a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Thursday, February 21, 2008

American Idol and the Death of Knowing Criticism

One of my guilty pleasures is American Idol. At the end of a day of reading things with plot-plot-plot, it's nice to turn on the TV and be able to watch something without a story.

Not that the singers on the show don't have their ongoing drama. But you know what I mean. It's mindless television, and sometimes I like that.

This week, though, something strange has been happening.

Simon Cowell, who usually comes across as crabby but generally right, now just seems clueless.

Over the past few nights, the 12 male and 12 female contestants were singing songs from the 1960s. And we're not talking obscure songs -- we're talking hits.

Yet there were a surprising amount of songs that Cowell admitted being unfamiliar with, even as he blasted contestants for singing them.

He'd never heard "Spinning Wheel". Or "Baby Please Don't Go".

The problem is that when he reveals his ignorance of basic musical history, it just underscores his lack of qualifications in general. Unlike Randy Jackson or Paula Abdul, he has no hands-on industry experience. And where he used to at least represent sort of a snarky everyman's honesty about performance, now he seems fixated on what will be commercial today, what will sell, with no real sense that he actually knows what that is.

What's feeding this may be the fact that a lot of recent Idol winners and runners-up haven't exactly burned up the charts. Obviously the Idol people would like performers who are ultimately going to sell a lot of records.

But for a show in which it is the public voting on who goes ahead, Simon Cowell is just coming across as more and more irrelevant, no longer having anything to add that really seems to mean anything.

I make my living being critical of others' work, and at this point all I can do is shake my head. And root for the rock-nurse to keep coming back.


At 9:11 AM, Anonymous Mahoney said...

Agreed. The part that drives me crazy about Simon is that he makes terrible mistakes in the round where they narrow the field to 24, and then criticizes the results, which are usually terrible. He seems to have completely lost his sense of who actually has star potential. You can see right away in the Hollywood rounds who has potential to be huge, not necessarily because they have the best voice, but because they are unique. He made two huge mistakes, cutting Josiah and the incredibly good looking singer in the final two women, then rips apart the two he put in their place for being flat and boring. He seems to have no clue anymore of who actually might have star potential. Just look at how he handled Taylor Hicks...he gave him no shot to win, when I knew right away he could win it all because he was so different and memorable. They ask them to sing drippy, sappy songs from the 60's then attack them for singing drippy, sappy songs. It's like they keep leading them to the slaughter. I don't watch the show very often, but when I do it usually just drives me nuts :)

At 10:39 AM, Blogger Matt said...

"Simon Cowell is just coming across as more and more irrelevant, no longer having anything to add that really seems to mean anything."

Well, that just puts him in the same boat as Randy and Paula. Paula is so afraid to be blunt, and really deliver harsh criticism. Plus, she's doped out of her loopy little mind.

Randy is better, but only slightly.

The only reason I can stand to watch the show, which isn't often, is Simon's honest critique.

At 10:41 AM, Anonymous Jensen said...

The same thing happened last season when Blake Lewis sang one of 311's most popular songs. Even though the song was easily recognizable, none of the judges had ever heard of the song or the group.

At 11:16 AM, Blogger Jon Peacey said...

I have no liking for Cowell, and he's been cluttering up my British TV for far longer- aren't I lucky!

However, I would just like to correct one thing. When you say "unlike Randy Jackson or Paula Abdul, he has no hands-on industry experience." it's a bit incorrect: he was a very successful A&R man for BMG-Sony (if I remember rightly) in the UK and signed much high-selling dross that abused the UK charts for many years- and you should be grateful that none of it crossed the Pond. A recent estimate I heard stated that the acts he was responsible for signing sold in excess of 200 million copies. His judgement, unfortunately, is still proving sound in the UK. This does not alter his general awfulness.

The best way to view him is in light of his comments on Bob Dylan: according to Cowell 'Dylan bores him to tears' and 'all the Bob Dylans of this world would not make Idol a better show'. He proceeded to measure Dylan's entire cultural value in terms of comparative record sales.

I don't like Dylan's music but I still recognize it's previous cultural importance above that of Cowell's. A panel-show guest was recently asked to complete the sentence 'Simon Cowell is...' and came up with 'killing the soul of culture and sucking the blood from its still-warm carcase'.

At 12:38 PM, Blogger deepstructure said...

this can't be right (from wikipedia):
"In 2006, Cowell signed to two more record-breaking deals. In the USA, he agreed to remain as a judge on American Idol, earning £20 million ($40 million) per season for another 5 years."

At 1:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't watch the show but, my wife does. I happened to pass by when the biker-nurse was on. When Simon said "...did you forget the words in the middle?" and the other two informed him that what she was doing was referred to as "scatting" and he replied that he had no idea what that was seemed to be a pretty good indication of where Simon's musical expertise rests.

At 6:22 PM, Blogger E.C. Henry said...

Never got into "American Idol." It started out mading a name for itself by Simon's slams of hopefulls. That NEVER set well with me.

BUT from you perspective, Scott, I can totally dig why you're into it.

Scott, you're no Simon Cowell -- and that's a good thing!

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

At 6:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think watching Simon Cowell is actually a good way for screenwriters to get a feel for how far a 'bad' character can be pushed before the audience starts to truly dislike him.

Cowell always toed the line in past seasons, coming across as harsh and smug, but also competent and at least somewhat compassionate every now and then.

So as an audience member, I generally enjoyed his ego and his rants because I always had a sense that there were at least some sympathetic traits below the surface.

This week, though, I felt like he crossed the line when he gave Colton Barry (sp?) his parting words.

First, when asked about his final thoughts about Colton (while sipping from a big Coke cup), he said "I'm just thinking how much I enjoy Coke."

Hmmm... he used a cynical tone and obviously made the comment in jest, but it still felt inappropriate given that he was in the process of sending someone home who was fighting tears.

But instead of redeeming himself by giving Colton some compassionate advice, he basically slammed the kid in front of the entire audience ("Get a day job. You're not going to make it as a singer.") while his parents had to watch from the balcony above.

At that moment, Cowell basically went from a harsh guy with a deeply-buried soft core, to a douche bag.

It's the same balance that writers have to strike with their characters, especially anti-heroes.


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