American Idolatry

We came late to the American Idol party, starting to watch the show in it’s fifth season, the one that crowned Taylor Hicks (Soul Patrol) as the year’s Idol. We got hooked pretty quickly - I’m a sucker for the whole rags to riches thing that Idol does so well, taking these kids from nowheresville and helping them fulfill their musical dreams. My husband, singer extraordinaire that he is, likes to study and critique the performances. He is definitely more merciful than Simon Cowell ever was, but only just. Speaking of Simon, I was thrilled when he left the show. His particular brand of snarky negativity does nothing for me, and the lackluster talent that “won” the show during most of his time there seems to indicate that it isn’t all that conducive to choosing or cultivating good performers either.  I wasn’t altogether sure about Steven Tyler of Jennifer Lopez in the beginning, but I have been impressed by their musical judgment and even more so by their heartfelt support of each contestant. Lopez, in particular, has shown a side of herself I never dreamed existed, a  maternal attitude coupled with some rather astute advice. In fact, in another life, she would have made a pretty decent high school music teacher (and I bet she would have had more boys in her choir than any teacher in history!)  Although this year’s judging has sometimes been a bit too heavy on the adulation and too light on the education, the presence of straight talking record producer/mentor Jimmy Iovine levels everything out quite nicely.

In the early years of my viewing history, I’d sometimes got completely incensed with the voting decisions that sent home great performers like Katherine McPhee, Jennifer Hudson, Chris Daughtry, or Adam Lambert. But I’ve since learned that being crowned the winner is no guarantee of success and that real talent usually wins out in the end, as the success of those “losers” listed above proves so well.

So I’m much more sanguine about the whole process.

Which brings us to last night’s episode.

This year’s group has been exceptionally talented, and the remaining three contestants could each qualify for the title. I had my projected winners for the finale show  - Joshua Ledet and Phillip Phillips - simply because it seemed their fan base was the largest (as evidenced by the hometown hero celebrations that were aired during the performance show on Wednesday). And I projected Joshua to win the whole thing, but narrowly, because Georgia native Phillip has such a humongous number of young girl groupies who hold speed dial voting parties all over the south.

But I was knocked off my pins last night when it turns out Joshua was sent home, leaving 16 year old Jessica Sanchez to battle it out with Phillip in next week’s finale.

“Well that just sucks,” my husband grumbled, more nonplussed by the outcome than I was. (Remember, I’m sanguine about it now.) “I just don’t get this show sometimes,” he continued. "Why do they let it all depend on people voting? Why don’t the judges have some say in the final outcome? That would seem more fair to me."

“Would it really?” I asked, tongue in cheek. “What’s the title of the show after all - it’s American Idol, and here in America we believe in the power of the people to decide."

“Well, we all know where that gets us in politics too,” he said.

It’s true - sometimes “the people” don’t make the best decisions. We vote with our hearts and not our heads. After all, the millions of young girls who vote repeatedly for Phillip Phillips probably aren’t thinking as much about his vocal ability and how it will stand the test of time as they are about his laid back southern style and shaggy sex appeal.

But after all, isn’t that a big part of the American experience too? That ordinary people like Phil and Joshua and Jessica can suddenly achieve their most outrageous dream and become huge stars literally overnight.

Where else but in America would you expect that to happen?

Power to the people indeed.