Handyfilm etc

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Location: New York, New York, United States

Sunday, February 25, 2007

How I Lost My American Idol Virginity

“I have been completely corrupted,” I announced to co-workers on Wednesday morning. “I actually voted.”

After five years of ignoring and/or rolling my eyes at the pop-culture phenomenon known as American Idol, I decided to check it out this year. Pop-music snob that I am, you can be sure that none of the 8,000-plus tracks on my iPod are performed by any Idol alums. But I am also a pop-culture obsessive, and it was hard not to be curious about something that enthralls 30 million Americans every week.

A DVR has helped – allowing me to watch at my own pace and skip the very numerous commercial breaks. But to my astonishment, I have skipped very little of the program itself.

In a word, I have become an addict.

The four weeks of audition tapes were a bit much. The ghastliness of the many untalented hopefuls is appallingly funny at first, then eventually just appalling. But for a novice, learning about each step in the process of this well-engineered entertainment machine has its own fascinations. And the tears of the losers and the winners, while often laughably artificial, occasionally hit home with real emotion (usually when the contestant has real talent combined with real vulnerability).

Once the judges have winnowed the field down to 24 semifinalists, the real fun begins. But the time commitment required of a viewer is really excessive. Five hours this week alone! (It’s down to four next week, and continues to decrease as the contest progresses.)

The episodes keep to a strict timetable and a proven formula. The “tension” between robotically efficient, unflappably empathetic host Ryan Seacrest and amusingly acerbic judge Simon Cowell (as well as the spats Cowell evokes with squishy-silly fellow judge Paula Abdul) are about as convincing as the catfights on Desperate Housewives. Everyone has a role to play, and by now they have it down pat, an entertaining schtick.

But what’s likely to keep me watching are the contestants themselves. I still won’t buy their records (will I?), but several of them seem worth rooting for (or against!). Go Melinda! Show ‘em, Blake! Oh my God, they cut Rudy!

I am hopelessly ensnared…


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