OpEd Columns

Smile! You've been used by 'American Idol' (Detroit Free Press 2/21/07)

S top it. Please, stop it. Please stop auditioning for "American Idol."
You're making the rest of us feel guilty. Guilty for gawking at thousands of hopeless, talentless Americans being duped into thinking they're worthy talents. Guilty of making hours of televised karaoke a top-rated show. Guilty of laughing at you.
Do you really think some witty reality show producer needs to pack a basketball arena full of 10,000 wannabes only to find 17 marginal talents? You're being used.

You could be the next American Idol. No, you can't. You have a better chance of matching the six Powerball numbers pulled out of a hopper tonight.
The fact of the matter is that in every other vocal class across America, there's a doe-eyed, 17-year-old girl with beautiful flowing hair that has enough of a voice to become the next American Idol.
Any Hollywood agent worth his gold chains could sign one of these women, match her with an award-winning music writer, hire a voice coach, rent time in a recording studio with a top-notch producer, digitize her, overdub her, do her hair, buy a wardrobe, stage a photo shoot and throw her into the finals of "American Idol" where she'd look like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood or Fantasia, and probably get enough 1-888 votes to send Taylor Hicks back to Hicksville.
So why are you standing in line for six hours to get a 15-second audition with a tired staff member hired to find the least talented wackos along with a few marginal voices to face the Simon Cowell firing squad?
Stay home. Unless you want to be humiliated. Then by all means, step right up. Because if you're really pathetic, the "American Idol" producers will snicker you past two preliminary auditions and give you the fakest of hope.
Now here you are, in front of them -- the Supreme Court of reality TV. The cheerleader, the jock, the hip cliquer. You're in shock as they laugh so hard at your musical weirdness that Coca-Cola spews out their nostrils.
Tears. Obscenities. Bad audition. Great TV.
Then get ready for the sympathy treatment from the class clown. What's more disingenuous than a post-audition interview by Ryan Seacrest? I don't know either.
But what if you are talented? Then hire an agent and give yourself a chance.
Or wait hours upon days and maybe Randy will tell you, "Welcome to Hollywood, dog."

Here's your yellow ticket. Jump up and down with your loved ones. Maybe you have enough cell phone friends, both true and spammed by your cousins, to cast enough votes to keep you out of last place week-in and week-out.
You knock 'em dead during Captain and Tennille week. You sing weekly cheesy music videos worthy of any Miss America pageant.
Your hair changes color five times in four weeks. Simon smirks. Paula saunters. Randy gives you the three-finger salute. You're the next American Idol!
You never dreamed producers, makeup artists and sound mixers could concoct such a popular pop singer who vaguely resembles you.
But there you are -- on the cover of US magazine. Your first record is platinum. Your second is gold. Your third plastic.
Two years later, you fly home to teach third-grade art. You're happy again. When VH-1 calls, its producers want you for the next reality rendition of "The Surreal Life."
And there you are again on reality TV -- in a hot tub with Vanilla Ice and Ron Jeremy. A rusty rap star, a putrid porn actor and you -- a washed-up American Idol.

Ted Mandell teaches in the Department of Film, Television, and Theatre at the University of Notre Dame.
Copyright 2007 Ted Mandell

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