Manic Pop Thrill

Three months of hate for American Idol come to an end

Max Sparber

American Idol has wound down, finally, last night it finally spun into nothingness. It is a show that I have watched for reasons other than those intended by the producers, and if I can sum it up in two words, after Paula Abdul, they would be schaden and freude ñ I watched the show for the queasy pleasure I got when people I disliked were finally ejected from the show; let me now paraphrase Ghengis Khan and say that it is not enough that Kelly Clarkson succeeds; all others must fail.

Indeed,the show began with schadenfreude for me ñ there was real, if despicable, joy in watching snippets from the reported ten thousand of notably awful hopefuls who tried out for the show, best summed up by the red-eyed, heavy lidded young man who worked his way, tunelessly, through a Christmas carol (“Sih-UHH-lent night, I said si-UHH-lent night.”) In fact, I could not believe that I would continue to watch American Idol after these deliriously entertaining performances. What could possibly compare with the these supremely talentless youngsters, who often credited God for their tuneless, uninspired renditions of pop songs. These same performers insisted on their genius,even when rebuked by the black-clad Simon Cowell (who seems to relish his position as America’s most hated critic, perhaps because he earned it simply by being snarkily honest). And there were moments of true greatness in the early episodes, such as a drag performer who declared “My name is Amnesia, and you’d best not forget it,” before launching into a torch song. And then there was Jaquetta, a self-admitted “big girl”with a gospel-trained voice to match, who made it, to her great surprise, through the initial selection process only to be stopped on the very next episode. She was, it turned out, too big.

From there, it was a weeding out process, which offered very few surprises,except for the fact that a small army of boy bands wannabes could remain in the competition, despite their inability to find a note, or, if found, maintain it. Cowell, as ever, remained unsparing, and managed to generate precious little excitement by arguing with his fellow judges (Paula Abdul even went so far as to hire a comedy writer to assist with her repostes, which, inevitably, went something like this: “This is what happens when you are breast-fed by your father”; Cowell eventually advised Abdul to sue her comedy writer.)

And so they went,one-by-one,the untalented,voted off by a fickle public with their autoredialer set to vote for their favorite contestant.And so the show became about watching those I despise disappear ñ a blandly attractive pair of fellows, for example, each saddle with initials rather than names: A.J. Gill and R.J. Helton.Week after week they remained on the show, and week after week I tuned in hoping they wouldn’t return. And eventually they didn’t, but, to my horror, the show’s two most distinctive voices also vanished: Those of Christina Christian (who possessed an overwhelming vibrato but an unearthly talent at phrasing her songs) and Tamyra Gray (who sang, and behaved, like the superstar she will soon be). Instead, a Texan with red hair and the voice of a cover band lead singer by the name of Nikki McKibbin, an old hat at this type of show, having appeared on the first season of Pop Stars,managed to warble her way into the top three.And I would have liked to stop watching the show after Tamyra Gray’s unjust ousting, but I had to remain, just to see McKibbin go.

Go she did, leaving just two, neither of whom I was particularly interested in. There was Justin Guarini, who looked like Sideshow Bob and performed like Tom Jones, crooning his way pleasantly through a series of soul songs,winking and gesturing to girls in the audience,who would let out an elongated “Eeee!” in response.And there was Kelly Clarkson,who didn’t have anything like Tamyra Gray’s astounding stage presence (Clarkson’s performances mostly consisted of finding people she knew in the audience, and then waving happily at them, like a performer in a State Fair talent show). But Clarkson does have a voice comparable to Gray’s ñ she sings with the unexpectedly power of a soul shouter, roaring her high notes with such gusto that it seemed the first few rows of live viewers would be carried up by her voice and blown to the back of the auditorium.Clarkson managed,as one of her final performances, to do the impossible: She performed a distinctive, credible, and entirely enjoyable rendition of “Respect,” a song so associated with Aretha Franklin that it is virtually impossible to listen to another singer attempt the song with comparing them ñ badly ñ against Franklin’s version. But Clarkson attempted it, even with a voice that three months of constant singing have begun to ruin,and she compared favorably. For that alone she deserved to win the competition,while Guarini packed his bags for his next destination, which will undoubtedly be Brasnon,where he has quite a future ahead of him singing to the elderly,who will adore him.

As for me ñ I did not hate Clarkson or Guarini, and so I watched their final, occasionally embarrassing performances (they fumbled, badly, with a pair of terrible songs written specifically for them) more out of a sense of duty than anything else.After three months, how could I not, even if,when there was nobody left on American Idol to hate, there was nobody left worth watching?