Friday, January 21, 2011

Where Have You Gone, Simon Cowell?

American Idol’s season 10 got underway on Wednesday night.  I obliged my dear wife and switched to FOX, relinquishing Rachel Maddow and MSNBC.  For me, this is a difficult maneuver in the best of times--as when tuning into FOX for a NFL playoff game--because dialing up FOX induces in me a facial tick, on a par with Chief Inspector Dreyfus at the mention of Jacques Clouseau in the Pink Panther films.

That metaphorical facial tick went into overdrive Wednesday evening as we were subjected to almost everything except for good singing.  As if acknowledging this point, Idol 10 fleshed out the dearth of singing talent by plucking the viewers’ heartstrings with background stories of war refuge, family cancer and homelessness.

Idol 10 also seems to have embraced the 16-year old, as if physiological and experiential maturity were detrimental in the making a singer.  Mainly, what we heard were a handful of Miley/Bieber Wannabes projecting out-of-tune vocals from the “depths” of their upper palates.  

It almost didn’t matter that we could barely catch the words sung by one contestant, for whom English is a [distant] third language;  after all, Valley Girl talk continues to dominate our teen culture, making diction and proper enunciation irrelevant.

There were a [very] few entertaining moments, mainly in the gestures and grimaces of the new judges, Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler, rarely from any singing of this first batch of contestants.

I think that we all will miss Simon Cowell, who not only was willing to put down the mediocre and the unmusical, but whose persona was a real star of the show.  As long as American Idol is a contest, it will have winners and losers.  For this purpose, Cowell acted as its strict upholder of values.  So far, Idol 10’s three judges seem unwilling to bite the bullet, usually looking to one another for support, both when it came to saying “no” and also to saying “yes” to the most borderline of performances.

As a retired college professor, I was witnessing a case of massive grade inflation in this first episode of Idol 10.  Come back, Simon Cowell, please!

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