Stop me if I'm rambling...

Monday, January 30, 2006

My "American Idol" Confession

I have a confession to make: I love "American Idol." I know, I'm a 33 year-old straight guy, not exactly a member of AI's target demographic. But I love the show nonetheless. What's crazy about my guilty pleasure is that I really don't even like the type of music that most contestants sing during their tryouts. How many times do I need to hear "Fame" or "Chain of Fools"?? So why can't I get enough of this annual parade of talented (a few) and talentless (most of them) singers seeking their shot at a recording career??

Well, first, clearly part of the appeal of "American Idol" is the freakshow factor. For every aspiring Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, or Clay Aiken (contestants with legitimate singing talent) there are countless William Hung wannabes, seeking their own fifteen minutes of fame. Because of the "Hung phenomenon," it seems that nearly every contestant is looking for an angle, seeking to peddle their own gimmick to impress the three judges, or more importantly, get their face on camera. And with each increasingly bizarre performer, Simon Cowell's razor-sharp tongue seems to become even more brutal. His worst insults are usually preceded by the phrase "I don't mean to be rude but..." Of course you mean to be rude, Simon, and that's why America loves you. Effeminate male contestants - and damn, there certainly are a lot of them - are often the worst victims of Cowell's snide humor. Last week he told one male contestant: "Just what we needed: Sylvester Stallone's younger sister singing Paula Abdul." Another guy wearing green face paint was told that he looks like the "Incredible Hulk's wife." Affable judge Randy Jackson even caught some heat from a gay advocacy group last week when he asked presumably male (the jury is still out on this one - check out the picture below) contestant Zachary Travis, another reject: "Are you a girl?" Some people think the judges are just plain mean. A scowling Cowell was particularly venomous when he told rejected "Idol" wannabe Charles Berry: "I don't mean this disrespectfully... shave off your beard and wear a dress." Right, no disrespect there. Yeah, sometimes it's harsh, but it's always entertaining stuff.

Another appealing feature of "American Idol" is the format during the first round of auditions. Since contestants sing their chosen songs without the benefit of background music, the first round offers a forum for showcasing raw singing ability, or lack thereof. Consequently, during an "American Idol" audition, when talent is there, it's clearly apparent. And when it's not there, it's also embarrassingly evident. There's no bass player or sound engineer to blame for a lackluster song. I'd love to see Britney Spears or Ashlee Simpson in front of the three judges without the benefit of musical accompaniment to drown out their real voices. My guess is that Simon might have a word or two to say about them.

Certainly many of the contestants audition on a dare or to try to seize their moment in the spotlight by adding to the show's freakshow factor. In many cases, these contestants don't seem particulary miffed when they're laughed off the stage by the judges. But it's amazing how many horrific singers seem legitimately pissed off - often to the point of tears - when they're told that they don't have what it takes. This is probably due to the fact that most of these 16 to 28 year-old contestants grew up in an era when public schools put greater emphasis on bolstering kids' self-esteem rather than judging individuals based on their actual achievement; thus, many are not accustomed to honest criticism from authority figures (but that's a topic for a different blog). In any case, how can they not know that they suck????

But perhaps the best feature of "American Idol" has nothing to do with the judges' caustic comments. Rather, it's the joy of watching previously unknown singers, most of whom have no connections in the music industry, take their shot at stardom. In auditioning for the show, many are trying to fulfill the biggest dream of their young lives. Whether they make it or not, many of them walk away knowing they gave it everything. "I gave it my best shot," many of them say, "I guess I just wasn't good enough today but I'll be back next year." And more power to them. Maybe they will be better next year, maybe not. What's important is that they had a chance at their dream and gave it their best. Wouldn't we all love that opportunity?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Can you tell me how to get to the Gumdrop Village?

Well, unfortunately I'm not able to write a stirring essay about a great Pats victory this past weekend. It was a tough loss in which normally clutch players such as Tom Brady and Troy Brown made uncharacteristic errors. But life goes on...they'll be back next year and Belichick will find a way to lead them to the promised land. So what else is there in the news to write about? Well, I guess when all else fails, there's always some idiot to talk about, as I did with moron skier Bode Miller last week. This week we have a new one: This past Monday, New Orleans Mayor and Montel Williams look-alike Ray Nagin called for the rebuilding of a "chocolate" New Orleans that maintains the city's black majority, saying, "You can't have New Orleans no other way."

"I don't care what people are saying Uptown or wherever they are. This city will be chocolate at the end of the day," Nagin said in a Martin Luther King Jr. Day speech. "This city will be a majority African-American city. It's the way God wants it to be."

"Uptown" refers to a predominantly white area of the city, I've recently learned. So, chocolate, huh?? That's the way God wants it?? When he was asked to explain his comments, Nagin, who is black, told reporters that what he was referring to was the creation of a racially diverse city in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, maintaining that his remarks were not divisive.

"How do you make chocolate? You take dark chocolate, you mix it with white milk, and it becomes a delicious drink. That is the chocolate I am talking about," he said.

Uh....ok...that explains's crystal clear now.

"New Orleans was a chocolate city before Katrina," Nagin continued, "It is going to be a chocolate city after. How is that divisive? It is white and black working together, coming together and making something special."

In his speech, Nagin also said "God is mad at America," in part because he does not approve "of us being in Iraq under false pretenses."

"He is sending hurricane after hurricane after hurricane, and it is destroying and putting stress on this country," Nagin said.

Imagine a white mayor of a predominantly Caucasian city expressing his desire to rebuild a "vanilla city"....I think such statements would get a lot more press coverage and he'd be the subject of considerable venom. But maybe the seeming lack of coverage about Nagin's comments is due to the fact that he's now regarded as such a buffoon and his comments don't warrant any discussion. Those comments do provide a good laugh though, don't they?

Monday, January 09, 2006

The Drunk Ski Idiot

In my last post, I profiled a guy who's decidedly not the sharpest tool in the shed: self-professed "idiot" Johnny Damon. Well, compared to U.S. skier Bode Miller, our erstwhile center fielder could pass for Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito. If you saw the 60 Minutes feature on Miller last night you'll know where I'm going with this. If you missed it, Miller plowed into a snowbank of controversy when he revealed to 60 Minutes that in the past he has competed in international ski competitions while drunk. And what's even more shocking about Miller's interview is that, even though he knows he puts his life at risk in doing this, he can't rule out doing it again.

"Talk about a hard challenge right there. ... If you ever tried to ski when you're wasted, it's not easy," Miller told 60 Minutes, "Try and ski a slalom when ... you hit a gate less than every one second, so it's risky. You're putting your life at risk. ... It's like driving drunk, only there are no rules about it in ski racing."

Asked if the risk meant he would never ski drunk again, Miller replied "No, I'm not saying that."

Nice role model for young aspiring ski racers, huh?

Miller acknowledged that his partying has affected his performance in the past. "There have been times when I've been in really tough shape at the top of the course," he said.

Renowned for his similarly reckless skiing style, the defending World Cup overall champion and two-time silver medalist at the Salt Lake City Olympics, didn't seem particularly enthusiastic about the possibility of winning gold in Turin.

"Whether somebody wants me to get five gold medals or whatever it is, I sort of feel like they are all other people's concerns and issues, not really mine. ... I don't really care what everybody else says," he said.

So much for the spirit of patriotism. In the interview, the New Hampshire native seemed more like a petulant teen-ager trying to piss off his parents and act "cool" than the 28-year-old world-class athlete that he is. Miller has drawn attention - and criticism - for his outspoken attitude before. He has called the drug rules in skiing "a joke" and was fined last month for refusing to take a boot test after a World Cup slalom race.

Hey, a guy is entitled to his opinions and acting like a brat is certainly not uncharted territory in the sports world, but bragging about skiing drunk ain't cool, Bode. Just ask the family of the late Michael Kennedy. I guess Miller gives us conclusive proof that the four major professional team sports leagues don't own a monopoly on immature and obnoxious stars.