I wrote last week about getting caught up in the talent and the excitement of American Idol. Of the reality shows, it is the least contrived: these are real people who care deeply about singing in a contest to determine who is some combination of the “best” and “most popular.” In theory, the judges are there to sort out the “best” part, the vast audience is there to determine the most popular.
Besides seeing some good young singers, last week’s show also had the advantage of some pretty juicy – and unforced – social interaction between the contestants, especially the conflict between Julia and Kimberly, high-strung budding divas repelling like similarly-charged magnets.
But that was last week. This week the first group of eight semi-finalists performed and with the viewers voting on their fate, the judges were reduced to mere commentators – Simon resents the advisory role and makes everyone well aware of his pique.
Since every one of these kids is bright-eyed and sincere, and since I can’t help but feel paternal toward them, the performances make me very squirmy: I want them all to do well, but like Simon and to a lesser extent Randy, I also can’t help but analyze their performances and every missed note or awkward phrase sends me spinning out of the room in an agitated blend of pity, sympathy, irritation, and empathy. I WANT them to be good, but mostly they are just okay, and to their credit, the judges said just this. Of those emotions, Paula is the avatar of sympathy and empathy, Randy a blend of empathy and irritation, and Simon oozes irritation, pity and the occasional surprised satisfaction: “That’ll do, pig.”
The interaction between the voters and judges is also interesting: the voters picked the three that the judges preferred – Kimberly, Julia, and the underdog Charles (from Oberlin, OH, yeay), who surprised everyone with his velvety Stevie Wonder groove – but pulled a reverse on the judges by picking Julia over Kimberly to move on to the finals.
The producers can’t seem to trust the real drama of the situation, though, and keep inserting artificial moments of tension, much to the discomfort of the poor drained contestants. If only two of the eight performers move on, why announce the top three vote-getters, jam them together, drag it out some more, then boot the third place singer into oblivion with nothing save a chance to make it to the finals as a wild card? This is just cruel.
The other problem is the singer’s choice of material: it’s just such icky pop schlock for the most part, but then I am not the target audience, that’s for sure, and showbizzy pop is what this nonsense is all about. It’s unclear whether this format will hold my interest, but since I already care about a lot of these contestants – the show’s trump card – I’m probably there for the duration. I feel like an idiot.