If you don’t watch “American Idol” you are excused from reading another word. I’ve simply given myself over to the cultural sluice on this one. Kate adores it, and so we watch. And I don’t mind — it’s entertaining in its own way, and if you don’t ask too much of it or yourself, it’s a very enjoyable ride for the viewer. Plus, it’s one of the very rare shows that the whole family can watch together, which is a huge part of its appeal. Just when you think the whole world of entertainment has been sliced and diced into niches, sub-niches and sub-sub-niches, along comes something that’s the 21st-century equivalent of “The Wonderful World of Disney,” only with Simon Cowell. That’s an improvement.
With all that’s written on the subject, I didn’t think there was much more to be said, but Virginia Heffernan manages to find a few more things to say, many of them amusing:
Mr. Cowell, the pitiless judge who still brings to the show the spirit of its British progenitor “Pop Idol,” seemed baffled by the piety Americans brought to the task of singing. Insisting that he wanted nothing but a vanilla hottie to showcase the Pygmalion talents of a guileful music packager, he still couldn’t stop them from singing their hearts out and thanking their moms and God.
To his credit, he eventually let himself be blown away. And he dropped Posh Spice as his paradigm of a musician, settling for Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles. (Mr. Cowell, we shouldn’t forget, used to package puppets, cartoon characters and wrestlers as pop stars; he is new to virtuosity.) He and his compatriots had apparently never tangled with contestants like Kelly Clarkson, who’d grown up singing country, or Ruben Studdard, who’d grown up singing gospel. As for the contestants in those early seasons, their sincerity never dropped.
And on everybody’s favorite barfly:
The most recent seemingly insuperable problems at “Idol” have not come at the hands of the stern father figure, Mr. Cowell, but from Ms. Abdul, his gentler counterpart. Known at the outset for her busty tops and sweet cheerleading — her “mom I’d like to sleep with” vibe — she has lately become a different kind of mother. Dazed, delirious, sulky, petulant, lascivious: she often looks tired and confused, running some words together and inventing others.
Two years ago, a contestant named Corey Clark said Ms. Abdul had courted him and then done him professional favors. ABC deemed the charges exciting enough to devote an ominous and moderately persuasive episode of “20/20” to them, which did double duty as a hit job for the network’s entertainment division.
No specifics seemed to stick to Ms. Abdul, who Fox maintained had done nothing wrong, but the aura of loucheness is almost palpable. Gone is the perky soccer mom with the ’80s dance moves. She now regularly wears the pliant smile, smeared makeup and bedroom eyes of a woman who’s about to pass out.
See, that’s what I mean about entertaining: Kate can appreciate the wholesomeness of the boy singers; Alan, our family’s only real musician, can groove on the finer points of the performances; and I, the sicko culture vulture, can wait for Paula to pass out.
I noticed, last week, the talent gulf in the women was embarrassing. Six skinny white girls who can’t project to the back rows of a powder room up against three or four ladies of color who blow the roof off the dump. Every girl wants to be told she’s beautiful, but is there any compliment more deflating than hearing Simon say, “At least you’re pretty”?
Last week the men sucked eggs, but they improved this week. I voted for the Hispanic kid who took on Nina Simon’s “Feeling Good.” Brave boy.
Now, I take my leave. I have to generate story ideas today, which requires two things: A hot shower and a little light exercise to oxygenate the brain. Please, post no Antonella Barba pix in the comments; we run a clean shop here.