Thursday, January 17, 2008

Rocky Horror Idol Auditions ( American Idol season 7 week 1)

When I was in my twenties, the local second run movie theater in most college towns used to show the Rocky Horror Picture Show on Saturday at midnight. Basically Rocky Horror showings were an excuse to dress up in a costume, get seen, and recite the campier lines from the movie in unison. You weren’t going to a movie, you were participating in an event.

American Idol auditions are essentially that. Relatively speaking, there really aren’t that many people who seriously expect to make the final 12 or even the Hollywood rounds. The producers have discovered a sort of show within a show that showcases the Idol Audition rounds as a handful of people who can really sing, a few other folk who sing pretty well and have interesting back stories, and the modern equivalent of a giant-televised Rocky Horror party where instead of throwing rice at the screen the object is to get time with the judges and maybe get on tv. At the Philadelphia and Dallas auditions, the Rocky Horror types included a woman dressed as Princes Leia, a chunky man who removed all his body hair and sang “Don’t You Wish Your Boyfriend Was Hot Like Me”, a Paula fan who sang about caulking and Falking her, a young man who spent most of his audition doing weird vocal exercises, and an Asian man in a white cape who wrote his own song and expounded on Simon Cowell’s greatness.

The game is simple enough for the home viewer. We get to figure out how “in” these folk happen to be on their own jokes. My favorite moment thus far was the tractor riding parks and rec guy who announced, “Simon didn’t get down on me…..He goes down on just about everybody.”

At that point, I was waiting for the guy to take off the rubber body suit and reveal that he was really Sascha Baron Cohen with his new post-Borat character. The only thing missing was the reaction shot from Ryan Seacrest. The theme for Idol Season Seven has been the ultimate failure of Season Six to maintain the relentless building of the juggernaut. Jordin Sparks didn’t sell a lot of records. The finale found itself competing for viewers with Dancing with the Stars and the Bachelor. Equally significant, Idol got caught in a double bind with Sanjaya Malakar (btw if your remember, he had a perfectly normal promising audition). In any case, ratings were very good while Sanjaya stayed on the show yet much of the point of the phenomenon was that it was a protest against AI’s tendency to tell America who it should be voting for. When Sanjaya got voted off in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings, interest in AI leveled off.

Because of that, there was a lot of talk going into this season about “fixing” Idol. Some people mention that they’re making sure that they have more “proven” performers seeded into the round of 24. That remains to be seen, but clearly there seemed to be more folk with extensive professional experience this year, including Angela Martin whose daughter suffers from RETT's syndrome. Last season one of the complaints was that the audition rounds spent too much energy stressing snark over story. For one thing way too much time was spent creating back stories for entrants who would never make the final 12. Does anyone remember how much camera time they gave to Sundance Head and Bailey Brown? I’m pretty sure that Kady Malloy, the blonde who could do a Britney Spears impression without rehab jokes, won’t get the build up then the early exit. Still, the low point was the Bush Baby thing with Simon Cowell seemingly making fun of two disabled young men who actually were decent singers even if they weren’t top twelve material. There was a similar thing when the judges started laughing mid-audition at a young woman who took offense to the way they were treating her.

Fix number one was most evident this year with the kinder gentler Idol audition rounds with a 16 year old Temptress Brown from Philadelphia who plays middle linebacker and spends much of her time taking care of her very sick mother. She didn’t do well with “I Am Telling You” from Dreamgirls that has taken on a strong American Idol association with Jennifer Hudson repopularizing it, then Lakisha Jones using it as her statement song in the semifinals right in the wake of Jennifer Hudson’s Oscar, and now several hundred young women a year seeing it as the Idol anthem for anyone large-black, and female. Instead of snarking it up after the young woman broke into tears the size of Delaware, the judges were all “Be proud of yourself for trying. Let’s go tell your family how much we like you.”

Simon even got to say, “Let’s go talk about the kitties.”

Given that the girl is sixteen, it’s the sort of line you’d use with someone who is developmentally delayed. Basically, it was a gigantic do over for the whole Bush Baby thing.

A lot of people forget that before the “hair” thing, the bit that made Sanjaya stand out wasn’t really that he didn’t sing at a professional level yet (that wasn’t evident until the semi-finals), it was that Sanjaya was so compassionate on camera with his sister Shymali, who turned out to be a Hooters waitress with a marijuana arrest in her past. With the mean spiritedness of last year’s audition footage, Sanjaya stood out as the “character” to root for. I suspect that the producers are well aware of the fact that they brought Sanjaya mania on themselves.

This time around, they’re going out of their way to show how hard Paula Abdul works to say at least one kind thing, how the judges can separate being likable and being musical or bankable, and how Simon Cowell has a gentle thoughtful side. There’s still snark, but it’s being played at lower volume, like the bit with the young man who had made an oath with his father not to kiss any woman until he married her. At one point, Ryan jokes about the boy maybe getting corrupted in Hollywood and the dad says he’ll look for Ryan to keep an eye on him. Ryan then winkingly acknowledges his own semi-closeted celebrity status by telling dad, “No, I’m probably not the guy for that” and saying “I already kissed a girl today.”

It was said. Those who got the joke got it, but the producers didn’t run voiceovers or replays of the moment to rub in the dad’s possible cluelessness.

I know that Oprah worked for Obama, but I’m honestly not sure that marrying the Oprah spirit to Idol is going to bring the show front and center to American culture again. Fwiw, it isn’t so much that Idols ratings fell and that Jordin and Blake didn’t sell, it was the fact that post-Sanjaya people stopped talking about the show at the water cooler, in the cab, and on radio talk shows.

Personally, I thought they had roughly the right mix of snark and sentiment a couple years ago. While it was fun seeing Paula dance again, Randy with facial hair, and more scenes of Simon being goaded into hugging contestants, I sort of wonder if this “You are my brother, my best friend forever” version of Idol has about as much chance of flying as that guy in the white cape, Ranaldo Lapuz, who bowed for Ryan does.

Other Chancelucky Idol Reviews

Sir Linksalot American Idol articles



At 1/19/2008 09:15:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a bigger Lucky Tang fan than an Idol fan, I am happy to read these always cool Idol pieces, but of course hope that they could be somewhat condensed leaving you perhaps more time for the polaroiding novel?

At 1/20/2008 06:37:00 PM, Blogger benny06 said...

My spouse concurs with you, CL.

We saw 27 Dresses today. Liked it, nice levity. Rec'd for DVD or afternoon showing. Wrote a little about it on my blog, but of course, it's not quite the great reviews you write.

At 1/21/2008 10:19:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

I'm expecting to cut back on the American Idol posts this year. For one, I don't think there are nearly as many people interested in the show at this point.

Your review was fine. I'll probably wait till 27 Dresses makes it to DVD, but that's true with virtually all the movies I see. Actual movie theaters is maybe a twice a year event for me.

At 1/22/2008 01:51:00 AM, Blogger Anieb said...

This is one of the more empathetic and balanced AI blogs I've read.

Except for the older and irrelevant past problem a family member had, the Sanjaya info was done very fairly.

Will check back to read your take on AI7. No, it's not too long and I'm sure it wouldn't really take time away from your main project :-)

At 1/22/2008 11:45:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

thanks for reading and commenting. I was sort of torn about reposting about Sanjaya's families legal problems. I did find it very interesting that they cut Shymali. They made it sound like they didn't like her as much as her brother, but I do wonder if some of the other issues played a role.

At 1/24/2008 01:15:00 PM, Blogger Dale said...

Always thoughtful analysis unlike mine which leads toward "Hey Paula! You look stoned again! Yay!".

At 2/29/2008 05:17:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

of course, yours is a lot funnier though.


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