Sunday morning, two days after Serena Williams’ comeback victory at the Australian Open, I watched tennis god Roger Federer in the men’s final casually dismantle Chile’s Fernando “Gonzo” Gonzalez, a wonderfully improved player who had been storming through the tournament’s Top 20 contenders like somebody who had taken, well, Federer pills. Creationists may not agree, but the fact that Federer’s all-court mastery demands that other players improve their entire repertoire of shot-making certainly seems like proof of evolution to me. Then, that same night, I watched the first live installment of the reality competition show Grease: You’re The One That I Want, which will crown a new Danny and Sandy in an upcoming Broadway revival — thanks to, that’s right, your votes — and realized how difficult it really is adapting to this American Idol world of proven star-making, not unlike the Federer challenge for every other tennis pro.
The six wannabe Dannys and six wannabe Sandys, winnowed down from earlier auditions, performed and danced to non-Grease songs in an effort to show their chops as heartthrobs and sweethearts, but they mostly came off like pageant contestants for whom the talent portion was an afterthought. When co-host Billy Bush announced the “surprise” inclusion of two more aspirants cut from the previous round, it seemed less like an up-the-ante throw-down and more like a stealth move: The also-rans were so bad — off pitch, frozen, good only for a poster — that it seemed they were there solely to break your stupor and get you to text in a vote for one of the original 12 unremarkable finalists, who were at least better than the two second-chancers. Then, while I was fantasizing a scenario in which egomaniacal nut-job New York (from VH1’s sanitarium singles mixers Flavor of Love and I Love New York) was brought in as a Sandy finalist, I realized what this show was really missing: a competition for which a has-been, way-past-high-school-age celebrity gets to play blowsy Pink Lady Rizzo. You know, the oh-my-god casting choice the producers will need to actually get Broadway-goers in seats. (Hey, Linda Blair, they could use a judge!) Isn’t putting plebes with C-listers what makes Dancing With the Stars so successful, like a glitzy game show? It’s survival of the kitschiest, people.