The new winner of American Idol was announced yesterday, and it got me thinking. American Idol is still on television? And it has been…for nine years? But…but why? It’s pretty much just karaoke, isn’t it? Isn’t it more fun to just go singing with friends in real life than see other people do it on TV? Apparently not, because American Idol is technically the most watched show ever, according to the Nielsen ratings. Every single person with a television and working eyes has seen this show before, and probably enjoyed it too. But, like all pop culture phenomenons, I sort of assumed we’d all had our fun and moved on with our lives years ago. Turns out I was wrong.
I’d always considered this show sort of a “nineties” thing, though it premiered in 2002. Much like most things in the nineties, American Idol was loud, insane, slightly mean-spirited, extremely catchy, and always much better in hindsight. But what truly set it apart was the kind of inherent futility of it all. You could sing as well as you liked, and bring the three judges to tears, but your potential career, and yes, even your very life, was in the fickle hands of the public.
American Idol isn’t really about a singing competition. It’s a show about people throughout the country voting on one of their own to become more successful than they ever will be. That’s creepy. We are literally creating idols, and once we erect one, we take tremendous pleasure in watching them crumble and fade away into obscurity. Technically, that’s all celebrity really is, but it’s a strange thing to be directly in charge of things. Remember that American Idol movie no one saw and everyone hated (8% on Rotten Tomatoes)? From Justin to Kelly? Refresh yourself:
How awesome was that? The movie was so self-consciously terrible, the trailer is only 30-seconds long. That was probably half the movie. It’s got skateboarding! Music bringing sexy young people together! Whipped cream! Meddling friends! Spontaneous group dancing! Rain! A black person! Summertime fun! AND IT’S RATED PG?!! Take my money! But then no one said that, and no one saw it, and not because it was terrible – that’s never stopped a movie from being successful – but because the high of American Idol had worn off, and you can’t vote for the movie to stop sucking while you’re watching it.
I personally stopped watching the show after the third season in 2004, but little did I ever imagine that this weird music show trend would grow into something just…just awful. Two years later, Satan farted in the general direction of the Disney company and one of the execs thought he heard “High School Musical” and that’s how High School Musical became a thing. I won’t lie, I’ve never ever seen this movie. And I never ever will. But from my understanding, it’s about a bunch of optimistic teens who decide that high school sure is tough when you’re white, upper-middle class, and attractive, and so they decide to sing about how difficult that is whenever they can. They go home together when the bell rings and rehearse till their toes bleed and they weep glitter. And then they return and interrupt everyone else’s education with alarmingly stupid songs about friendship and…I dunno…crushes? That sounds about right.
The movie was an absurd success, much to the surprise of everyone at Disney, who immediately released a second film, and then a third (which made $250 million dollars) called High School Musical 3: Senior Year in 2008. Think about that. It took them only two years to write, produce, direct, advertise, and release three films essentially about the same thing. And they were all successful. That’s how much effort went into it. And that success shows them that’s how much effort is necessary for even more success. I can’t help but respect a business model like that. Clearly people like Christopher Nolan are working way too hard. Who needs a cool villain and a deep story when people will give you money to hear Batman sing “Don’t Stop Believing”? But the message behind these TV musicals – don’t get me wrong, I like actual musicals in general – was questionable. I really hope I don’t need to say this but I will: spontaneously singing with your friends in the middle of the cafeteria will probably not make your life any better. At least, there’s a very slim chance it will. To quote American Dad (skip to 1:49)…
Actually while we’re on the subject of movies, anyone ever seen this incredibly stupid ad at Emagine Theaters?
This grown-ass man paid ten dollars for a ticket and probably twenty for popcorn, gets a text on his phone from his friends who are apparently driving distance away, and instead of just stepping out to answer it in the lobby, actually runs to his car, drives, and physically tells them he didn’t want to interrupt anyone. Mind you, he never actually answered the damn text. That’s scary, and he probably shouldn’t be driving if that’s how he solves problems in life. If this dude’s house caught fire, he would turn off the alarm, leave his family to burn, run to the station and tell the firefighters he didn’t want to disturb anybody. I see this ad every single time I hit the movies and I hate the world for sixty long seconds until it’s over. But I digress.
A year after High School Musical 3, a man named Ryan Murphy, who made Nip/Tuck and American Horror Story, decided to take the karaoke of American Idol and give it a narrative. In high school too, because life pretty much just ends after you leave the 12th grade. People get their diplomas, throw their caps up in the air, and then violently explode, and that’s how kids are born. I saw the first episode of this show, and I didn’t hate it. It had its charms, I suppose. But I didn’t care enough to keep watching it. It wasn’t for me. Sure they all had random, topical, teen problems, but I learned a long time ago that simply being in America generally affords you a standard of life several times better than most people in the world. The 99% in America are still relatively the top ten worldwide. But that’s just me. People like it, whatever, fine. Just be aware of the events that led to it, and how much money you’re blowing on a formula.