Thursday, January 7, 2016

Once More Around the Bend

Wow.... it's been nearly three years since I sat at the computer and wrote an entry for my "Files."  What can I say?  Life sort of got in the way of snarky pop culture commentary.  The past three years have been filled with teaching, designing new courses and revamping older ones to align with Common Core standards, directing multiple shows, coaching a speech team, a dream come true trip to New York City which included seeing multiple Broadway shows (and multiple big stars onstage), buying a house, and more.   But last night, as I curled up on the couch to start the final season of American Idol, which had been such a huge part of this blog when it was at its most active, I began to grow nostalgic for the ol' blog and thought maybe, just maybe, the way to deal with my mounting Idol grief was to write about it -- revive the blog and bring the Ginger Files back to life.

And so here I am.

Did you miss me?

Is anyone even still out there?

Am I the only one who even cares that American Idol is ending?

Let's clarify that a little.  Yes, I care that American Idol is ending.  I'm sad.  American Idol has been a huge force in our culture for 14 years and a huge part of MY cultural landscape for just as long (with a year or two off here and there in protest).  I can still remember tuning into the very first episode with the intention of doing what we now would call Hate Watching it.  I figured I'd waste an hour or so of my bored summer (my first summer off after my first year of teaching, the first summer where I didn't have a job because I didn't NEED the job), mock what looked to be a horrible show, and that would be that.  By the end of the first episode, my sister and I looked at each other and almost ashamedly admitted that we actually LIKED what we had just seen.  We were hooked.  Idol became appointment viewing at our house for many years.  And then it wasn't.  And therein lie my feelings as I began watching the final season last night.  I'm sadder about the show ending in that it marks the end of a certain era while at the same time I recognize that it's probably time for the show to end.

The show isn't what it used to be.  You could argue that it never recovered from the departure of Simon Cowell, although personally, for me, the real downfall started when they started tinkering with the judges' panel, adding Kara Dioguardi and Ellen Degeneres and driving away Paula Abdul.  They started shooting for star power on the panel, often at the expense of sound critique.  (You can say what you like about Simon Cowell, but the guy was right more often than not.)  Not that the post-Simon years have been a wasteland.  I enjoyed the Jimmy Iovine mentorship years.  I think that the current judging panel of Harry Connick, Jennifer Lopez, and Keith Urban is terrific in that they give intelligent, thoughtful critiques that are designed to create better musicians.  And while the show hasn't really produced a true star in years (I would argue the last "great" winner was Phillip Phillips in  season 11), there has been an increased sense of musical diversity in the finalists that has led to stronger and more engaging performances week to week.

And so we begin our final season last night.  I was reminded how much the show has changed.  Gone are the delusional train wrecks and freak show auditions.  Not that every audition is successful or talented, but at least everyone is treated with a sense of compassion and kindness.  Idol knows how to milk the backstory -- whether it's superfan Michelle Marie (whose "Blue" was nice, but you know she's not going to survive Hollywood) or the formally fat but still fat-girl soulful Lindita (whose chances are a little better than Michelle), we get to know the handful of contestants whose auditions are highlighted.  Yes, there are auditions that fall flat.  Big ol' Billy Bob tries his hardest to charm J-Lo and the boys, but the voice just isn't there.  The closest we get to an old school bomb of an audition is from delusional Joseph Kohlruss, a 15-year-old who claims he's classically trained.  As soon as he said that, Sis and I both were like, "NOPE!"   And then he comes in and gives this bloated, self-indulgent performance of "Hello" followed by that weird "scale" he tried to show off his range, and we were in hysterics.  But it was still a far cry from the William Hung days.

So after last night, who stands out as a possibility?  My sis has dubbed young Lee Jean (he of the dead brother) as her pick to click right now, and wouldn't it be nice to see Idol go out with a diverse winner?  After so many years of white boy winners, it would be the perfect capper to the series and its legacy to see someone win who doesn't have white skin.  I'm not as sold on Lee as the sis is, but there is definite potential there.

My favorites from last night include Sonica Vaid whose performance of "Look at Me" was nearly flawless and off-the-grid hillbilly Jeneve Rose Mitchel whose cello-driven performance of the Band Perry's "Chainsaw" was one of the coolest auditions I've seen in a long time (and reminded me a lot of the band The Recipe).  Sonica probably has the strongest chance of surviving Hollywood, but Jeneve's quirky factor may keep her afloat longer particularly since this judging panel is more open to a diverse lineup of finalists than in years past.  (Can you imagine someone like Joey Cook getting past Simon Cowell?)

All in all, if this season premiere is any indication, Idol is determined to go out in style doing exactly what it should be doing, celebrating the fact that talent comes from all walks of life in this country and is lurking around every corner.  And on that super treacly note...... see you tomorrow for round 2 of auditions!

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