on reality TV. One of my first non-serious thoughts after hearing about the shootings was “Oh my God, what if the guy did it to protest Sanjaya Malakar’s staying on the show.”
How’s that for taking some of the heat off of Simon and Chris here? I apologize to anyone I offended with that, but I’m sharing it to make a point. Do we have too many ways to “escape” in our culture or not enough of them, and what is the proper role of reality TV in our lives at times like this?
As I went for my afternoon walk today, it did occur to me that there might have been better ways for the show to deal with the news. I did think Ryan’s pre-broadcast message was fine, but maybe a quick group sing of something like “Amazing Grace.” recorded by any number of country artists or even a moment of silence with pictures of the Blue Ridge mountains playing on the screen might have worked better. In exchange, they could easily have cut down on some of the banter or maybe edited some of the coaching bits. Idol consistently equates the show itself with "America" and what "America" wants and feels. So why not?
Instead, there was this odd tension between “business as usual” on the show and the obvious fact that this show claims to be “ordinary people” singing their way to celebrity, and thus a bit more connected to the actual world than say a laugh-tracked episode of Two and a Half Men. In particular, I think the judges didn’t get the fact that the live audience kept giving the singers standing ovations not because they loved the music or the performances, but because they were trying to show a kind of solidarity about “keeping America entertained” on a night where a little diversion couldn’t hurt.
The show’s producers are usually almost telepathic about complex cultural messages, but the irony is that they totally underestimated the social power of music this time. They had a chance to use the show to heal, yet I’m mostly left with the Simon-Chris eye roll controversy. It's sad, particularly given how religious some of the contestants appear to be this year. I'm not blaming them; it was really more the way the show missed the opportunity.
It’s an eerie coincidence that “Idol Cares” just happens to be next week’s theme. My question right now is how well does Idol help us feel? Music isn’t just about making money or even making dreams come true. It’s also about healing and recharging the spirit. One reason I write about the show is that I love music because of the power it has in our lives. I'll confess that I sometimes use my reviews to discuss what's possible in music vs. what's on the show. It’s sad to me that the producers of Idol this Tuesday night missed how much music can matter and how it really can make a difference without resorting to corporate tie-ins for every vote on the show.Powered by Sidelines