Monday, May 30, 2005

American Idol

Some people love it, some people hate it. And some people, like me, fit into the category of finding elements of it irritating but appreciating it nonetheless and standing on the edge of it being almost a guilty pleasure, but not in the same way I find stuff like Dirty Dancing. (i cant explain that one, either) Is American Idol, as some would say, a cleverly rigged marketing scheme that only seeks to manipulate the general public? Maybe it is, who knows? And ultimately, I don't care if it is, because I have a sneaking suspicion that of all the shows on television, this is one where God is truly at work, as I will soon explain.

First of all, my mixed feelings for the show ebb in tides throughout each season. My favorite part of the show, from a pure entertainment standpoint, is the first act: the auditions. The emotions that come out of watching this part of the show is a frustrating paradox between utter hilarity at the people you know are only wanting to get on TV for their 15 seconds, the awe of the actual talented ones, and the sadness & anger in watching the hopefuls who seem to genuinely think they can sing. Few phenomenons expose the psyche of American culture like the Idol auditions. What strikes me every season are the contestants who, after being rejected by the judges, react as if their lives are completely ruined as a result. They break down saying things like (paraphrasing) "I don't want to have to go back to my life....I CAN'T go back to that! This was my ONLY CHANCE!!" As if living the life of a celebrity is going to make a life you already think is miserable any better???? More likely it would make it worse. This is a symptom of the media's myth that the rich and famous have wonderful lives, and that the 'American Dream' is all glam & glitter. Yeah right, and how many of them have stable marriages, no drug problems, and an inspiring sense of purpose? If these contestants already think they are living unsatisfying lives, how would being in the shoes of Britney Spears or Whitney Houston be any better? If you look at the previous lives of the Idol winners, or even most of the runners-up, they all have the attitude that if they don't make it on this show, they can go back to their lives and still find some happiness. They are not running away from their problems, they are simply trying something new, and that something finds them. So I find the audition process baffling as I try to fathom the sadness and complete hopelessness of much of America's youth, all the while juxtaposed with true humility and talent.

The second act of Idol, the group auditions in Hollywood, I have a hard time watching, mostly because of the complete sappiness of the irritating acts they are assigned to perform. Listening to these divas repeatedly screw up songs that are already stupid sets my teeth on edge. So lest I start to mention the usual songs by name, and therefore get them stuck in my head and yours, I shall move on to say that once the final contestants are selected, I have traditionally followed some seasons closer than others, not always sitting through entire episodes but maintaining an interest in the people, who's good, who's not so good, along with everyone else. I can only take so many cheesy hand gestures...especially during the American Juniors season...seriously kids, how many times do you really need to point at the camera? (The auditions for that show I refrain from elaborating on, because you don't even WANT to know how angry stage moms make me.) And I can honestly say that Simon Cowell is my hero...he tells it like it is.

So aside from the cheese, the scandals, the sadness, the supposed rigged demographics, the overblown American hooplah, and Ryan Seacrest, this is what I appreciate about the show: most of the winners (and close runner-ups) of the past few seasons, I believe, are having an extremely positive impact on the music world. In particular, Kelly Clarkson, Clay Aiken, Ruben Studdard, Fantasia Burrino and new winner Carrie Underwood have been very outspoken about their faith in God and Jesus, and reflect that in their lifestyles, even into their new careers. Myself having an autistic brother, I give special thanks to Clay Aiken and his devotion to using his fame to continue supporting children with special needs, as he did even before Idol. He has also written an auto-biography where he is extremely open about his love for Jesus. The show truly shows the 'American Dream' through taking us through the process of these small town kids to the superstars they become. We see them battle personal obstacles and show today's youth what is really possible, without compromising who they are and where they come from. Because we see them grow as artists throughout the show, they really establish themselves as role models for the fans who love them.

Compare the values, integrity and faith of the Idol winners with stars like Nelly, Britney or Christina Agiulera...we see the results of the irresponsible examples they set, like teen girls at the Mtv Awards stripping to that "Hot in Herrrrr" song, and pre-teens singing 'you gotta rub me the right way.' Adding insult to injury, along comes miss Britney with her own "reality show" where she acts like a 2-year-old, smokes like a chimney, brags about how much pre-marital sex she's having and then tries to figure out what "love" really is. But before I judge any further, let me say that I do feel sad for Britney, in that I believe she is reacting to the obviously painful divorce of her parents, the scrutiny of the media, and the result of a life ruled by a stage mom, focusing on performing rather than living. So perhaps she is simply a victim of the industry. Nevertheless, whether it's the influence of the record companies or her own insincerity, she is in the position of a role model, and should know better.

The winners from Idol may possibly fade into cult status over the years and be overshadowed by the sex that sells, and cynics may scoff at them for being squeaky clean and 'marketed' by the Idol machine, as it were. But the lashing they get is only par for the course of their Godly ideals that drive their careers. As Jesus reminds us, 'the world will hate you because of me.' To that I say, bring it on!

Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises.
-Psalm 47:6


Anonymous said...

Ken, this is a great blog about American Idol; one I agree with whole heartedly. I have a love/hate relationship with the show myself - I love the kids but hate the mechanisms that drive the show.

The manipulation, the manufactured drama, the way they use the competitve natures of these kids to attempt to create conflict...

It all seems so sordid. It's a good thing all these kids have such a base of faith to fall back on, else they could possibly fall victim to the unsavory side of show biz - fame can ruin lives as well as enhance them.

Good stuff!

4:47 PM  

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