Thursday, May 21, 2009

climb every mountain

I usually stay the heck away from American Idol. Occasionally, in seasons past, I’ve watched the first episode or two just for the spectacle of folks auditioning who clearly have no perspective on the extent of their modest (or imagined) abilities. After those first auditions, the Idol idea of what the music industry is sets in, and I tune out.

To me, Idol offers a world that has no relation to actual musicians. The closest art world analog (this is an art blog, right?) I can think of is Thomas Kinkade. He’s an exhausted punching bag at this point, I know, but at one point, that guy moved millions of units—to people who didn’t actually like art. (In recent years, of course, Kinkade seems to have lost his mojo and his mind, as illustrated in a very unflattering 2006 LA Times piece by Kim Christensen, Dark Portrait of a Painter of Light. Typical highlight: "'This one's for you, Walt,' the artist quipped late one night as he urinated on a Winnie the Pooh figure.")

Idol relies on a '70s ballad-singer conception of how the music industry ought to run: Get some dubious crooner, pair him with a committee of writers and producers, put them in front of an orchestra, and voila! Music, or something like it.

Anyway, I've been watching this season because my wife, Cassandra, has been rooting for one of the contestants: Adam Lambert, an androgynous rock’n’roll guy. Or I should say he presents himself as a rocker, despite the fact that his voice and sense of drama make him more likely to be singing in one of those contemporary Broadway musicals—with the songs that endlessly build and build, soaring ever-higher to no memorable melody, lyric, or purpose. Still, he clearly has a voice, and a range, and that jet-black cartoon hairdo going for him.

His competitor in the finale last night was Kris Allen, a short, skinny, former missionary and current college student with an acoustic guitar. Allen's notable accomplishments to date seem to be that 1) he can almost grow a moustache, and 2) he has nearly enough of the requisite skill to play a beer-soaked open mic night. Maybe.

Anyway, after two and a half hours of truly strange television—at one point featuring what appeared to be an extraterrestrial who had peeled off Lionel Richie’s face and stretched it over his own like a mask, singing a medley of Richie’s hits that, sadly, did not include “Dancing on the Ceiling”—the little demi-mustachioed guy won, for reasons that elude me.

His prize is the opportunity to record a song I could only describe as “Climb Every Mountain” from The Sound of Music, albeit rewritten for Celine Dion to perform it in a Las Vegas casino.

All of which makes me feel a bit like a curmudgeon, and reminds me of a cartoon by Drew and Josh Alan Friedman, depicting Frank Sinatra, Jr. glowering in his Atlantic City hotel room as he reads about rock concert grosses in the pages of Variety. "I do not understand this kind of commerce," Frank Jr. says. "I won't call it music."


Anonymous artPark said...

Perfect synopsis. And... Adam got hosed.

5:03 PM  

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