American Idol ponderings

Okay, here is the thing I don't get about American Idol.

But first, I'm going to back up.

I watched American Idol last night. It's a show I watch now and again. Mostly, I avoid it because I don't like watching real people being criticized on television. I don't much care to watch fake people being criticized either, which is why I tend to avoid watching shows like Everybody Loves Raymond. But there's a kind of fascination with pure awfulness and whatever Simon will come up with to say to pure awfulness, like listening to Dr. Laura rag on someone. So I watch American Idol now and again, and last night, it became patently clear to me what Simon will tolerate and what he loathes.

He will tolerate nervousness. He will tolerate people trying hard. And he will tolerate a degree of good-natured goofiness. He dislikes it when people choose songs outside their vocal range (look, it's another Whitney Houston choice). He dislikes people who think they can sing and can't and want to argue with him about it. And he really dislikes people who think they can sing and can't and argue with him because he just doesn't understand what absolutely special people they are. (Last night, one of the "I'm so special/I tried so hard" types was arguing with Simon, and he said, "Oh, okay, well, NOW you can sing.")

So, this is pretty obvious, right? And I figure that if you decide to compete on American Idol, you would probably be familiar with the show. You would know that this is how Simon behaves. You would probably even agree with him most of the time. It doesn't necessarily follow, but I would think it would be very difficult to get through three seasons and NOT, at least, find Simon mostly amusing.

So, this is what I don't get: say, you're a fan of American Idol, and you've watched the last three seasons, and you know how Simon behaves and what just ticks him off, and you even have agreed with him when he lambasts the goofy, awful singers. You sniggered. You said, "Oh, man, what losers." And now, it is your turn. Wouldn't it occur to you, at some level that perhaps, just maybe, you might be one of those goofy, awful singers Simon berates? I mean, wouldn't it? It's not like it didn't happen last season or anything.

I can, vaguely, understand someone with no singing ability or experience deciding to go in just for a lark. I can, vaguely, understand someone going in with the hopeful expectation that Simon will say, "Oh, yes, you are the best we've heard." I cannot fathom going in there and--knowing the set-up of the show--being surprised and hurt and so, so upset when Simon says, "You're not a good singer. This is a waste of time."

At this point I have to thank my parents for all those piano and instrument lessons they made me take. I don't have a great ear myself (one reason I don't talk about music a lot on this blog), but I have been trained. I can recognize flat singing when I hear it. I can recognize when people miss notes. I know why Simon passed the little cowbody, with his magnificent nervousness, despite the mistakes he made. I can't always hear the mistakes. There're some singers come in and they seem okay to me. But I can compare them to other singers, on the show, at church, and I know they aren't THAT good. Better than me isn't much of a criterium for success. And I don't get why the folks who try out can't recognize this. We're all better singers in our baths than we really are in public life, but if you really loved music and listened to it all the time and enjoyed it, wouldn't you recognize the basic underlying excellence of Julie Andrews or Jewel or, good grief, even American Idol stars. Wouldn't you hear it? Wouldn't you at least guess?

People seem to believe, at some Horatio Alger level, that singing is just, you know, intuitive and you don't have to be trained or sing in a band or in choir or, even, golly, sing a lot or anything, yet still can have this residual ability lurking inside you; someone just has to offer you a big old contract and that ability will burst--burst, I say--out of you. Which is weird. Any talent needs to be exercised, improved, worked on. Even the little cowbody was passed, I think, only because Simon couldn't think of any other way for the guy to get training. Do people believe "I'm fabulous even if I don't do anything about it" about painting and writing and sculpture and cooking? Even Picasso had mentors. But singing--which is comparatively harder to master without some underlying ability--seems to belong to this "I'm good but nobody knows it" mentality.

And I don't get it.


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