By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
(Oddly, I saw Ryan Seacrest up close, and he looks exactly the same in person. He looks like a completely prefabricated person. I think he may actually exist in some bizarre threshold between real life and the digital realm. This is, no doubt, why he is perfect for this job.)
There is much to be said about what happens in the room around the taping of American Idol— the culture of hugging, for one thing (all the judges and their friends and lovers and family and the contestants and everyone are constantly hugging like some freaky, Christian hippie sect). It’s fun to watch a live-TV pro like Seacrest do his cheesy thing, note perfect every time, reading precisely from a Teleprompter. It’s also notable that next to the contestants, the hardest-working people on Idolare actually the audience members — no kidding. The producers absolutely rely upon the audience to perform a constant ballet of clapping, standing up, sitting down, being very quiet, clapping loudly for just a moment and going “Awww?.?.?.?” in unison, on cue. It’s quite amazing to me that people don’t mess up more often out of sheer perverse reflex.
But the salient issue here is the singers, and the question I needed answered: How does television distort their actual performances? (How many times, for example, has a kid appeared to sing completely flat, only to have the judges compliment him — and vice versa?)
What I discovered is that TV absolutely distorts their performances — but does so inconsistently, on a case-by-case basis.
The most glaring example was the group medley of Queen songs performed on Day Two: Live, their young voices blended around those triumphant harmonic hooks with beauty and truth and charm, and it was by far the best group vocal I’d ever seen on Idol. (Including “Bennie and the Jets” on Season Three!) But on TV that night, it just looked like this incredibly pathetic, barely in-tune mess.
Likewise, Pickler’s rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody” was way, way better live; her voice is infinitely more powerful and thick than it sounds on TV. Conversely, Elliott Yamin (known affectionately in my house as “Jazzmonkey”) comes across better on TV, where the sophisticated nuances of his pitch and phrasing are magnified and the shortcomings of his physical presence are diminished.
Which brings us to Paris. Are my boyfriend and I the only people in the world who understand what a frightful talent she is? I know the judges love her, but they just don’t love her enough. Did anyone else get the glam-rock majesty and pathos of her performance of “The Show Must Go On”? Does anyone understand what a burden a talent like that must be to a 17-year-old girl? Katharine McPhee has a powerful presence, it’s true, but Paris is far and away the most interesting performer up there, and every time she’s in the bottom three, part of me is actually relieved. If she ever gets the kind of recognition she actually deserves, it could really screw her up but good. The best thing I can wish upon her from a psychological and emotional perspective is a mild, steady career trajectory — which is, obviously, not the goal of a show like this. I’m torn.
As a music lover, I’m supposed to say that Idol is a guilty pleasure, but that would be a lie. There is no guilt. There is some pride. I’m proud that America’s favorite TV show is a show about music, and songwriting, and the history of American pop, and the systematic exploration of beloved song catalogs.
Likewise, I know that with a war, global warming and overpriced toner cartridges being sold every day, certain snobs see this show as offensively escapist. Isn’t it sad, people always say. More people vote forAmerican Idol than for the president.
Fuck no, it’s not sad. People need an escape. More people also probably do crosswords, or read books, or surf the Internet, or rent videos, or even go to church than vote for the president. What’s sad is that voting for president isn’t even half as accessible for everyday working Americans as voting for an American Idol.
And anyway, we’re good at this.