Pop Goes the Library

Using Pop Culture to Make Libraries Better.

by Sophie Brookover, Liz Burns, Melissa Rabey, Susan Quinn, John Klima, Carlie Webber, Karen Corday, and Eli Neiburger. We're librarians. We're pop culture mavens. We're Pop Culture Librarians.

2007-02-07

Confessions of an American Idol Virgin

Friendly readers of Pop, I have a confession: until last week, I had never watched an episode of American Idol. I can see you all clutching your pearls right now. I know, I know, it's shameful that I, know-it-all Pop Maven and Pop Culture Evangelist, have not been a devoted viewer since the days of Kelly & Justin, but there you have it. At first, I was too snobby ("Reality TV? Puh-leeze. It won't last!" -- Clearly, I was about 12 kinds of wrong, there). Then, I had a real excuse: AI judges & viewers were going ga-ga over the kind of vocalist who makes my toes curl: singers of the Diane Warren-worshipping, Celine Dion-imitating, 12-octave-range-cultivating, melisima-overusing school. With one notable exception (Classic Whitney Houston, and possibly, oh, let us all pray for it, the sans Bobby Brown Whitney Houston Of The Future) I cannot abide singing like that -- there's an overabundance of "emotion" in it, but no real soul. Give me some Aretha Franklin or Ronnie Spector any day over the cold vocal gymnastics of your average AI contestant.

Then, I got over my snobbishness, right around the time Kelly Clarkson's kickin' single "Since You Been Gone" hit the charts, but by that time, it was too late. I am married to an even bigger musical snob than I, and even if I'd been able to overcome his objections ("I'll TiVo it! I'll wear headphones while I watch it so you don't have to endure Simon, Paula, and Randy's fatuousness!"), there were competing TV interests in the same time slot. Gilmore Girls and Lost wins, AI loses. Except Lost has been on hiatus for a while, so I was able to surreptitiously record one episode -- the Hollywood auditions, and watch it. Herewith is my review:

My lord, this show is mean. I've always heard that Simon is famously mean, but I don't think so: he's just blunt. He clearly relishes being blunt, but seriously, the Parade Of The Deluded (TM David Cross) strutting across the screen -- that guy Eccentric, who referred to himself, without a trace of irony, as a panther? The engaged couple, one of whom openly propositioned Simon? -- what kind of response do they think they're going to get from him? (Ok, clearly they think they're going to get a "wonderful! You're in!" but this just shows how out of touch with reality they are, and that's pitiable.) I know that the bizarre behavior and obvious should-know-better behavior is supposed to be part of AI's charm, but I just found it cringe-inducing. I was embarrassed and sad for those people -- deluded & talentless singers they may be, but they are still people. I know that more than two or three of the 121 contestants made the cut in LA, but that's all we saw -- two or three good performances (the girl who sang "Feelin' Good" was particularly great, I thought -- go, Alaina!) and the rest of the hour was padded out with sad dreck.


Now, we have both a VCR and a TiVo, so I could record AI on the VCR and watch it, but should I bother? Pop readers, you have your assignment: convince me to carry on watching American Idol. Give me some good reasons -- not just "it's what all of America is watching, so you should, too." I can keep up to date with the show without watching by reading about it in Entertainment Weekly. Why should I watch, though? Convince me in the comments!

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7 Comments:

  • At 2:44 PM, Blogger Nanette said…

    Eh. I quit watching American Idol after season 2 ended. I always found the audition episodes the most entertaining (I love a good ol' fashioned delusional trainwreck), then I ended up fast-forwarding through most of the performances because I generally couldn't stand the songs the contestants were singing.

    I do keep up with it via Entertainment Weekly, and it seems like the cable clip shows (Best Week Ever, The Soup) provide a decent-enough condensed version to keep me up-to-date without having to sit through six mediocre versions of "My Heart Will Go On" or that awful Aerosmith ballad from the movie where an asteroid hits the earth or whatever. So at least I can participate in conversations about the show with a reasonable amount of background knowledge so I don't look like a complete ass.

    AI is, however, a bona fide pop cultural phenomenon that crosses all generations. My 81-year-old grandmother watches it, and so does my co-worker's 4-year-old daughter. It's not just a teen thing, which really fascinates me.

     
  • At 3:09 PM, Blogger Angel, librarian and educator said…

    Sorry, can't convince you. I am very proud of my AI "virginity" (or rather, that I have not been soiled by it). If I wanted to keep up, that's what the Internet is for. As for the people in it who get humiliated badly, as you say, they should know better. Way I see if you are not too bright to start with and then go on a reality show with some delusion, you deserve whatever you get.

     
  • At 4:15 PM, Blogger jamie said…

    I'm with the other commentors. You don't actually have to watch, just keep an ear to the ground. The Soup. The Daily Ten on E. Sometimes I have it on in the background. But watching it is painful to me as well, for all the reasons you mentioned.

     
  • At 6:10 PM, Blogger Sophie Brookover said…

    Huh, no support for viewing, eh? Interesting.

    I should mention that we are a cable-free household. We couldn't afford it for a while, and now that we can, we choose not to, because between our Netflix & our TiVo-ed shows, we have more than enough good TV to watch. I miss specific shows, like Deadwood, Project Runway, and Best Week Ever, but not cable as a whole. Actually, being a pop culture consumer without cable is a whole post in itself.

    I'm curious about the view that the contestants are getting what they deserve by being so horribly treated. I agree that The Deluded Masses are putting themselves out there, and I think it's fine to show their awful auditions and Simon's gleefully harsh criticisms. What I object to are the pre-audition interviews where they talk about their outrageous dreams and the fact that they've done nothing but train for the last two years for this Amazing Opportunity.

    To me, it's just pouring salt in the wound. It reminds me of what happened last spring when Library Journal ran the incensed letter from the person who was horrified by my holding a lighter aloft in my Movers & Shakers photo. I posted about it, there were lots of snickering comments, and then I started to feel queasy about the whole thing.

    Like, why did LJ run that letter? They could've just called me, and we could've had a chuckle, and I could have said, "you know, don't run the letter. Let's not hold this woman up to ridicule." But I didn't, and they did, and now I feel gross about it.

    I know AI contestants and the incensed-at-my-lighter woman are not perfectly analogous, but they are roughly analogous, and to me, that's my number one reason for continuing to avoid AI at this point: I've realized I'm just not a connoisseur of the trainwreck.

     
  • At 7:10 PM, Blogger melissa said…

    I don't watch AI either, and it's because I don't want to sit through the audition episodes and all the foo-faw. I mean, who has come out of AI and has created a successful music career for themselves?

    Kelly Clarkson's the only one, really, and she tied with Justin. Admittedly, she was on the first season, so she's had longer, but still. I just don't get the point for the show--I'd rather watch Dancing with the Stars, honestly.

     
  • At 10:42 PM, Blogger Susan said…

    I am a Pop Goes the Library contributor who has watched EVERY season of American Idol! CNN had an interesting article recently that said television executives refer to American Idol as the Death Star because it attracts 32 million viewers a week and crushes any competition in its timeslot. http://www.cnn.com/

    But why do I like AI? I like to see people become successful and make it big. Most importantly, I like their stories!

    I like the story about how a cocktail waitress from Texas with a big voice and a dream can become a Grammy Award winning singer (Kelly Clarkson).

    I like the story of the girl from the South Side of Chicago who gets nominated for an Oscar. (Jennifer Hudson). [I saw the movie. Hudson was great. Her performance got a standing ovation from everyone in the movie theater. I have never experienced that before. I thought I was at a Broadway play rather than in the Regal Cinema in New Brunswick, NJ.]

    Then there is the story about the high school drop-out and single teen mother who became an American Idol winner and had an inspirational book on the New York Time Bestseller “Life is Not a Fairy Tale" despite being functionally illiterate (Fantasia Barrino) http://www.www.simonsays.com/

    And to address Melissa’s comment about who has created a successful musical career for themselves besides Kelly Clarkson http://www.kellyclarksonweb.com/, here are just a few:

    Jennifer Hudson. Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in Dreamgirls http://www.oscar.com/

    Chris Daughtry. Currently #3 on the Billboard 200.http://www.daughtryofficial.com/.

    Carrie Underwood. Multiplatinum. Grammy nominated. Won Horizon Award and Female Vocalist of the Year at the Country Music Awards in 2006.http://www.cmt.com.com/.

    Diana DeGarmo. Starring in the Tony-Award Winning Play Hairspray in NYC.http://www.playbill.com.com/

    Ruben Studdard. R&B and Gospel Singer. Nominated for a Grammy Award. Started a foundation to bring music education to children.http://www.rubenstuddardfoundation.org/

    Yes, AI is sometimes mean. But sometimes so is big business. And I must admit, I often do agree with Simon.

    However, I don’t know if Simon would make a very good reference librarian. Imagine a reference interview conducted by Simon Cowell at your local library’s public service desk....

    SIMON: “Let me understand. You want to know the moose population of Alaska? Frankly, I just do not see the point. I’m sorry sweetheart. Good-bye.”

    SIMON looks up from reference desk at puzzled customer still standing there.

    SIMON: "Look, there's just nothing more to say about it. Please leave."

     
  • At 10:46 AM, Blogger Granny Sue said…

    I am a sometimes AI watcher. My granddaughter went to auditions this year in NY. What she learned was that it's a casting call--almost every person there coud sing beautifully, but what AI was looking for was specific characters to fill certain roles in the "cast" of contestants. I don't have a problem with that--it's their show. It did help me understand how and why those people got on there (think about it-always one overweight, one or two country, a hiphop, rocker, etc). My granddaughter sings country, not what they were looking for in NY. She's good, but so are thousands of others who try out. She had a great time, saw the sights, met some good people, and has no regrets. We all know more than we did, and don't bother to watch til it gets down to the final twelve when it is, finally, all about singing.

     

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