There’s a phenomenon with which I became familiar back when I was directing high school musicals, where performers who aren’t really any good begin to seem better if for no other reason than we’re watching them every day. A marginally talented girl in a production of Grease or Godspell sings her song a bit better on week 6 of rehearsal than week 3, leading us to believe she’s not simply better than before, but “good” on some absolute scale.
Then we’re surprised when an audience who doesn’t know her comes in and thinks she’s terrible.
I believe American Idol suffers from this same effect. Having managed to avoid everything about this season’s show until last night, I tuned in for the final showdown between the contest’s two finalists – a brunette girl and a guy whose silver hair has gotten him the nickname “silver fox.”
And as an objective viewer with significant experience directing musical theater performed by people in these contestants’ age group, I can assure you: they’re not very good.
The girl can carry a tune, and the guy can do a good lightweight if nasal Joe Cocker imitation. They seem like nice, normal people, and I mean them no harm. They’re not bad, and any community summer theater would be well served by their talents. He’d be a passable Harold Hill and she could do the girl in Finian’s Rainbow, no problem. Not on Broadway, but for their friends.
But they’re not particularly good. Any kid off the TV cast of Fame or in the movie Camp could sing them off the stage. And their efforts at becoming idol-worthy appears to have twisted them into even more perverse caricatures of the stars they’re aping – or of themselves – than is probably healthy.
I’ve got no problem with real people singing and having a good time. And I know of many “professional” musicians who are outrageously bad (Coldplay’s pathetic imitation of Radiohead is just one sad example). And I wouldn’t normally pick on happy amateurs doing their thing.
But these aren’t happy amateurs. These are amateurs in the way that amateur porn performers are amateurs. And they’re being sold to America as idols through the process of sheer saturation. I assure you, most viewers who look at these two as talented didn’t see them the same way back during those first audition programs. The audience as been conditioned to accept this inanity the same way radio audiences are conditioned through ClearChannel programming and TV viewers learn to like the evening primetime schedule.
Consuming bad media degrades our ability to perceive.