America got it wrong

America. . .what is the matter with you? On “American Idol,” the two best performances of the previous night, Syesha’s and Carly’s, landed up when the votes were tallied as the bottom two! And Carly, the tatooed Irish lass who certainly belonged in the top three of the whole bunch, got voted off.

(In saying these two performances were the best, I’m not applying my own personal arcane tastes in classical music or alt country. The two did rock numbers–as much as Andrew Lloyd Weber can compose rock numbers–but they did them very, very well.)

Whereas the two worst performances, an awful performance of an awful song, “Memories,” by the dreadlocked Jason and an effort by Brooke in which she actually forgot the lyrics and had to start all over, made their perpetrators “safe.”

This is a terrible injustice. So was voting off the Australian, Michael Johns, but this conjunction of awarding the two worst and punishing the two best is just wrong.

This comes from letting little children have cell phones. The contest is in danger of being taken over by young girls enthralled by “cute” boys. (True, two of these–the two Davids–are worthy of winning. David Cook, I think, is the best, rocker though he is. David Archeleta, though, I predict, will win.)

The government needs to intervene. Congress should investigate. American Idol should be regulated. Those who vote more responsibly should get tax cuts. President Bush should send in the troops.

America, what are you going to do when making a more important decision, like picking a president?

Debating ABC’s debate

I’ve been critical of Barack Obama the last few days, but this time I can understand his exasperation with the debate run by ABC the other night. See this TV critic’s evisceration of the way ABC handled it:In Pa. Debate, The Clear Loser Is ABC.

Many conservatives, though, are crowing at how badly Obama did and how liberals are being so indignant about ABC.

But on one issue, surely all can agree that ABC blew it: The main questioner was George Stephanopoulos , a former Clinton staffer!

How is it possible that a major network with an actual newsroom would be so blind to such an obvious conflict of interest? The lowliest intern should have been able to catch that howler.

Hugo Chavez vs. The Simpsons

Venezuela has banned “The Simpsons” as being too corrupting and replaced it with “Baywatch.” Isn’t “Baywatch” more corrupting than “The Simpsons”?

I wonder what Hugo Chavez has against “The Simpsons”? I would argue that satirical humor is intrinsically dangerous to an authoritarian state. Whereas hedonism functions as something like an opiate to the masses.

Vocational bootcamp

What a good show was the premiere of the new season of “Hell’s Kitchen”! Gordon Ramsey this time takes a whole crew of incompetents. How can he pick any of them to run one of his restaurants at a salary of a quarter of a million dollars? The contestants had to prepare their “signature dishes,” one of which was a scallop and venison tartare (a.k.a. raw shellfish chopped up with raw deer) mixed up with white chocolate! An awful-sounding concoction that actually made Chef Ramsey throw up! And when they had to do the restaurant, no one took leadership, everybody kept botching the recipes, and the service was so slow that the customers all left before any of the entrees were served!

And yet the contestants were SO full of themselves, so prideful and diva-like. They were full of self-esteem. This show has the virtues of the early episodes of “American Idol,” to show the world that there ARE standards of excellence and that a narcissistic ego is no substitute for a work ethic. The wretched singers and cooks are all full of themselves, rather than concerned to love and serve their neighbors outside of themselves.

Now we’ll see if Gordon Ramsey–who throws rubber-cooked chicken against the wall and squeezes the grease out of the noodles with his hands and rubs the noses of his charges into their own incompetence–can make something out of these characters.

Notice that this is not just about cooking or singing or these TV shows. It has to do with the consequences of relativism, weakness of character as encouraged by our culture of self-affirmation, and the loss of the doctrine of vocation.

In praise of Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton, like other country singers, is self-deprecating enough to allow herself to be turned into a caricature. But Dolly is a great artist. She is a master of those “ancient tones” that come out of mountain music, and she can also bring those same qualities into her contemporary song-writing. Last night, she was the rather unlikely singing coach and song provider for “American Idol,” which, one would think, would prove a tough challenge for these young, pop, rock-tinged singers.

But the test of the songwriter part of a singer-songwriter is that the songs also work when other people perform them. Bob Dylan, for example, has a totally unique voice and totally unique songs. And yet, when other people perform them–from the Byrds to Garth Brooks– they still work!

And Dolly Parton is the same way. The “Idols” did quite well with her songs, I thought, in some cases rendering them in non-country styles but the strength of the songs still came through. (I’m thinking particularly of David Cook’s alterna-arrangement of “Sparrow.” For a non-”Idol” example, listen to what Whitney Houston does with “I Will Always Love You.”)

The vocation of the restaurateur

I caught the chef Gordon Ramsey on my new favorite show, BBC’s comedy car show “Top Gear,” and since he could drive really fast, I decided to watch his show Hell’s Kitchen.

This is a sort of American Idol of cookery, only the sole judge is Ramsey, the Simon Cowell of chefs. The different cooks compete in doing the various tasks required in a professional kitchen and the winner gets to run one of Ramsey’s restaurants.

Watching the show reminds us of the hard work and high pressure that professional restaurant workers have to deal with. Ramsey is like a drill sergeant, demanding excellent work, quality preparations, and outstanding service for the customers. He yells at the contestants and cusses them out (carefully bleeped) when they fall short, but he also teaches and mentors.

The show can demonstrate to young people the demands of the no-coddling real world of demanding bosses and high performance standards. We often see the customers enjoying their peaceful dinner, unaware of the turmoil that it took to prepare it. The show makes us appreciate the vocation of the professionals who prepare us our daily bread.

(I just caught the reruns. The new season premiers tonight after “American Idol.”)