Despite declining ratings, American Idol is still the most popular show on television. It has the broad-sweep of Old Television, which used to provide a basic and uniform cultural touchstone for everyone. That’s all gone now, of course. There are 17,000 channels available! Who has the time? People have made jokes about how the Lost finale was watched by fewer people than the Mr. Belvedere finale, and OK, that is funny and/or sad, but rarely do the people making these jokes (none of whom are this guy) point out the fact that people in general are not watching things in the massive collective numbers that they once were, because when Mr. Belvedere went off the air, cars were powered by wood furnaces, women didn’t have mouths, and TV was comprised of -3 stations. American Idol remains one of the few programs, if not the only program that still pulls in the massive numbers that make it a meaningful and important cultural event. And I haven’t watched it in years. Simon is leaving? I think?
Well, “haven’t watched it in years” isn’t quite accurate. I did watch the first episode of this season for some reason. So I saw one-half of the auditions in one city. I saw two of the 9,000,000,000,000 hours of Season 490 of American Idol. Even writing this I have no idea who actually won last night. I am sure they are an interesting and talented musician who is going to produce lots of music that I am excited to and want to hear. (NOT!) Of course, it was not always this way:
I watched the entire first season of American Idol. Every episode. To give you a sense of how much I enjoyed the first season of American Idol, that summer I went on a three week European vacation (ooh la la!!!), and, since this was years before DVR, I TAPED THE EPISODES I WAS MISSING ON A VCR. Well, not me exactly, but MY DINOSAUR BUTLER TAPED THE EPISODES I WAS MISSING FOR ME ON A VCR. All of this, of course, is years before you were born. But you get the idea. And when Kelly beat Justin Guarini in the finale, I could not have been happier, because Justin Guarini was a joke long before he became “a joke.” To this day, I still enjoy the music of Kelly Clarkson, and as far as I am concerned, while she has outgrown and surpassed her humble (haha, humble!) American Idol beginnings, she will always be the One True American Idol.
When season two began, I tried to get into it, but it was just different. I didn’t care about any of the contestants. And they all sounded like Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini knock-offs. It was as if the first season had been lost in a fire, and they were trying their best to recreate it note for note and failing. I gave up after a few episodes, and I have never looked back. It is incredible to me that the show has been on the air for 500 years, because out of all the meritocratic talent-based reality shows, it seems the LEAST interesting and the LEAST inventive. If I wanted to see people butchering songs, I would go to the karaoke bar in Red Hook. At least the drag queen who hosts evenings there is lively and takes a turn of her own on the mic now and again.
Now that Simon is leaving, I am sure people are wondering what will happen to the show. But I’m not really wondering. Because I stopped thinking about that show years ago. Although, American Idol under Simon Cowell does feel like a FACT now, the way that the Lawrence Welk Show probably felt like a FACT. The way that Johnny Carson felt like a FACT. The way that long-standing Old Television always felt like an ingrained, indelible aspect of American life. But, of course, there are no FACTS on television. It is all make-believe, and it can disappear at any time. Paved over for the next thing. Or, in the case of cable television and YouTube and DVR and Hulu and HBO and Netflix, paved over for nothing at all. And for everything all at once.
Oh, and that Dane Cook clip at the top is one of the worst things I’ve ever seen. You actually like that, America?