Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Jewel?: American Idol season premiere

As mentioned, we won't be blogging the American Idol audition rounds as extensively as we'll be blogging the competition rounds. But I thought I would check in with the season premiere and see if the complaints I've always had with the audition rounds still held up.

The auditions are still an occasion for the judges to make fun of hapless singers, who then go out into the waiting room and scream about how misunderstood they are and how great their singing is. Inevitably, they are comforted by a relative, and Ryan Seacrest stands off to the side, looking sympathetic and shaking his head. "Those crazy judges," he seems to say, "when will they learn?" This format grew tiresome seasons ago (and, what's more, it's invariably cruel and only goes so far), but these episodes are by far the most popular episodes of the show (aside from the finale, which draws big ratings every year), simply, I imagine, because the audience likes to laugh at a self-deceiving fool (and it's nice to feel superior to someone on TV for once).

But, hey, I'm not going to go against the majority of Americans. Watch what you want.

That said, I think that the audition rounds of Idol, in their attempt to fit in as many bad singers as possible, are eliminating an ample chance for both drama and getting to know the season's "characters." Of course, Seacrest, Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson are the show's only "regulars," and it's important to have some time with just them as our identifying point, so we can get reacquainted with them all over again, but one of Idol's flaws in recent seasons is that it sends a whole bunch of kids off to Hollywood for the rounds there without really letting us get to know any of them outside of their singing ability. Heck, we don't even get to know much about that in these audition rounds, which lean heavily to the bad singers and those with easily promotable storylines (girl soldier with husband in Iraq, boy who could barely afford to drive to the auditions). Idol has never been known for giving us a rounded portrait of the very real people at its center, but by trading away time that could be spent on developing the good singers who have a good shot (or at least letting us get a better idea of their singing ability), the show cheats itself out of additional drama.

Even better, though, are the people who almost make it, but don't quite have it. Every audition episode has one or two people who have nearly enough talent but not quite enough. Invariably, these people have some incredible story of overcoming personal adversity or some other storyline (the guy who tried a whole bunch of songs but still had his grating rocker voice was a highlight tonight). These are fascinating moments of human drama -- letting us get to know a person, then getting to see their dreams get dashed when the judges cut them down or watch them hang on to those same dreams by eking out a performance better than what they did before. These moments are little one-act plays, acted out on the biggest stage possible, and the show would do well to give us more of them.

But, again, I clearly am not plugged in to the zeitgeist on this. All told, I did like lady soldier ("Oh, you're just so cute!" she said to the judges in her Minnesotan accent) and the curly-haired girl from Wisconsin, who I think could go far. And, honestly, I enjoyed the bad singer who could juggle. That's the kind of thing I want to see more of on TV.

1 comment:

Daniel said...

That pair of siblings from night two... the Indian girl. I will be in love with her. Yes.