So, yes, I watch American Idol--not obsessively or religiously, but whenever I can.
It's a conservative show. It promotes a meritocracy based on singing excellence, and that excellence is not reduced to what's required for commercial success. Singing very well before a huge number of people is a rare ability that requires both extraordinary natural gifts and very hard and intelligent work, and it gives people pleasure worthy of being human. That can't be said, for example, by the talent being displayed on The Biggest Loser.
Just like the government constructed by our Founding Fathers, the show is based a combination of WISDOM and CONSENT. In its latter stages, the experts give their judgments, but the people--tens of millions of them--decide. There's no denying the people are influenced by the experts, but sometimes they do something the experts regard just stupid or whimsical. Once in a great while, the judges have the power to override popular judgment, just like our Supreme Court.
Before this season, THE expert was Simon Cowell. His opinion counted the most because he was the hardest grader--the reality check on the effusions of the other judges. He was often on the money, in my opinion. But the truth is his judgments were too trendy or biased against old-fashioned melodic perfection, against relatively standard versions of classic tunes.
With Simon gone, the grading is easier. The judges seem too ready to like everyone. But there'e no denying that the general quality of the perfromances is better this eason, and maybe everyone deserves to be graded more easily. Certainly there's more appreciation for diverse manifestations of excellence, and quality, in a new and more easygoing way, is still being controlled.
The comments of Steven Tyler, although fairly regularly not negative and not very specific, still manage to have weight. That may not be because the legendary Aerosmith singer knows all that much about what really makes up a fine singing performance, but because it turns out he's a fine gentleman who knows how to be classy in an appreciative way.
Jennifer Lopez, meanwhile, is all about the love in the manner of Paula Abdul, but she's less goofy and actually has good judgment. Everyone knows she knows how to really handle a tough tune.
And Randy is a little better in being about more than the "pitchy" issue.
Last Thursday, the judges used their one opportunity this season to trump the people's judgment (a kind of veto or judicial review) by negating a vote-off that was, in Steven's word, "crazy."
The people voted off Casey Abrams--a very entertaining and talented performer who lacks the polished professionalism of most of the others. His performances are a little manic. And his weight and beard need some work; he looks something like Zach Galifianakis (the very funny fat guy in Hangover and the smart HBO series Bored to Death). He certainly looks much older than he really is.
The judges in effect criticized the American people for their "lookism," for forgetting that the contest is all about singing performances. Who couldn't be charmed by Casey's over-the-top meltdown of gratitude in response to being saved? And the judges didn't fail to admonish Casey to calm down a bit, play to his genuine strengths, and pay better attention to detail. WISDOM, once again, will influence CONSENT. I predict Casey will be around for a while.
Of course: The whole thing could be fixed, and the puppetmasters of the show may have just wanted to ensure that the crazy (and therefore entertaining) guy made it to the tour.