I get so tired of people who complain that “more people vote in American Idol and care about American Idol than the election!” It’s not just apples and oranges; it’s apples and chainsaws. First of all, in American Idol, you get to vote more than once, for more than one candidate. I put in a total of 22 votes for three candidates last night. (Taylor, Chris, and Mandisa, and I’ll talk more about why in a second.) Secondly, in American Idol, you actually have a variety of truly different, easily distinguishable candidates, some of them blatantly good and worth getting excited about. If we had that in the presidency or any congressional election, instead of the usual contest between boring millionaires whose positions barely diverge (“My opponent wants to tax slightly more than I do!” “Well, I want to make life slightly less miserable for gays than my opponent!”), you’d see more of a turnout. L’Ailee, my little fashionista (her unused degree is in design, not sociology and marketing like mine), once said something that was profound in its simplicity. We were watching Bill Clinton’s State of the Union address. Al Gore and Newt Gingrich were standing behind him. “Look at that,” L’Ailee said. “Two middle-aged white men in navy blue suits, red striped ties, and white shirts. Yet they’re supposed to be so very different.”
All this is to say, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with finding AI more interesting than an election. (Note that I am not saying “Don’t vote.” I just wish party chiefs and the media would learn from the process and the pseudo-intellectuals would shut their whineholes.) However, I was particularly affected by last night’s episode, and it surprised me how strongly I felt! Not just because that little bimbette Kelly Pickler desecrated one of my favorite songs, Sara Evans’ “Suds in the Bucket,” either! I was genuinely angry at Simon Cowell. I screamed things like “Are they on *acid*?!” and “What the hell are they listening to?” I felt awful for Chris, for Mandisa, and for Taylor, who are my favorites anyway. My stomach lurched when I realized how easily I was getting through for Chris and Mandisa. (Ten votes each, y’all. Usually I’m lucky to get one or two in!) I wondered why I was being so emotional. It finally hit me this morning.
My therapist says that L’Ailee and I are admirable because we “stay crunchy in milk.” In other words, we remain completely true to ourselves even when surrounded by intense pressure to be something completely different. I tend to admire other people who can stay crunchy in milk, too.
Chris Daughtry did by sticking to what he does best throughout the finals—modern rock. Even his Fifties Week and Stevie Wonder Week performances were rock, and good for him. I think those themes are irrelevant to finding tomorrow’s next star and only make performers uncomfortable anyhow. The thing is, Chris Daughtry is *good* at rock. Damn good! I didn’t like the song as Creed did it, but Daughtry made it worth listening to.
Mandisa stayed crunchy by singing a gospel song, Mary Mary’s “Wanna Praise Him/Shackles.” I’m Pagan, okay? I’m only ever going to go to the Church of the Checkered Flag on Sunday, and I have been *burned* by conservative churches. But there was so much joy and confidence in her performance, and she sounded like the second coming of Aretha Franklin! It was good! Damn good! Yet both of them were written off by the judges as being “self-indulgent”, among other things. Never mind that the stated goal was to give an idea of the kind of CD they personally would record.
Simon keeps saying he wants something and someone different, then he ridicules people for their differences and/or tries to get them to let go of their differences. Guys like Simon, who is an actual-factual record exec, are the reason Sinead first shaved her head back in the day. I hope that Chris and Mandisa can exhibit that kind of courage too, in their own ways.
Which brings me to Taylor. My poor, sweet Taylor, who I think is so cute. He let them dye his distinctive gray hair darker and dress him like a damn Backstreet Boy. He stopped dancing, after weeks of Simon telling him to stop. Oh, he sounded good and all that, and I’m still voting for him, but I felt sad for him as well. I mean, if he liked the clothes and all, great, but what he had before got him this far! I would cheerfully attack those stylists with a heated curling iron, given the chance. And if Simon really wants different, he shouldn’t discourage genuine difference. He illustrates so perfectly why people aren’t buying so many CDs anymore, right there!
I think Americans are more tolerant of quirks and individualism than the media, the corporate label executives, etc. believe we are. We prove that with American Idol—we vote for young single mothers and genuine country singers and fat soul balladeers. We prove that every day, with each other. Yet the “experts” try to give us more of the same. Isn’t that the accepted definition of insanity—trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results?
Ah, well. No matter who they send home tonight, at least I can watch Shakira and Wyclef perform “Hips Don’t Lie.” Which is funny, because neither one of them would have made it past the judges on American Idol.