Before I kind of launch into this, a little throat clearing.
First, I should make it clear that I don’t really watch American Idol that closely. My wife had a co-worker try out for last season, and she wanted to see if he made it on the show. He didn’t, but a relative of a good friend did, along with a woman we’d seen perform a couple of times. By the time they were off the show, she was curious to see how it ended. (Blandly. Scotty seems like a nice guy, but his music isn’t really my kind of thing.)
You can tell I’m not really committed to the show because I don’t vote. And the reason I don’t vote? I don’t really care who wins. The show has run for ten years. I can name almost none of the winners (two or three at best) and maybe five or six participants outside of the year I watched it. But even now, less than a year later, those names are shaky.
It just isn’t my kind of music. Or perhaps more accurately stated, I know the people who interest me will not win. So why vote for anyone?
But let’s move on to what’s bugging me.
I told you my wife had a co-worker try out for the show, and that’s true. He never appeared on television, though he did make it in front of the three judges, and they said he wasn’t ready. (Or so he says. There’s no real way to prove it, but I’m gonna trust the guy.)
The thing is, I’ve also had two other friends try out for the show. I’ve heard both sing, and I think both of them are good at it. Great? That’s in the ear of the beholder, so I won’t comment about that. But here’s where things get interesting.
Neither of them made it in front of the judges.
Now, that makes sense. Quite literally thousands of people fill city after city after city, just trying to get their five minutes in front of the big three. Of those, at least this season, somewhere between 40 and 50 people get sent to Hollywood. Per city.
But when they show the auditions, you don’t see 40 people try out and get through. You get to see maybe four or five. And then you get to see a bunch of people sucking. Just flat-out singing badly, or otherwise making a fool of themselves.
I know people who watch Idol for this reason, and only this reason. They actually quit watching as soon as the audition period is over.
Breaks. My. Heart.
It does so for two reasons.
To start with? Even if these people are deluded about their singing ability, they are on TV specifically because a judge back in the auditorium decided to humiliate them.
If you don’t know how the whole process works, it goes like this. Thousands of people show up before dawn to get in line. They go into a massive auditorium, where they come up three at a time and try out in front of a pre-judging panel. They get maybe 30 seconds or a minute each to decide whether to send a singer on to the next level (meaning they get in front of the judges we all know and are mostly indifferent to).
Those first judges know how well or poorly the audition is going. And yet, they send many monumentally bad ones on specifically so they can suck on national television. Granted, sometimes this works out okay for the person in question (see William Hung, who either became a cult hero or a national laughingstock, I’m still not sure which) but mostly?
Well, you get to see those reactions to, as people who genuinely feel they are talented, and often seem pretty nice to boot, get their feelings crushed in front of the cameras. And if they get angry about it? They get to be on camera again, crying and/or swearing.
Look, I understand that it can be funny to watch someone fail. But to cap it off, the judges are often not just honest, but downright cruel in their assessment of what they’re watching. There’s no gentle comedown, there is laughter and mockery. On a family show.
These aren’t actors, folks. They’re actual human beings, trying to chase a dream, and being held up for ridicule. Deliberate, vicious, ridicule.
Meanwhile, people are slapping together PSAs wherein we tell kids not to bully other kids.
You know. Except for these people. I guess they deserve what they get, because, you know, they don’t sing very well.
By the same token, these “failures” getting through prevents people who might actually have a shot from getting in front of the judges. Am I saying that my buddies deserve a shot at stardom? I dunno. Thousands of people audition, and a few hundred make it to Hollywood, most of which are cut shortly thereafter.
But, you know, it could be a much more positive experience for everyone. Instead of looking for people to mock, the pre-judges could send through a few people they weren’t as sure about. The judges wouldn’t have to look like vicious knife-sharpening soldiers on a cruelty crusade.
Would the ratings go up or down based on this decision? I doubt it. The show is one of the most popular, if not the most popular, on television today, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.
Which makes me sad, really, as person after person pursuing their dream, instead of being hailed for trying to do what they love, becomes “That idiot on idol.”
I can’t say I’m in love with that. Dawg.