REALITY CHECK

REALITY CHECK

Looking back over my last few posts, I realize this blog is in serious danger of turning into some gooey “I’m happy and in a wonderful relationship and have nothing to talk about but myself”-type snoozefest. So it’s in that spirit that I’ve decided that today’s post should tackle a serious issue of critical importance to our future as a society, a country, a humankind…

“American Idol”, you’ve gone too far!!!!

“Idol” has always exhibited a fondness for meat-grinding its youthful contestants’ emotions to create suspense for the viewing audience, but last night laid waste to whatever claim the show still held on being light, escapist entertainment. Over the course of the hour, the judges cut half the kids who didn’t get cut the last time they cut half the kids. It was all orchestrated in a way obviously designed to maximize its cruelty and the sadistic thrill the audience would feel in watching scores of fragile young dreams get shattered on FOX TV. Seriously, how is this legal and public executions aren’t?

Last night saw about 80 vulnerable young hopefuls herded into four different hotel rooms like tearful, Alicia Keys-warbling cattle. They were apparently left completely without furniture, food, water, natural light or any instructions about what was to come, much like Turkish prisoners or hurricane victims. They had nothing to do but sit on the floor and await their doom for what seemed like days, if not months. You half expected to come back from commercial break to find that they’d reverted back to a feral state, clawing each other’s eyes out and rolling around in their own filth.

Instead, the cameras loomed over the frightened, uncertain faces of the contestants as they simultaneously imagined what the cover art on their first album would look like and rehearsed their phone calls home to Mom telling her what time the loser vans were heading to LAX. It was a cruel smackdown for a bunch of talented kids whose only crime was being brave enough to dream.

If it seemed a little reminiscent of “Schindler’s List”, it probably wasn’t an accident. Remember the scene in Spielberg’s Holocaust epic where the Nazis led a bunch of women into a shower room, and the women had no idea if they were about to be washed or gassed? Well, at least in the movie, they didn’t have to put up with a lot of sanctimonious babble from Paula Abdul before the water got turned on.

It wasn’t enough for the kids to suffer the agony of waiting. First, Randy and Paula (Simon was apparently busy with whatever in his life is more important than “American Idol”, most likely a plain black t-shirt fitting or an eyebrow plucking) had to torment them a little more. Paula summoned her best crocodile tears and told them how hard it was having to cut people who are so talented and who work so hard. The cameras quickly zoomed in to get a couple of close-ups of the crushed, devastated faces of the anguished kids. But wait a second! She wasn’t talking about these kids. She was talking about the kids in the other room! Psyche! Even the winners were made to think they’d lost, just because the show is only happy lately when it’s crushing dreams.

It’s a wonder they didn’t go all-out and pull the reverse trick on the people they were about to cut. “I’m so excited to come here and tell you that you are all so fantastic that you’ve been promoted directly to the finals!” Wait for screams, cheers, hugs, and tears of sheer, unbridled euphoria. “Oops, sorry. I thought this was Room 3. You guys got cut. Ha, ha!”

If you boil it down, “American Idol” isn’t really about promoting talent. It’s about torture, and about finding one person to make famous and 99,999 people who would’ve been much happier becoming mid-level executives and high school music teachers and trash collectors and giving them a lot of false hope that taints everything they do for the rest of their lives with the faint whiff of failure. Kelly Clarkson and Clay Aiken may have careers for the next 10 years or so, but who’s there to pick up the pieces for every Justin Guarini and Jon Peter Lewis left in their wake?

I’ve been a loyal “Idol” viewer from the very beginning, watching all 14 hours a week, season after season. Back when it began, the show was unknown, and the talent pool was considerably smaller. So we ended up with finalists like Jim Verarros and Ryan Starr, who probably deserved to be tortured, but who for the most part were treated well. Then, after the show became the most important cultural event in all of human history, the network apparently handed an executive producer position to the Marquis de Sade. Don’t be surprised if, by season 10 or so, those poor, talented kids have to enjoy Chinese water torture or a swarm of deadly vipers while they’re awaiting the news of whether they’ll get to move onto the semifinals and sing for guest judges like Ashford & Simpson.

If there’s one thing the producers have proven, there’s no depth too low, no mind trick too heartless, no soul too precious to crush in their attempts to squeeze a little bit more tension out of the helpless young human beings they use as ratings fodder. Forget “Fear Factor”, forget “Who’s Your Daddy” and “The Littlest Groom” and “Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire”. “American Idol” is as low as TV gets, the sickest, cruelest, most depraved form of so-called “entertainment” yet devised by the human race.

But yeah, I’ll still watch. I mean, I’ve gotta see who wins, right?

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