January 18, 2007

Why I Don't Get "American Idol"

OK, I'll admit that I've come late to the table for successful shows in the past and ended up kicking myself for not signing on sooner. The best example of this is "24", where this season is the first one I've actually watched as it's first being broadcast.

But I have to say that I really don't understand why so many viewers are compelled to tune into "American Idol" week after week to watch what - IMO - is nothing more than a version of "The Gong Show" that actually takes itself seriously.

It almost seems that there are two kind of TV viewers in the world - those who enjoy watching other people being embarrassed and humiliated and those (like myself) who not only take little pleasure in this but actually feel a certain level of discomfort in watching things that have such a high degree of "the wince factor".

To me, that's what "American Idol" is all about. And I really don't get people who like this sort of thing. Yes, in the end there is an excitement about the competition of the finalists and the eventual winner. Viewers seem to pick contestants like horses and root for them for as long as they're in the race. But if that's the really satisfying part, why not just start with the finalists - those who clearly have the talent to make the final cut? Why show the ones who by any objective standards have absolutely no qualifications to be in this competition. Just to torture them on national television? Do the people who select them to audition for Cowell and Co. have a streak of sadism in them that borders on the sociopathic?

Newsweek online has some observations from a correspondent that just earned the "AI" assignment who had never really watched it before. Here is part of his assessment:

'I was stunned by the show’s casual cruelty, and I’m not talking about Simon Cowell’s famous tongue-lashings. Obvious rejects—the sad, deluded, tone-deaf dreamers—were permitted to hang themselves for a full, painful minute or two, even though their awfulness stopped being funny after about 20 seconds. The first featured auditioner of the night, a sweet-looking blonde girl from Minnesota named Heather, who wasn’t awful—just ordinarily untalented—crumbled to her knees after the judges sent her packing and began begging, “Oh, please, please…,” then walked away sobbing. Watching her, I felt physically uncomfortable, like an uninvited guest in her house, invading her privacy. I kept thinking, “Which part of this is supposed to be fun?”'
He goes on to describe how rejected contestants are often shown trying to unsuccessfully push through the wrong door to escape this humiliation, as if to confirm the person's ineptitude. Sounds pretty awful to me.

Look, I don't mean to criticize the fans of the show. But for a while I was beginning to wonder whether or not I was being too harsh on "AI", not having really watched all that much of it. But the piece above kind of reinforces what I had suspected about the show - that the bulk of this phenomenon is centered on taking an hour out of one's week to stop and watch the talent show equivalent of a nasty car-wreck.

I'll continue to pass on this.

UPDATE 1/19/06:
Lorie Byrd offers another perspective on the early smackdowns:

"[Simon] Cowell is sometimes incredibly rude, but what makes him really different from most on television is that he tells people the hard truth as he sees it, without apology. Today childrenÂ’s sports are often played without keeping score, lest one team have to lose. In a world where it is not uncommon for each and every child on a sports team to get a trophy so that no one is made to feel left out, Cowell provides a breath of politically incorrect air. He reminds viewers that not only can everyone not win, but that everyone does not deserve to win."
Point taken. However, it doesn't make it any easier for me to watch.

Posted by: Gary at 09:30 AM | Comments (2) | Add Comment
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1 Well, the audition rounds aren't representative of the show, nor are they the reason anybody I know of watches. Having said that, I was extremely annoyed with last season's show -- particularly after Carrie Underwood. If the final contestants aren't a great deal better, this will be the last season I watch. And just for the record, I'm with Cowell. There's nothing cruel about telling some idiot who doesn't even sound human that they can't sing and to hang it up. Every year watching the auditions, I wonder where these peoples' friends and parents are, and how they ever were allowed to get the impression they were talented. Good for Simon Cowell.

Posted by: rightwingprof at January 19, 2007 11:06 AM (o7KrD)

2 They need The Unknown Comic or Gene Gene the Dance Machine.

Posted by: GroovyVic at January 19, 2007 11:17 AM (GKKlf)

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