Thursday, January 26, 2006

Deflating the Idol

For the first time, American Idol has caught my eye. Not my ear though. Earlier, I had planned to make fun of the judges of the TV show, but then I came across this bit of interesting blogging, and I thought, hey, I can make fun of them tomorrow.

Sadly, this year's new season of American Idol depicts perfectly the consequences of constantly mollycoddling and pampering children... Making an ass of yourself on TV because you can't sing is one thing. It's even kind of admirable. But throwing a tempter tantrum and screaming profanity in front of a nationwide audience because a judge on a panel lets you know you might have a brighter future as a mime clearly suggests the ramifications of failing to prepare kids for the realities of life -- which quite often includes getting knocked down a rung or two.
I'd like to think FOX is broadcasting the antics of these spoiled brat wannabes as a service to those who can't quite seem to grapple with the fact that life's not fair. But I'd be willing to bet they're just doing it for ratings.

Source: Jan 25 posting of The Right Report.

I don't really care for the conservative slant of the rest of the blog, but he does have a point with American Idol. My perspective doesn't come from that author's view as a future parent, but here's my two cents as a musician.

What's always bugged me about the show is that it's a yes or no thing. And while a part of the music world has been this rough competition (think: auditions), it's most certainly not the best picture it has to offer.

I remember when I was back in USM, and to be honest, they weren't the best days for me then, so there are noticable fewer things I choose to remember when I was back in USM. But this is nevertheless one of them. First thing one has to know is that there is a huge Mandrin-speaking student community in the local unis. Mandrin-speaking, not just Chinese students, since in Malaysia not all the Chinese speak Mandrin. And the support within this community is very strong. Anyway, there's this annual competition where groups of students get together and they all compose and arrange their own songs. They used to be an official student organization of USM but through politics and what else they've moved out of the system.

One day I was spotted at some Jazz Band event and asked to join one of these groups, to play the violin with them. They told me what this competition was about and I had to tell them that hey, you gotta know I'm not Chinese (you see, back in Free School, I was awarded a special prize for the English Language subject and it was taken back because the person in charge forgot that the patron of that prize had specified that is was to be given to a Chinese. Which was fine, since the next in line was a good pal of mine). Anyway, they said it was ok.

The practices were interesting - none of these students were music or language majors, but they really had a passion for what they were doing, and they had certainly done their homework - with solid chord progessions, well-arranged parts, and I don't know about the Chinese lyrics, but the translations were nothing less than kick-ass.

Then came the larger scale rehearsals of the event itself and I was surprised to find myself in a totally packed room, of all the participants. A alumnus of the group said something in Mandrin and we all clapped... before my teammate told me to stop clapping because they were thanking me for being there. Which illuminates somewhat the racial boundaries of me being there in the first place, but I was grateful nonetheless.

Each of the groups went up, played their piece, and all their competitors - who would vie for the very same prizes and trophies soon after - would offer advice and tips to make the music even better. All this, in the spirit of making the competition an event where everyone does his very best, and where the quality of music sought is the collective strength of the whole community.

The competition was held in Dewan Sri Pinang, the biggest and most formal concert hall in the state, and with a full house, it rivalled the support of official USM events. Our group didn't win, but I left feeling like everyone was a winner because of the way they made music about support, community and working together.

So when I see American Idol's Simon show his gift of the flab, ok, I can see that's for the ratings, and yes you're a producer but you don't really get what music is about. As for Paula Abdul, she's graceful and polite, but what I feel sad about is seeing all these tryouts go up to put themselves on the line, and the ones who get the no-vote, and having come face-to-face with a big star, don't even get real advice to move on.

I suppose that's the difference between actual music... and just show business.

No comments: