Friday, April 27, 2007

An Idol Ex-STARVEaganza (American Idol 6 Review)

The Grameen Foundation

When Elvis was singing with Celine Dion was I the only one who was wondering which one was digitally reanimated? Personally I thought there was enough cheese on Idol turns into a telethon to feed all of Africa and maybe Teri Hatcher too. Someone on one of the boards mentioned that she looked like Michael Jackson and that was actually the first time I realized that this was Ryan's "ex-girlfriend".

I'm not at all sure what to make of Idol's split personality this season. During the audition rounds that started with Simon and his Bush Baby comment and ended with naked pictures of Antonella Barba all over the internet, the season started with a mean-spirited sometimes sleazy edge that even Sherman Pore, the older man who got to sing a song for the judges, couldn’t soften. In fact, one of the few signs of any kind of gentle spirit at that point in the season came from the way Sanjaya Malakar dealt with his older sister Shymali when she got cut in Hollywood. At that point, no one had heard Sanjaya sing in front of a large audience or about other things about the family for that matter.

Anyway how did that leadup segue into 6 Idols wandering the stage in white suits while Ryan and the judges survey hunger, poverty, AIDS, etc. and urge America to show they care by giving all their spare change? I really couldn’t tell you, but one of the remarkable things about the show is the way that Idol serves as a cultural “Big Tent” in some pretty ingenious ways. While the Simpsons do Idol with Marge channeling Randy, Lisa doing the Paula Seal Clap, and Homer doing Simon snark was by far the cleverest bit on the show (in fact it was the only thing intended to be funny Wednesday night that actually was funny), I think Carrie Underwood’s “Back to Africa” video caught the peculiar iconography of Idol Cares best.

First, I think it was an important thing that 30 million plus Americans had to watch video of the realities of world poverty both in Africa and the United States. It was one of the first times that reality tv has ever seemed connected to the real world and its critical that that happen more not less. If it comes with promos for the show and voicovers by Ryan, Paula, Simon, et. al., it’s a small price to pay for helping me remember that the world is far grittier than whatever normally appears on my living room screen even in HDTV. Second, I thought Carrie Underwood sounded quite good on “I’ll Stand By You”, much stronger than Gina Glocksen though it’s not fair to compare live to studio. Still, there was this white angel iconography in the sequence that disturbed me. Carrie hugging HIV positive babies was both a Nancy Reagan moment and played on the same unfortunate stereotype that fed European colonialism – we’ll help you ignorant savages lead a better life and that pretty blonde lady with the nice voice is the symbol of our moral superiority. It reminded me that one idol winner really did live in poverty, Fantasia Barrino, and that she apparently wound up behind Josh Groban and Il Divo on the guest artist list.

One of the more difficult aspects of telethon or the A.I.D. culture of the eighties once spearheaded by Michael Jackson’s “We Are the World” is that it obsesses on the symptoms and almost studiously ignores the causes that lead to these horrors. We’re to assume that if all of us gave an extra fifty bucks then we woulda coulda end world hunger now. Certainly, I’d encourage people to give, but the conditions we saw on Wednesday are more structural than that. Consider the sponsors for Idol Cares. Newscorp is controlled by Rupert Murdoch of Fox News and Fox Network (Idol). In other words, giving the five million dollars on Tuesday was tied to getting more people to watch and vote for the show which sells ad revenue for Fox-Newscorpt-Murdoch. No question the gift was a good thing, but it’s not completely altruistic.

I doubt that many people have ever seen the Canadian documentary The Corporation which poses the Barbara Walters-like question, “If a corporation is a legal person, what sort of person is it?” I’m not indicting Ford, AT&T, Con Agra, etc. on this but there is a tie between colonial corporate activity in Africa and other places and current levels of poverty there.
People argue about the solution, but for coporate America to encourage Mr. and Mrs. Average American to give too to help the thousands of children in those videos ignores or, even worse, glosses over the fact that some of those institutions helped to cause the problem in the first place.

As the proverb goes, it’s giving the man the fish instead of teaching him how to fish. Making matters worse, we might be the ones who are helping to pollute the lake that’s made it impossible to fish. In the meantime, I’m not suggesting that third world debt relief is the only answer or even the right answer, but I worry sometimes that all this glitz just makes us feel less guilty and does little to address the deeper causes of poverty. For example, does anyone want to talk about why that horrific FEMA trailer park is still there and how it came into being? Heckuva job there Georgie!

I know this is just American Idol. I don’t really expect singers to start dedicating songs to Dorothy Day or attempting to be Woody Guthrie . I wouldn’t necessarily enjoy seeing Randy quote Fanon or Freire every week. I also thought Paula had a nice feel for kids and her memories of her mother working to support her dancing etc. felt very authentic to me. More important despite what I’ve said above, I applaud the show for going as far as they did in helping to raise both awareness and actual money for a great cause. I just ask that they maybe think about getting Ben Stiller and Jack Black better material next time, though how the heck can you be funny while they show endless videos of starving children?

About the music:

Really good inspirational singing gives you goose bumps. I’d say my skin neither crawled nor bumpbed as I listened to final 6.

Chris Richardson- Is this the third time that I’ve said I don’t get the judges’ enthusiasm for this guy’s singing? Eric Clapton would have unplugged this guy. Were they maybe just overcompensating for eye-roll gate?

Lakisha Jones- She’s now 1-2 in covering past Idols. She at least drew with Jennifer Hudson, though I recently saw Dreamgirls and have to mention that the actual Hudson showstopper wasn’t “I’m Staying”, it was the later ballad, “I Am Changing.” Right now, I can’t imagine Lakisha covering that one. Other than that, she still needs driving lessons from Carrie and I’d rather believe in Fantasia (I still hate that song though). That said, the judges were too hard on her, but that’s what happens when you invite the comparisons.

Blake Lewis - Imagine if Blake had a bit better voice. I feel like the guy has four fifths of the package. In the Lennon version I actually like the interplay with the piano and the way it supplies the beat behind the vocal. In the AI version, the band is so loud you can barely imagine the singer much less the song.

Phil Stacy - Wow, the Oklahoma City Bombing! You mean some terrorists happen to be American and not Moslem? I think I remember that because I was in Atlanta near Olymic square a few weeks ago. Garth Brooks and country are a good idea for this guy. It’s just that he didn’t do it as a country song. He clearly has the best voice of the remaining males, but Chris and Blake have everything else. How many times is this guy going to play the family card?

Melinda Doolittle – Okay, I’m a sucker. When Ryan pulled the big fakeout on Wednesday, you’d think I’d have been on to it. I turned to my wife and said, “Wow, they must have eliminated Melinda because that would be the only shocking elimination.”

Technically, she’s the best singer on the show. Some would say she’s the only singer. Still, as strange as it seems, her elimination also seemed possible. I haven’t been wowed by her performance in some time. Talk about a week to shine for Melinda, a great singer with strong spiritual convictions singing a Faith Hill song about God….and I come away thinking lots of nice notes and runs, but where the heck are the goose bumps?

Jordin Sparks – They used to end the Jerry Lewis telethon with this song. She was good, but she certainly wasn’t great. Unlike Melinda, Jordin seemed to be working hard to raise the goose bumps, but it still wasn’t even close for me. All the Jordin love lately makes me think “Agenda.”

Despite what the judges said, if they released this as a single, do you actually know anyone who would buy it? To tell you the truth, I don’t actually know anyone who buys singles. I do know a lot of people who file share them though and it would be interesting to see how much this is actually being shared. I don’t do that though, unless, of course, I already own a legal copy. Otherwise it would be wrong and I’d be robbing some starving record executive in Rwanda.

Sanjaya Malakar - What was up with all that gratuitous Sanjaya bashing? Yes, he's in on the joke some, but the kid really is 17. It's like the show really needs to milk the phenomenon that badly that they have to say things like "Now the real competition starts" or "You were better than Sanjaya at least."

The Most Shocking Elimination Ever - Okay, this was sort of slimy. If this was a night that was too serious and too much about giving even to metaphorically kill someone on the air, why not just announce it at the beginning of the show? Instead, they got the full benefit of keeping people watching and even thinking about the more usual Idol silliness, then tried to claim “We’re much too dignified now to do something like that.” Talk about donating your cake and eating it too!

The even deeper irony is that it was oddly metaphorical for the whole Telethon mentality itself. Somehow, Idol cares prevented one singer from being eliminated this Wednesday, but next Tuesday they get to eliminate two instead. I just did the math and the only thing that changed was that one singer got to sing for one more week. One of my fears is that if you approach the problem this way, you save a bunch of lives this year, but if you come back in ten years you just find out that even more people died needlessly. Nothing changed about the structure or causes of that kind of neglect.

I’d like to believe Bono that this generation can be the one that eliminates poverty. It’s just that it’s going to take a lot of things beyond Idol Cares to do that. I pray that we all start thinking about it seriously. Somehow, I have this feeling that Newscorp, Fox, Murdoch et. al. are really more part of the problem than the solution. In the meantime, the big picture to me was that I have this fear that it was still just a case of the Fox guarding the chicken coop.

Other Chancelucky Idol Reviews

Sir Linksalot American Idol articles

SirLinksalot Sanjaya Malakar American Idol



At 4/27/2007 05:40:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nagin and Blanco didn't evacuate the area and allowed many school buses to to sit in parking lots and wind up underwater when they could have used them to evacuate people. It isn't bush's fault that they didn't do their jobs. A lot of those people stayed behind with the intention of looting. The got what they deserved. I still can see the man grinning as he carried the tv set from the store he looted. And how about all the fraud? When are those people going to give that money back?

At 4/27/2007 07:09:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Thanks for taking the time to comment anonymously. I was referring to the FEMA trailer parks....which don't relate to evacuating the city right before the hurricane hit. The last time I checked FEMA was a Federal agency currently under the control of the Department of Homeland Security which was the creation of the Bush administration.

Yes, there was considerable fraud not just from those getting displacement funds, but also on the part of several federal contractors. Again,I'm not sure what that has to do with the current housing conditions for displaced people still in and around New Orleans.

At 4/27/2007 07:14:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found your post very thoughtful and thought-provoking, especially the paragraph beginning "As the proverb goes..." We ARE the problem at the same time we are trying to solve what we created, especially at the corporate level. I refuse to give up hope, tho, and hope all the famous and not-so-famous Bonos in the world can lead us to really make some changes to benefit the horribly poverty-stricken in our world.

Thank you for this article!

At 4/28/2007 07:17:00 AM, Blogger Dale said...

You shoot and score everytime Chancelucky. In attempts to maintain my Canadian citizenship, I've seen 'The Corporation'.

Throughout the show, I thought about the causes and corporate sponsorship and what that meant too. What an overwhelming crisis state so much of the world is in.

I've declared my love for Beckeye for her précis but I think I have to share the love now.

At 4/28/2007 11:15:00 AM, Blogger Tanya Espanya said...

You know, when I read the first 'Anonymous' comment, I thought it was a spam and I had to read it a couple of times to understand it.

Like Dale, I have The Corporation ready to watch (but I haven't actually seen it yet, hanging my head in shame because I really have no excuse).

And finally, I'm a hideous gross pig because Rowbear and I watched AI in about 13 minutes because we went heavy on the FF button; not that we're heartless creeps (we probably are) but as I am currently pregnant and whoremonal, I can't take watching little kids being all poor. I'd like to adopt them all.

I loved your posting/review. See, this is why other bloggers are better than me; I post a picture of my Uncle Fafo and leave it there for a week...(Grrrr...Tanya shaking a fist at herself for being lazy but then going for a nap anyway.)


At 4/28/2007 03:44:00 PM, Blogger BeckEye said...

Great post! Glad Dale begged me to come over here (in an effort to spice up our relationship).

There is something rather awkward about these big charity's almost like all of the corporate big-wigs and celebrities should attach mini mechanical arms to their shoulders that continuously pat them on the back during the show. Someone said on my blog that "Charity is big business," ensuring that the poverty and illness will never go away. Sad to say that's probably true.

But on a lighter note, I loved The Simpsons bit too! Best part of the night.

At 4/28/2007 11:16:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Until the world and especially the greatest arms purveyor, We The People of the USA, face the 8000 lb gorilla in the room, the Military Budgets, ($820,000 per mintue + an additional $231,000 per minute for Iraq & Afghanistan, not counting the lifelong care for the mutilated), we in deep & gruesome shame won't have the resources to make a dent in starving children.

Not even the best & kindess at the highest levels will dare speak out against Militarism. It is the most pressing madness of our time. I'm hoping the smart young like Tanya & Beckeye take on the meme of War is obsolete.

I like to think of what a stupendous world it will be for Tanya's kid when we spend all our resources on construction rather than destruction.

Luckily all these Paranoid Old White Men will die off eventually.

At 4/29/2007 11:01:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Many thanks for coming by and for your very thoughtful comments. I certainly don't think that all African poverty was caused by the west and there certainly was mass human tragedy there well before the continent was colonized, but I also find it weird that we're so anxious to pat ourselves on the back for trying to do something about it. It's like hitting someone in the stomach and then telling everyone what a great guy you are because you drove the little kid to the hospital.

many thanks for taking the time to read and for your kind comments. In general, the average Canadian has always struck me as somewhat more aware than the average American, with the exception of the NHL and the Mackenzie brothers.
I used to work for a grant-funded non-profit. Most of the money came from foundations started by rapacious individuals from the late 19th and early 20th century. It's probably just the way of the modern world, but it's worth talking about soemtimes I think.

I've never been pregnant, but I definitely sympathize with your reaction to the procession of starving children. On the other hand, I figure Angelina Jolie will adopt them all by the end of this decade, so we should be fine.

Actually, I rather liked your Uncle Fafo series..,

Thanks for coming by. I just recommend that anyone who comes here for any kind of Idol fix meander on over to your page or to American Idolatry as well. Actually, for me, whenver people complain that I've been too snarky, I always tell myself "Well there is that other page". It's just that you guys are funnier at it than I am when I go there.

Mr. Pogblog,
I agree with your concerns about "militarism." I also just want to mention that it's very inexpensive to save lives in these places. Now the cost of giving them a life once we save their lives is considerably higher, but that doesn't mean that reducing suffering is a bad thing.

It's always interesting to think about how and where our country intervenes either militarily or in other ways.


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