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TV Review: American Idol – Was the Show Off Key on Tuesday Night?

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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. 

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About Chancelucky

  • http://tvandfilmguy.blogspot.com TV and Film Guy

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  • http://blogcritics.org/ Phillip Winn

    I rolled my eyes when Chris pulled that nonsense out. And I wasn’t rolling my eyes at the VTech students or families — I was rolling my eyes at Chris, who deserved it. I laughed when I saw Simon rolling his eyes, too.

    Then he apologized after the commercial break, and I rolled my eyes again.

    Then there was the producer saying Simon wasn’t rolling his eyes at Chris, but at Paula. Or, rather, at Chris, but about what he’d already said, not what he was saying right then. I didn’t believe it.

    Then Simon said the same thing on the show, and I still didn’t believe it. I didn’t care — remember, I rolled my eyes, too — but I didn’t believe it.

    Then they showed the footage from the Simon-cam. And I’ll be darned it Simon wasn’t telling the truth! He really didn’t seem to be rolling his eyes at the self-aggrandizing statement, but at the earlier “whining is in style” statement. Amazing.

    And yeah, I deliberately misquoted the whining Chris. Go ahead, roll your eyes.

  • http://blogcritics.org/ Phillip Winn

    P.S. Did you notice that they used subdued music on Tuesday night during the intro and outro? Same video, different audio. Back to normal on Wednesday.

  • http://www.chancelucky.blogspot.com chancelucky

    Phillip,
    I hope your eyes are now getting some rest after all that rolling. ONe of the odd things to me (I’m sort of trained to look at stuff like this) is that the Simon Cam bit they used totally blanked out Paula’s face. The split shot could easily have been moved to the upper right hand corner.
    It’s a little odd to be showing a conversation and to obscure the other participant in the conversation when you don’t have to.

    I did think Chris went off script a bit….I think the idea was for Ryan to make his statement and then the show would go back to business. But who knows?

    My main point was that the show could have used its huge audience to put music to a better use.

  • JJ

    The problem Philip is that you are assuming that Simon rolled his eyes for the same reason that you did. So therefore if that’s possible then Simon must have lied etc. But you failed to realize that it’s possible that he rolled his eyes for some completely differently reason. Like the fact that Chris’s excuse that he sang nasal was a style was so unbelievable that Simon was caught up in it. While you rolled your eyes at Chris getting sympathy, I rolled mine at Chris excusing his terrible singing.

    Notice how you didn’t want to believe it. You again assumed they were lying.

    The fact is that a lot of other people watched that same footage and it’s obvious that Simon WAS telling the truth. After you said this, I re-watched the same footage about 5 times and in no way could I find where there was any proof that Simon rolled his eyes about the VT thing. Actually it’s the other way around. Because he talked with Paula about the Nasal voice, it made complete sense that is what it was about.

    If it weren’t for people like this on the net, there would be a lot less chaos.

  • http://www.chancelucky.blogspot.com chancelucky

    JJ,
    I’m sorry, I’m a little confused by your last line….Who does “this” refer to? and there’s sort of a double negative in there.

    Not meaning to sound like the grammar nazi, really just interested in what you’re trying to say there.

    My take remains that the little exchange going off script with the producers’ game plan just sort of threw everyone and threw a spotlight on how strained the whole reality vs. reality tv bit was on Tuesday night. It doesn’t matter if Chris’s thing was heartfelt or vote-getting or if Simon was rolling his eyes at dead people, voter manipulation, or lame excuses for bad singing.

    The fact that the show spent so much time on the matter on Wednesday, tells me how pitchy the whole thing played at least in the producers minds.

  • Derek

    I watched that american idol simon does that all the time in the uk and that singer only did that speech to get votes he was using that what happened in that college four his own benifit because he cant sing fact and thats the only way he could get though to the next weeks show i could not care what happens to simon or that singer they are both talentless.

  • ghrtt3

    It’s a silly third rate talent show this year. Don’t try to read anything psychologically or of any other significance or seriousness into the program.

    American Idol is a piece of fluff, there are no subliminal messages or encoded societal themes. Nor is it a representation of America, or a commentary of American values and/or ideals.

    The program is all surface, no depth. American Idol is only meaningful to those that make money off of it and the contestants, most of whom will never have a career in music.

  • http://www.chancelucky.blogspot.com chancelucky

    Derek,

    I tend to agree about Chris, but Simon actually has some talent as a “judge” on a tv reality show. It’s a bit weird, but I look at other shows with similar formats and no one seizes the camera and the audience quite the way he does.

    ghrtt3,

    there’s sometimes a difference between what’s intended and resonances that just happen to be there. I would agree with you that the show’s producers mostly will do whatever gets ratings, but the path there has included a very good ear for how to play with some American cultural contradictions.

    It’s one of the reasons old sitcoms often pick up tensions of American culture in the sixties much better than more serious plays, books, stories, etc. I don’t think anyone was writing manifestoes….they were just trying to write things that large numbers of people would respond to, but there’s often tremendous skill in that.

  • daluz

    yes i was offended by your comment about the kid doing it to get sanjaya booted off.. awful why even mention it… im sick to my stomach

  • Derek

    I said that because it is true people want fame more then doing the music nowadays that speech didnot come from the heart i think simon did him a favour by rolling his eyes back it just might of won him that show.

  • http://chancelucky.blogspot.com Chancelucky

    Daluz,
    Is the joke any worse than possibly using a reference to the deaths as a way to get votes on the show?

    I said it to make a point about how “media” culture and its relationship to real life have gotten strained.

    Derek,
    thanks for the explanation.

  • Derek

    I didnot use that reference that singer did i didnot want to upset enenybody with my comments i love american singers but this american idol is so bland you should have x factor in america i think you would find real talent though that i dont no if you so are uk version.