Tonight’s the finale of American Idol. Feh.
Man, what’s wrong with me? I had grand plans to live-blog every AI show from The Twelve onward, and only got this far. (Previous entries can be found here, here, and here.) Partly it’s that I’ve had other stuff to think about (don’t we all?), and partly that this was the first season I watched AI with my kids, who like to pound the shizznit out of me while watching TV, which makes it harder to concentrate. And partly . . . I dunno, I’m just not feeling it this year.
Is the thrill gone? It shouldn’t be: Sanjaya notwithstanding, this was the most solid group of finalists yet, and even Sanjaya was no worse than that red-haired kid who did lame Dean Martin impersonations a couple of years back. There were stupid fake controversies again (Simon’s ill-timed eye-roll when Chris Richardson declared his solidarity with the Virginia Tech shooting victims), nine-day wonders (Sanjaya’s faux-hawk, Antonella Barba’s cheesecake photos), all the little things that make an AI season such a feast of pop entertainment . . . and yet I feel nothing. Nothing. Melinda was the best singer by a wide margin this year, and when she got voted off last week, I just kind of though, well, she’s got no neck, so what’s the big deal? I don’t recognize myself anymore. And one of the finalists tonight (Blake) is the first American Idol contestant to make it to the finals who has any discernable hiphop flavor (or, rather, “flava”)* in his style. This is actually kind of a big deal. People made a huge fuss about Bo Bice bringing rock to AI, but hiphop is probably a tougher sell. The real meta-level enjoyment I get out of AI is contemplating the vast stately tectonic movements of taste and ideology-of-taste that can be observed in AI’s gradual evolution over the years. The real skill of someone like Bo Bice or Chris Daugherty is in finding that tiny sliver of venn-circle overlap between the pop aesthetic and the rock aesthetic, and the meta-level drama of the show is seeing what level of tolerance the pop audience, in its most drastic and democratic form, can muster for it. This tolerance changes from year to year, and so too do the artistic techniques contestants use to find the most authentically rock pop.
Authentic rock pop: Does this sound like a contradiction of terms? Well it is — and that should give you an idea of how complicated are the cultural transactions that take place each year on American Idol, and why AI’s spectacle can be so subtle and satisfying. And yet, as Blake threads the needle in his bid to become the first hiphop-inflected American Idol (a bid he will almost certainly fail, by the way), I’m sort of wearied at the thought of having to sit through the elephantine two-hour results show tonight.
*For our Canadian readers: “flavour.”