Features | Articles

Dear Idol, Please Kill Yourself

By Chet Betz | 18 May 2011

It’s no secret that American Idol has been on the decline. This, I think, doesn’t have much to do with the show itself as a production. It’s still a smartly made piece of pop culture genesis where Seacrest still constantly winks at the camera and every once and a while you hear a performance that knocks your socks off—just now with more likable judges (this shocks me to say but J Lo has about half the pretense of a Kara Dioguardi) and the only new built-in fault being Jimmy Iovine’s blessing of each contestant with his soulless advice, waiting for them to turn their backs so he can suck their life from them. But maybe Simon Cowell really does have the last laugh; he got out while the getting was still aight. The voting system, as it opens up its accessibility more and more to include things like texting and online voting, has now become the sole dominion of whatever demographic it is that likes the Jonas Brothers. Unless that’s college girls now. I’m old.

Sure, there were signs, harbingers of impending doom. I’m no Adam Lambert fan but does anyone even remember the name of the innocuous dude that beat him (though I do remember that innocuous dude did a killer rendition of “Ain’t No Sunshine”)? And then last year there was insufferable Hinder and OAR padawan Lee DeWyze beating out the genuinely talented Crystal Bowersox, a single mother who could jam. The moment it happened I could literally hear millions of teeny-boppers chorus “We love you, Lee!” while the rest of America groaned and threw things at their televisions.

But nothing can compare to this season. Most of the girl contestants were quickly and brutally eliminated, culminating in the elimination of Pia Toscano, a gorgeous girl with technical singing skill a mere half-notch or so beneath a full-blown pop diva like Whitney, Mariah, or Celine. This girl could have won the whole thing and she was going home early because the judges already had to save musical maverick Casey Abrams, American Idol‘s equivalent of Will Ferrell—and I mean that in a good way. Abrams would soon get his, and just last week, the last absurd blow before this year’s pithy final three, was the sending home of rocker James Durbin—think Adam Lambert but less annoying, more versatile, and with an underdog story of triumphing over Tourette’s and high-functioning autism to boot!

The girls that our American girls have settled on, it seems, are the girls they relate to. Lauren Alaina is a giggly, light-headed pop country singer with two first names and stars in her eyes; she’s super young but has a good enough voice for me to like her—and yet, when you compare her to a Pia Toscano or the fervent warmth of a Naima Adedapo (whose ragga breakdown on “Umbrella” was the best creative tangent I’ve ever heard on Idol), Lauren approaches performing with all the emotional heft and nuance of a monkey chomping on a banana. Then there’s Haley Reinhardt, whose performance ability consists in wearing short shorts, smoozing at the camera, and turning every single song she does into an utter mess of husky mewling and yelling that only vaguely resembles the original melody. There were several different times when I thought she was gone, for sure, but then she did a song that literally everyone loves (“Benny and the Jets,” “Rolling in the Deep”) and now she gets to share the girl votes with Lauren. Last Wednesday J Lo and Randy told Haley her first song wasn’t hot and she acted like a brat. So her brat fans rewarded her by indirectly kicking off the infinitely more talented Durbin. The last boy standing is Scotty McCreery, a sixteen-something country singer who’s all baby-face and thus parodic baritone. He’s more one-dimensional than a Cathy cartoon and looks like he’s making Lugosi’s Dracula faces when he’s trying to be sexy. But he’s young and he sings country so he’s golden.

Every other week’s results show has been a lot of the judges looking downtrodden and even crying. Tears shed for the show’s waning relevance under their watch, no doubt. After Pia got the boot Seacrest, ever the consummate producer, looked straight at the camera and said something to the effect of “Please keep watching, we need you.” I’ve toyed with a theory about the loss of the Cowell demographic, the aunts and uncles and moms and dads and grandfolk that laughed at Simon’s pseudo-witticisms and thought he was clever because he was British (let’s be real, though, for all his panache Simon didn’t really know jack diddly about music). And while that group of people was responsible for keeping around the likes of choir boys that looked like Harry Potter, they still have a better ear for actual vocal talent than your kid sister does (“yours” not mine—my kid sisters have great taste). And while the kid sister demographic is probably the demographic to own from a marketing perspective, I don’t think it was the producers’ vision for their show to go from “American Idol” to “Pre-Teen Idol.” But, let’s face it, how can your Average Joe voter hope to compete with this:

What act of will in AI voting could withstand a legion of these…things, with their cell phones and textses and lap-tops of ill-gain? I mean, you and I, we’ve got other things to do before bed and work in the morning. We can’t afford for AI voting to be the most important thing in the world. Or second most, next to Jonas Brothers tour dates.

My initial reaction to the cut of Durbin and what it left us with was “American Idol 2011: Democracy At Its Worst,” followed shortly by “Or: How I Learned That the Legal Voting Age of 18 is Fundamental to the Very Existence of Society.” And I know this post has been a bunch of stating the obvious, especially to those of you who, like I, used to still care and still follow the show, but I’d like to use this recap of the horrors of this season’s voting debacle as a way of saying, hey, I for one am done and maybe Idol should be, too. I don’t see the trend changing in what portion of its viewership controls the votes. So I will enjoy the current beginning stages of NBC’s The Voice before it, too, opens up control to the rabid fingers of these tech-savvy mongrels. But as for Idol, seriously, look at your top three. Now look at the better half of the contestants that America’s daughters neglected to vote for.

In the immortal words of Roy Batty, “Time to die.”