I wonder sometimes if we are paying too high a price for our bread and circuses? Watching diva drama seems like a terribly inflated price to pay in order to see new talent in the making. Ouch! I don’t know about you, but I feel gouged. And more than a little ashamed for watching it. Clearly the contestants on American Idol, many of whom seem like good kids, were not only uncomfortable, but anxious, when the judges started fighting among themselves recently. It wasn’t a pretty sight. One contestant this week asked them (in all humility as she was leaving) to please try to get along. This from a young lady who doesn’t have the advantages of the diva queen/idol lifestyle, or the rich and famous entertainment kings for that matter. I cheered for her, and for the fact that the judges at least had the decency to looked a little abashed.
Not that I believe for a second that this trashy diva dumpstering wasn’t part of the dramatic staging (the hook and line, if you will) to win the great fishing contest called ratings. After all, who in television’s world public wants to just watch raw talent from deserving youth and young adults? Who wants to just hear their stories? Who could possibly want to watch a show where the “only entertainment” is to watch them at least get a glimpse of the ladder of success, maybe even get a foot on a rung or two?
I don’t mean I think it was scripted. That might be hard to do unless the contestant was in on it, too. But the producers could tell the judges to take advantage of opportunities for diva drama. That wouldn’t be hard to do at all. And with famous people who make a living looking for ways to “pop” with the public, it would be easy to allow their egos full rein. Like tossing a snowball on a downhill grade and watching it grow into an avalanche. It worked, didn’t it? They got talked about and interviewed on all the hot shows, blogs, webs, etc, so that all the spotlight was on them and not the contestants at all. Did it boost ratings? I don’t know. Maybe. But what a shameful way to do it.
On the other hand, I call those poor contestants who have deluded themselves about any talent at all another shameful guilt I could do without. With the cameras rolling and the judges poking fun at people who are clearly unstable or socially inept, it’s like watching a “bear baiting”, an old term for a public show where someone earned a few coins by poking sticks at a helpless animal, mainly a caged or manacled bear, tormenting it for laughs. That’s what this is. The worst kind of bullying. But nobody admits it.
Another kind of bullying is disguised as “helping” the contestant by giving him or her the benefit of the judges’ years of experience in the music industry. Well . . . there’s helping — as in constructive criticism — and “helping” by sticking a knife in a contestant’s heart. That helps, alright. The show. Not the contestant. It may even be in the judges’ job description to throw in a certain number of cutting remarks, just to keep viewers from drifting off to the kitchen, perhaps. Yeah. That helps, alright. Like a terrible two’s toddler “helps” his mother with the cooking.
Case in point. Contestant Summer Cunningham, a 20-year-old from Georgia, and an obviously talented contestant, was put in an extremely awkward position by judge Keith Urban. Though, in all fairness, it did seem as if Keith was well and truly pee-oh-ed when Summer said she had “tried country” when asked about her music preference.
My take was that Summer was essentially saying that she liked all kinds of music and was incorporating various styles, including country. Getting caught up in the “all or nothing” debate about what niche she saw herself in, Summer was clearly taken aback. And who wouldn’t be? When she tried to explain herself, Niki Minaj saw her as being scared into lying, and entertainment pundits saw it as backpedaling. Give the girl a break!! Summer Cunningham is obviously a top quality singer, so what’s wrong with us enjoying her journey to the pigeonhole before she gets stuffed into it?
Keith Urban is our clan’s American Idol 2013 favorite judge because he seems to have character as well as personality to go along with his country stardom. I say “seems to”. I know nothing about him except what I see as a judge on American Idol, except his famous wife, of course. You’d have to be dead not to have garnered that bit of trivia. Keith seems to have a heart for people, and yet, he takes exception to this 20-year-old fledgling hopeful from Georgia who is just trying her wings. Just how was this young Georgia girl supposed to know that simply saying she “tried country” (with her own variations), would be a giant red flag in front of a bull crap panel.
And where does Keith, who led the bandwagon of country purists, get off getting so riled in the first place? It was like slapping a toddler because he fell down. Don’t the judges realize that most of these young artists are not “there”, yet? They are in the process of “becoming”. Sure. The judges rave over contestants who seem to have been born full-blown with hands grafted to a microphone and ready to take center stage. But does the audience like it? For my part, I like the ones who are really good, have a modicum of humility, and are willing to learn and to grow. You can keep your Athena’s born full-blown and in armor from Zeus’s head. I have little interest in them.
Niki is our least favorite judge with her irritating nasal twang, crazy talk, and over-the-top Madonna/Lady Gaga imitation, though apparently she’s made a paying career of it. But at times she does seem to have some human feeling that doesn’t come to us through the looking-glass. And I don’t mean her hand mirror. So I give Niki a yellow ticket for the courage to buck the big three in their bullying. I’m just sorry the contestants, and especially Summer Cunningham, had to be caught in the middle of this tawdry high noon showdown in the middle of Main Street, USA. And I’m sorry I sat and watched it.