Imagine, if you will, a parallel universe where instead of running for president, our 2016 contenders had competed in American Idol instead. (While meanwhile, in another parallel universe, TV personalities were running for president. Oh wait, that’s our universe, never mind.) What might the contest look like? I decided to draw on my vast knowledge of American Idol’s last few seasons and imagine it for you. Here is how I picture most of the candidates who ran this year as American Idol contestants. I say “most,” because I couldn’t think of something clever for everyone. Sorry, George Pataki, whoever you were.
Bernie Sanders: Bernie catapulted to attention with what Harry Connick, Jr. described as a “kind of weird, but cool” audition rendition of “Sounds of Silence.” Often described as “That guy who sounds like Neil Young, but more Neil Young than Neil Young if you know what I mean,” Bernie was distraught after being informed that he couldn’t sing Simon & Garfunkel songs every single week. However, he’s managed to reinterpret several Bob Dylan songs in unexpected stylistic ways, arguing, “There’s no melody to them really, so you can basically sing them however you want.” His screamo version of “Like A Rolling Stone” has currently received over 3 million hits on YouTube.
Rand Paul: From Rand Paul’s first audition, Harry Connick, Jr. was saying “I really, really dig you.” Unfortunately, audiences just didn’t get his cerebral style or his passionate devotion to music theory (and neither did Jennifer Lopez). But every time Harry said “I love the way you landed on the 9th,” they shared a knowing grin.
Mike Huckabee: Mike Huckabee was the guy who auditioned last year… and the year before that… and the year before that. He never got out of Hollywood this year.
Jeb Bush: Jeb Bush has struggled in the shadow of his older brother George, himself a former Idol who went on to make his millions as a platinum-selling country star. Convinced that he could duplicate his brother’s success, he was gently encouraged to “try and find your own voice” after copying all of George’s song choices, but he proved unable to take criticism graciously. He is expected to release his debut album next year. The working title is “Songs My Dad Wrote For Me (Not George).”
Ben Carson: When you put a guitar in Ben Carson’s hands, it’s magical. The problem begins when he starts singing. He managed to soften Jennifer and Keith’s hearts enough to squeak past the audition over Harry’s loud protests, at which point he miraculously plowed forward to main-stage thanks to a small but determined band of voters. “As long as they keep voting for me, I guess America is stuck with me for one week more!” His Idol run mercifully drew to a close after a performance of “Stand By Me” that not even Jennifer could find something nice to say about.
Ted Cruz: The judges have been inexplicably muted in their praise of Ted Cruz, despite the fact that he is far and away the most consistent contestant on the show. Nevertheless, a loyal fan-base keeps him coming back week after week to turn in yet another rock-solid performance. Back in group week, he was known as “the guy who really knows his stuff and really knows it too,” but you couldn’t help feeling sorry for him, considering that he needed to teach his group-mates what a triad was, and considering that it showed. (As the judges picked through the hastily assembled train-wreck, it was all Ted could do not to burst out, “WELL AT LEAST I KNEW MY PART!”)
Marco Rubio: Marco Rubio is the baby-faced heartthrob with a guitar who instantly charmed everyone with his thousand-watt smile and perfect pitch. Upon his first audition, Ms. Lopez was heard to exclaim, “Oooooh, I could eat you up, come here and give me a big hug!” The judges used their save on him after a disastrous performance where he completely blanked on the “Sail on silver girl” verse of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and reprised verse 2 instead. Despite his boyish appeal, Marco vigorously protested being painted into a corner as “just a heartthrob.” “I can do gritty, I can do soulful. There are so many more layers to who I am as an artist than what people seem to think. I promise you you’re gonna see a whole different side of me next week.” Unfortunately, he was voted off after a fiery Santana cover that was applauded by the judges as “a brave choice” but failed to resonate with his fan base.
Donald Trump: If you thought Adam Lambert raised eyebrows, clearly you haven’t been watching The Season of Donald Trump, where literally everyone appears to be voting for him, including your Uncle Homer who never, ever watches American Idol, like ever. And no Donald performance is complete without the accompanying ritual of making passes at Jennifer Lopez and interrupting Harry Connick, Jr. every time he tries to get a criticism in edgewise. But Keith Urban doesn’t seem overly perturbed: “Donald is just Donald, you know? I mean, yeah, sure, they’re gonna say he’s kind of over-the-top or whatever, and I get that, but I tell him dude, it’s like, you know, you’re doing your own thing.” When Donald accompanied his last performance with a shocking bit of choreography that ventured into Michael Jackson territory and beyond (reportedly designed to impress Ms. Lopez), Keith simply shook his head and chuckled, “You just keep being you, man. Just keep being you.” Meanwhile, Harry’s only comment is “Remember the ‘Gangnam Style’ guy? ‘Nuff said.”
Hillary Clinton: Hillary has always dreamed of being an R & B star and appears to be getting her wish, as large swathes of voters continue to text in for her. Repeatedly. But some are less enthused, including one columnist who described her last performance as “literally the whitest version of ‘Natural Woman’ ever.” She appears to be on a collision course with Donald Trump, although he’s been spotted looking quite chummy with her boyfriend Bill at a number of frat parties.
John Kasich: I literally remember nothing about John Kasich. He’s the guy from Ohio, right? Hang on, let me google it…