When Idols become insults


American Idol was quite a trip last night. It really did remind me of one of my childhood car trips with my family: At times I was nauseated; other times, I was drowsy; and there were also a rare few gleeful, giddy times.

It seems like the range of talent among the final 12 is crazier than ever this year. The distance from the Gong Show wannabes (Sanjaya Malakar and Chris Richardson) to the stadium-packing superstars (Melinda Doolittle and LaKisha Jones) is dizzying. And I’m afraid of heights.

I’m also afraid, as is Newsday columnist Verne Gay, that the show is losing credibility because of that extreme disparity. OK, I’m not really afraid: It’s just a TV show, and it’s not like it ever had much credibility to begin with. But Verne Gay makes a great point: Last season, 8 of the final 12 seemed good enough to be in the final four. Nobody would have been embarrassed or disgusted if Elliott Yamin, Mandisa Hundley, Lisa Tucker or Bucky Covington had won last year. Annoyed or disappointed, maybe, but not revolted. But this year, Simon Cowell himself is threatening to revolt:

The tabloid TV mag Extra cornered Simon Friday to ask about a Sanjaya win. “Let me tell you this,” Simon said. “He’s not going to win. I won’t be back if he does.”

I think we need a new criterion next year: A written test. Shouldn’t these people be required to know something about music — something more than the current Top 40, that is? If they were quizzed on crooners and musicals and blues legends, I doubt we’d be seeing the likes of Chris Richardson in the final 12. People like Chris Sligh, on the other hand, would get through as they should.

And even powerhouses like LaKisha Jones should be put to the test. Her interpretation of “God Bless the Child” last night was way off — gone were the rue, world-weariness and prophecy that Billie Holiday brought to that song. Yes, it’s fine to make a song your own, but maybe not when Holiday’s haunting voice precedes you.

LaKisha turned the song into a showstopper and missed the point entirely in the process (even though her performance was flawless). A little music history — I’m not talking Beethoven here; just Billie — might keep the whole show from fading into TV history as a spectacular joke.

Oh, and speaking of jokes, here’s one other, much more important thing: Simon and Ryan, you’ve been told before that your homophobic jokes are offensive and tiresome. They’re also irresponsible and dangerous: Think of all the impressionable young minds that are molded and shaped every week by your idiocy. Now that really does scare me.