My son, Blaise, an erudite English major at Bates College, recently caught me curled up in a chair, red wine in hand, watching American Idol. Blaise is a 21 year-old idealist taking a class in deconstructing the media, so he was quick to lecture me on the evils of falling prey to would-be Idols who are manufactured with their own little stories, just like those American Girl Dolls his sisters once loved. There’s the Idol with the dead wife, the blind guy, the impoverished mother of three, etc. “Idol panders to the prurient interests of the masses,” he said. “How can you stand to watch it? You have a master’s degree in English, Mom!”
Exactly. With my pedigree, how can I stand NOT to watch AI? I was a reality TV show virgin until this year, when I accidentally stumbled onto one of the early American Idol audition shows while searching for a public television documentary on prison torture or plague viruses, I forget. I was after some mind expansion. Instead, I found people singing their hearts out in front of psycho judges who speak in tongues, using words like “dope” and “chops,” or uttering playground insults like, “Your singing sounded like a cat being dropped off the Empire State building.” I was hooked.
I’ve watched every show since then. With the help of my DVR, I can zip through the drearier performances, like those by Matt in the Hat, kind of like skipping some of Proust’s descriptions of his bedspread. Now that we’re down to the final battle between Kris Allen and Adam Lambert, I’ve come to believe that American Idol is like great literature everywhere, offering us the classic conflict of good v.s. evil.
In this corner, Ladies and Gentlemen — let’s just call it the “right” or the “red” corner — we have good boy Kris Allen, the cute and humble guitar picker from Arkansas who has already landed himself a Barbie trinket of a wife. He sings white boy mood music kind of like Jack Johnson, well suited to animated children’s stories. He’s exactly the boy you hope shows up at your front door to take your daughter to the prom.
Facing off Chris in the opposite corner — yep, you got it, that’s the LEFT or the blue corner — we have Adam Lambert, a favorite of the judges, because hey, guess what? As Randy would say, “You can sing, dude.” In fact, whether Lambert is singing Johnny Cash or Led Zeppelin, he sings like he’s on fire, or maybe just his pants are smoking. He’s Steven Tyler, Mick Jagger and Cher all rolled into one. Without a doubt, he should win.
But will he? Perhaps not. Remember that, in the greatest works of literature, there are unreliable narrators and multifaceted characters who are never just good or bad. For many, I expect Kris Allen represents all that is good and whole and milk-fed, right down to his lucky jeans, business major, and that weird curling tongue thing he does when he sings. Meanwhile, Adam Lambert is the sort of guy whose unrevealed (yeah, right) sexual identity has landed him on magazine covers and provoked the likes of Bill O’Reilly to try and knock some common sense into us before our poor innocent children can all start wearing black nail polish and cutting their hair in crazy ass polygons. But Adam has a big sexy body, he’s from California, and he looks good in LEATHER. Scary good! Any girl (or boy) who went to the prom with him would have a night to remember.
What will America do? That’s really why I’m watching. I want to know how the story ends.