Targeting the Wrong Idol; Fifteen Minutes can Change Your Life

25 01 2011

There are some problems with being an international man of mystery. Notwithstanding is the fact that whilst I reside in the Land of the Free, the majority of my friends and family live in the Land of the Seriously Expensive. When I do take advantage of the rare chances that I have to “go home”, the time is spent rushing around trying to fit as many experiences as possible to ensure that my visit is not wasted.

Football matches, decent curries, a plethora of media that doesn’t have Glenn Beck, tasteless lager, the ability to buy crisps and decent chocolate, the joys of spotting speed cameras, the search for Royal Wedding souvenirs, the forgotten pleasures of the London Underground, being able to watch cricket, an English breakfast with decent bacon and the chance to pay $93 to fill up a Volkswagen Golf with petrol are all part and parcel of being “Home.”

Throw in the family commitments and 12 days in England is just not enough time!

Being away also means that it is entirely possible to miss important matters that are occurring here. For example, the day before I left Boston, a young man in Tucson, Arizona, named Jared Loughner managed to grab 15 minutes of fame that left 6 dead and many injured including a Congresswoman who became a target for Loughner’s own brand of political discourse. This was a major event in the USA, various talking heads debated who was to blame and what could be done whilst Obama was able to provide the stoic leadership that the country needed.

The incident was covered in the UK. I was able to follow the distressing events through the medium of print for at least a week after the shooting before the papers turned back to the more important matter of whether Jordan (glamour model, media celebrity) should have got married to cross-dressing cage-fighter Alex, who she was now divorcing due to his fascination with “celebrity and fame” – this was front page news in Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid division of his media empire.

But thanks to the internet I was able to see the fallout that occurred after the attempted assassination of Gabrielle Giffords. I saw that Sarah Palin covered herself in glory yet again by declaring that the US media had a “blood libel” against her whilst accepting an invitation to speak at a gun rally in Nevada. Congresswoman Giffords’ continuing rehabilitation showed that whatever Loughner had tried to do in Tucson had failed and I hope that she continues to make good progress.

I missed the huge storm that dumped 2 feet of snow on the Northeast, only discovering the full extent of the extreme weather by talking to my wife who was shivering in Massachusetts. I was quick to point out to my Limey friends that whilst there had been a State of Emergency for a couple of days, the roads were clear and the airports remained open – something that the UK had struggled with when 6 inches was enough to cause a serious breakdown in services.

Steve Jobs taking medical leave, loads of mobsters arrested, Michael Steele being replaced as GOP Chairman by Reince Priebus (winner of politician-most-likely-to-give-his-name-to-a-car), Ricky Gervais using the Golden Globes to further his US career, Brett Favre retiring (again), Obama’s approval ratings on the up and the New England Patriots managing to lose to a team that they beat 45-3 only 6 weeks beforehand.

Important matters that I had to catch up on upon my return.

However, there was something even more pressing that I was only able to find out once I came back.

Namely, how would American Idol now fare without Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul? Would Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler be able to ensure that the show would retain it’s cutting edge? Could it introduce us (the viewing public) to a whole new generation of deluded and talentless wannabes whose inability to carry a tune would see them become stars on You Tube? Would Randy Jackson now become the senior judge and possibly give some constructive criticism?

Happily, my wife had taped the first two shows which brought the natives of New Jersey and New Orleans to my screen in glorious Technicolor. Thousands of hopefuls vying to get the ‘golden ticket” to Hollywood, millions of supportive family members who had spent time making signs and practising their happy/shocked face when their talented offspring/cousins/nephews/person-who-lives-next-door burst through the Ryan Seacrest- manned door clutching their piece of paper which guaranteed them another shot at disappointment in California. Throw in the requisite family tragedies (Dad has throat cancer, spent year in wheelchair, family lived in drug-ridden shelter for 10 days, got knocked up at 18 but still following dream etc) and the signs were promising.

It gave a new meaning to the word “pointless”. Two hours of my life that I will never get back.

At least when Cowell was there, the talentless were dismissed with something bordering on contempt and those that could actually sing a bit were left in no doubt that the road ahead was not going to be fun. Paula Abdul might have been a beacon of positivity but at least she understood her limitations. The deluded were given screen time to show off their full range of insanity and we were able to watch their failure secure in the knowledge that we would never have to see them again.

But Season 10 seems to have forgotten all that. Season 10 focussed on the talented and pushed the freaks off to the side. Steven Tyler spent the entire time being nice – whilst coming on to every woman over the age of 17 – and J-Lo found that the word “No” wasn’t in her vocabulary. Rejected singers were treated to “you’re not right for this show” or a pursing of the lips from Tyler that preceded an “Oh baby, maybe not this time” whilst Randy Jackson made the most of his chance to say something without being glared at by Cowell. And Lopez just tried not to look them in the eye whilst thinking about her next movie project.

The problem is that shows like American Idol have become the passage to celebrity that so many people now seem to crave. Thousands of people apply to this program thinking that they “will be the one.” And the TV Networks lap up this delusion and package it as entertainment. The world is filled with the fame-obssessed and, sadly, we want to see their failure whilst loving the neurosis that fuels their desire.

Because we believe that in many ways we are superior to them. We don’t need to expose ourselves on television, we don’t need to express our vulnerability through the reality of TV. For those of us safely enthroned in our armchairs, we can watch “ordinary” people try to make that leap towards becoming extra-ordinary and we can feel secure in knowing that we would not stoop so low for acceptance. We don’t need to be famous for 15 minutes.

For some of us, we don’t even need to be infamous. We leave that to the people who don’t need American Idol to try to achieve their goals.

And that’s why being away for two weeks can leave a gap in the information that you need to ensure that life doesn’t pass you by.








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