This is always my favorite part of the whole American Idol cycle. The time when we only see brief snippets of the wannabes who will end up competing for the coveted title of The Guy/Girl Who Gets to Have His/Her Spirit Crushed by 19 Entertainment. The time when we are shown the parade of train wrecks who fit neatly into one of the following categories:
Category One: Delusional famewhores who think they can actually sing
Absolutely the best ones to watch. The hunch is these people do really well at Karoke night with their co-workers, and say “Why not me?” after a few beers and encouragement from the others. Reality sets in pretty quickly, but for many it is simply too incredible to believe that the judges can’t recognize the abundance of talent oozing from every pore. They are usually afforded a slice of airtime to air their displeasure toward the judges as they exit the venue. Numerous bleeps ensue. Good times.
Category Two: Children of people who are delusional famewhores, but need to live vicariously through their children
A close second is this bunch. The truly scary parents who seemingly have never told their precious baby that he/she is not the absolute best at everything he or she has ever tried. The best are the ones who claim to have experienced a modicum of “fame” themselves, which normally ends up being High School Chorus and/or being a groupie that time KajaGooGoo came to town in ‘83. When their child is told in no uncertain terms that “it’s a no”, the indignation that sets in is priceless. Of course, the cameras are there to catch it all, following the vanquished contestant and family out the door and into the street, for as long as the rant lasts. First rejection is a bitch, ain’t it?
Category Three: Goofballs who just want to get on TV, no matter the cost
Everybody should be in on this joke, least of all the producers. The more outlandish the “act”, the better shot at a few minutes of precious airtime on a top rated TV show. Dressing in a goofy costume often works, but being plain ol’ batshit crazy works just as well. Bonus points are awarded when you yourself never acknowledge the act, and stay in character all the way out of the room. Later, you can go home and collect on your bets when the show airs and you are given primo exposure.
Category Four: Actual mentally challenged people
Wait, how can this be? You mean the producers will actually allow folks with clear mental disabilities to go in front of the panel, attempt to sing, and be subsequently humiliated? Believe it or not people, there actually is a line, and this is where Fox et al cross it. There is no doubt the producers know when a person is not completely self aware and competent to be on this show. Having people with clear issues perform for us like monkeys is just plain ridiculous. One argument, “If they’re not ‘well’ how did they get themselves there and decide to perform” simply doesn’t wash, as there are many folks with limited disabilities who are self sufficient with basic life skills, but lack social awareness. Nobody is around to prevent them form going to Idol. Nobody, that is, except Idol itself, which obviously values mocking all over compassion and decency.
I understand it is a fine line, and the fact that millions of people watch these early rounds could be seen as a validation of the entire format. I myself stated how much I enjoy these rounds, and wonder if by watching I am part of the problem. Fox took some heat after the first few episodes aired, but mostly for the perceived cruel remarks from the panel. Simon Cowell, we expect that kind of thing from of course, but in some of the early round Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson got into the fray as well. It looked like a recent episode was pared down since it was light on the negative comments, but that might have been due to the fact that it was only a one hour show, unlike the normal two hour suckfest normally shown at this stage.
The producers can claim ignorance, since they’re not doctors, but it doesn’t take years of training to identify some of the limitations displayed by several contestants. Want to give them a chance? Fine, but must it be aired? It would be easy to quietly tell the panel that this next contestant has some issues, and the audition will not be aired, allowing them to perhaps display some class and gently let the person know that Hollywood just isn’t going to happen.
Oh jeez, who am I kidding, this is Fox. Guess we’ll have to shower after these episodes air and buck up for the Hollywood rounds, and hope that a little backlash makes them rethink the strategy next season. I’m not holding my breath.