Editor’s Note: This is the first in a week-long series of articles by various writers about American Idol.
“That sounded like a cat being set on fire and run through a car wash for extinguishing. It was the most awful sound I have ever had the displeasure of hearing.”
Those words, while a bit exaggerated, are all too often the types of expressions that come from the mouth of American Idol judge Simon Cowell. Known as the “bad-boy” of the panel of judges for the pop-music competition show, Cowell is not afraid to tell it “like it is.” His honesty, while being a bit harsh and over the top itself, is a breath of fresh air in a culture of political correctness.
One need only contrast two of the judges to see how vastly different Cowell is from the reigning culture. Paula Abdul consistently offers feedback to the singers which is meaningless, often indiscernible, and half the time in contradiction to claims she has made previously. The motive behind Abdul’s asinine comments is politeness. She is wary of offending singers, or making them feel bad. Conversely, Simon Cowell doesn’t hesitate to announce that a performer sounded like cheesy karaoke from hell, even as the audience roars with “boo” from behind him. And it is this forthright honesty and grip on quality standards that makes me appreciate American Idol.
We live in a culture that is constantly asserting three major ideas: (1) People Have A Right Not To Be Offended; (2) Truth is Subjective; and (3) There Are No Standards For Good Art. In our culture it is often asserted that people have no right to say anything that another person might disagree with. Whole law suits are acted out on the basis of this right to never be offended. We hear this type of idea expressed often in the early editions of AI, where spurned idol wannabes recite their offendedness to the camera. Usually it goes something like, “Who does Simon think he is, saying that about me! I know I can sing and he’s just a jerk!” In response to this ideology, however, AI offers up a dose of reality to what are often some of the worst singers in the history of existence. Those who have been told all their life that they are really great singers receive a wake up call: “You really are that bad!”
Postmodernism, as a movement, developed the already rising idea of subjective truth , which says that no one has a right to say what is right or wrong, true or false, etc. The fact that the three judges of AI can evaluate a person as either good or bad flies in the face of this philosophy. They suggest that there is indeed such a thing as good singing and that certain people’s performances don’t fit within those standards. Those who would contend that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” (which may to some degree be true) are forced here to wrestle with the notion that there are some artistic expressions that simply aren’t that good by any reasonable standards. Being a Pop-Vocalist requires certain hallmarks, and has a certain standard. All those auditioning for AI, and striving to be The American Idol must abide by those standards, and Simon Cowell will do his best to see that they do.
Of course, American Idol isn’t a Christian television program (no matter how many times they sing “Shout to the Lord”), but it does reflect some principles that Christians can and should appreciate: Honesty, objectivity, and reality. Of course the derision and humiliation of individuals on the show can be perceived as a negative by Christians, and I suppose some believers will want to accuse Simon Cowell of being the anti-Christ. But I am actually inclined to disagree. If Simon Cowell is helping people to stop taking themselves so seriously then maybe the culture will start taking God more seriously. I won’t hold my breath. But in the meantime I think I’ll enjoy the occasional episode of American Idol and remind myself that some people really do sound like screeching chalk when they sing, even when its not politically correct to tell them so.