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Idol, Give Back
the Four Hours I Spent Watching

Idol, Give Back
the Four Hours I Spent Watching


If you don't give, next year's Idol Gives Back marathon is going to be even longer.

Driving down Pico Boulevard the other day, I finally got a look at a billboard that, unbeknownst to me, has been an Idol perennial in my city for I don't even know how long. (I don't drive down Pico much, I guess.) Each season this billboard features the photos of the top 10, and after each week's elimination episode, a sheer black scrim rolls down over the face of the dearly departed like a funeral veil. You can still see the face beneath it, grinning with so much pleading fame-need. And you whisper to yourself, "Oh, Ramiele. It wasn't meant to be like this. We're all lost on this broken-road journey to the grave." And then you say a little prayer for the tiniest outcast. And then you drive through McDonald's for some fries that you'll eat in the car and never tell anyone about.


So this week's theme is "inspirational songs." And I used to believe I knew what that meant. I think of the songs in the hymnals of the old Southern Baptist churches I grew up in. My favorite of these was "Softly and Tenderly," the one that goes, "come home, come home, ye who are weary come home." It's about the nice Jesus and not the jerk-face version that most Christians these days seem to favor. Anyway, I have a feeling no one will sing it tonight, although Kristy Lee Cook could get quite a bit of mileage out of it if she felt like it.

Up first is Michael Johns. He's going to sing "Dream On." Wait... which "Dream On" is he talking about? Oh, the Aerosmith "Dream On." Not that I knew of any other song called "Dream On." But since the Aerosmith "Dream On" IN NO WAY COUNTS AS AN "INSPIRATIONAL SONG," I just naturally assumed that I was missing something. Oh, I'm not? That's what we're going to be about tonight? Great.

Johns talks about how the song is proof that dreams come true. Then he sings it. "Every tiiiiiiime that I look in the mirror... I wonder if these paaaaants make my butt look faaaat...."

All right, he didn't sing that. But it would have been a lot cooler if'n he had. In fact, I have a better idea for tonight. Make them all do wacky novelty songs. Bring in Dr. Demento as a guest judge. Johns can just quit this sub-Steven Tyler impersonation right now and sing "I Lost on Jeopardy" by Weird Al. Anyway, he's got his lucky ascot cinched tightly around his neck, forcing out a strangled falsetto near the end. Message: "My dreams! They're typical!"

The judges aren't into it. But you know what I mean by that. Simon and Randy aren't into it. Paula's always into it. In fact, tonight she's also kind of irritable, laying the praise on thick and being combative with Simon and Randy at the same time. It could be because her dress is making her boobs all smashy and they hurt. It could be any number of reasons. But I'm glad it's happening. The camera cuts to Sinbad in the audience. Remember him? I do. He was in Good Burger. That wasn't a bad movie.

Did you know that Syesha and Ramiele were close? Me neither. But they were. "That was my roommate since Hollywood week," says Syesha. And we now know that "that" equals "she" in whatever English usage book Syesha got her learnin' from. And yes, I just ended a sentence with a preposition. Ever heard of artistic license? Syesha also says, "She's the only one who really got me." Don't you mean "that," honey? Make up your mind. What I also like about that sentence is the aggressive (and kinda oops-y) assertion that none of the other Idols get her or her unique brand of specialness and baby-laughter. Maybe they just stopped trying.

Syesha is going to sing "I Believe," made famous by Fantasia, "because if you believe in yourself, then anything is possible." Syesha also says of Fantasia, "That's my idol." So now we're back to "that" again.

As for "I Believe," it's almost an inspirational song because it's got a choir. And because anything Fantasia sings sounds like it was meant to be sung in church, even "Baby Mama." But why, Syesha, why? Why would you subject yourself to the comparisons that will undoubtedly arise? Did being dwarfed and chilled by Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" shadow not provide you with enough hassle? You want more? To perform a song known solely as the property of the best singer this show's ever had? Wouldn't you prefer to sing my selection for you, a little song from the '80s called "Super Bowl Shuffle?" No? All right. Do that Fantasia song and fall on your face.

But she doesn't really fall that much. It's not the Diana DeGarmo version, at least. It's fine. And yet the fact remains that pretty singing is not always the best singing. I say this as often as I can because it's true: Fantasia finds the exact right moment in everything she sings and then she puts the Stank on it. She drives a dump truck down the gravelly bottom of her soul and picks up a load of fresh grief and then it comes out as singing. Randy, critiquing Syesha, talks about Fantasia's "special connection" to the material. Syesha's response: "What do you mean?"


Jason Castro is going to do the Iz version of "Over the Rainbow."

"What's an Iz?" I ask Xtreem Aaron, seated next to me on the couch. "I thought this version of the song was from Bobby McFerrin."

Xtreem Aaron works at a record store, so he knows things. "No. It's by Iz," he says. "He's this 700-pound dead Hawaiian guy who played a ukulele. He's the only guy we really sell much of in the Hawaiian music section. He would take off his shirt on record covers. Chicks hanging on him. He died of fatness. They eat a lot of Spam in Hawaii."

I think this is a lie and go look up Iz online. And yes, in fact, he did die at age 38. Of fatness. He was 758 pounds, and this made him unable to breathe. So now Castro is going to strum a uke and sing it like Iz. And why? To show that "dreams really do come true," says Castro.


My own dream, of course, is that Castro sing "Junk Food Junkie." It's this song from one-hit wonder Larry Groce about whole grains and yogurt that was, believe it or not, was an actual hit single in the 1970s. So now you know about Iz and Larry Groce. Then Castro sings the song and rearranges the order of the lyrics, making them not rhyme, doing whatever he likes. Great. Awesome. Nice gay sweater you got on there too, man. I'm also really into the little metal dreadlock rings you've got stuck to your head. I love hair jewelry on men. How long until I don't have to listen to this guy anymore? The judges love him, of course. Even Simon, who calls him "fantastic."

I'd really like to hear Kristy Lee Cook do the mildly naughty "Telephone Man." (You might need to YouTube that one to loosen it from your personal sticky heap of discarded memories.) But Seacrest introduces her as "determined not to be in the bottom three," so what I'd like doesn't really matter. And in order to stay out of purgatory, she's going to poison all the other contestants with nerve gas that she's learned how to eject from the whites of her eyes while she simultaneously sings a song she wrote herself called "God, Flag, Jesus, America, Troops, Pie, Me. Also Puppies. And Oprah." And what I mean by that is that she's singing a Martina McBride song called "Anyway." And so far, while the personality reels have unspooled, each Idol has talked about giving back and inspiring others and helping people, since it's Idol Gives Back week and all. But Kristy Lee Cook spends her minute or so talking about how this song is about how she's going to not give up and "give it [her] best shot." So this is an inspirational song -- about Kristy Lee Cook's career potential.

Randy calls it slightly pitchy before claiming to love it. Paula interrupts him and tells him to lay off the pitch commentary. That no one ever tells Paula to lay off the stupidhead commentary is not even the point. The point is I love her when she's a nutjob and tonight she's like a cat in a bag. Randy gets into it with her. Her response: "What. Eh. Vrr." And then she goes on to tell Kristy Lee Cook that it was her best performance ever (proof that anything sounds good with a big gospel choir of professional backup singers behind it) and that Paula remembers when Martina McBride herself sang that very song on that stage. She doesn't actually have a point in mind when she says it. She just wants everyone to know that her short-term memory isn't completely shot to hell yet.

Following some commercials (and I know I've not written anything about any of the commercials this season, but I haven't felt "inspired" to do so yet, nor has it been my "dream" -- maybe after Idol Gives Back I'll feel like doing it.) Seacrest is down in the audience with the judges. Some guy with terrible hair is sitting on Simon's lap AND IT'S MIKE DARNELL, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! AN EXECUTIVE AT FOX! HOW WILL THE ROOM CONTAIN THE VOLCANO-SIZE THRILLS THAT COME FROM AUTOMOTIVE BOSSES AND TV SUITS DOTTING THE SCREEN?! I'm personally going to need two cups of chamomile tea and a Xanax that I normally save for terrifying air travel just to come down from all this.

David Cook is up next, singing a song by his favorite band, Our Lady Peace.

No, really, his favorite band is Our Lady Peace.

Not that I'm all stunned by that, of course. Remember how Daughtry's favorite band was Live? You're not a real "rocker" on American Idol unless you're stone in love with some piece-of-shit-boring band. Why can't there ever be anyone who says, "Yeah, I like the Fall." Oh, yeah, that's right, because they would never even audition for the show if they were into that sort of thing. My dumb.

The admission of Our Lady Peace fandom inspires this question from Xtreem Aaron: "Is that one of those trick-you-into-not-knowing-they're-Christian bands like Switchfoot?"

"No," I say. "They're just Canadian."

"I heard Insane Clown Posse were suddenly all Christian now," says Xtreem Aaron. "But I could have heard that wrong."

"How can that be?" I ask. "All their songs are about rape."

"They had more songs about Faygo than rape," says Xtreem Aaron.

"I'll have to look into that," I say. But it's settled. David Cook should sing the Faygo song about yo-yos and pony rides and how Faygo remembers. (Again, YouTube will help you if you don't know what I'm talking about. They've got more on there than just Brenda Dickson, you know.) And while the Faygo jingle doesn't exactly count as a novelty song, nothing by Our Lady Peace probably counts as "inspirational," either. David Cook sings the shitty Our Lady Peace song, whatever it's called. Something about how we're all innocent. Oh, really, David Cook? We're all innocent? Because I tend to think that we've all got blood on our hands, myself. And you are at least personally guilty of wearing AN UGLY WHITE JACKET THAT EVEN ADAM ANT WOULDN'T TOUCH.

And when he's done singing, he's still not done being king of the dipshits, holding up his hand to the camera and revealing the words "give back" in lowercase letters followed by a period, bowing his head in Bono-like prayer.

I prefer all caps. It gets your point across better:

Simon tells David Cook that he didn't like the performance. But I should just transcribe it, really, because Paula's pestering, screeching, and whining in this moment needs to be read in its entirety.

Simon: David, I didn't like this performance very much at all...

Paula: Ugh!

Simon: I thought it was a --


Simon: I thought it was a teensy-weensy bit pompous

Paula: POMPOUS?!

Simon: Yeah, I didn't like the

Paula: Did you --

Simon: -- the whole white jacket

Randy: I like the white jacket!

Paula: Did you see what he --

Simon: And David you know we say --

Paula: UH-UH!

Simon: -- this week after week after week: originality, choice of song, and something you're going to remember in two or three days. And this for me --

Paula: WHUH-UH! AH-AH!

Simon: Was your weakest performance in the last --

Simon stops and reaches for Paula's hand and says, "Calm. Down."

In response, she recoils and balls up her hands in fists that she pulls away as if Simon's hands are covered in poop. "Don't!" she warns.

"I'm not going to touch you," says Simon. And then back to David Cook, while Paula gives the camera an expression of deep, deranged disgust, "It just wasn't anywhere near as good as the last two weeks."

Best of all, even better than Paula's freak-out, is that David Cook is now seething with rage.

Carly's turn. I listened to her entire "Carly Hennessy" album again this past week, and I've decided that I'm glad it fizzled. She sounded girly and malleable on that album, and I think that failure made her a more interesting person. When I hear her sing now, even though she's still really young, she sounds grown and a little tougher, which is way more appealing and, frankly, the only road she can travel now that she's married to the most extremely inked man in San Diego.

And I have an apology to make to her. I'm sorry for liking you so much, Carly. It seems that I've had nothing but the ability to cast sing-bad and/or go-home-too-early hexes on my favorite Idol contestants for years now. I got lucky by loving Kelly and Fantasia. But after that it was all Paris Bennett and Melinda Doolittle and the Hotness. None of them won. And poor the Hotness; she didn't even make it to Hollywood.

Anyway, what I'm trying to say here, Carly, is that you're not awesome tonight when you sing Queen's "The Show Must Go On." (my choice, Barnes & Barnes' s"Fish Heads." Even better? Their little-heard, impossible-to-find "I Had Sex With E.T.") It was screamy, and now I'm kind of sad. You're the best singer in this whole bunch, and while earlier this week I thought that maybe the show itself was going to do you in by intentionally sabotaging you (I bought "Here You Come Again" from iTunes and was dismayed to hear it syruped up with strings and sweetness and echo, when what you really need is someone to give you some stark, spooky production to make that song sound as fretful as it could, someone like T. Bone Burnett or Jack White, anybody but whoever the boobs were that tried to dress you up in an aural pinafore), I now see that you are, in fact, capable of doing it by yourself. Stop that now, please. I want you to stick around and keep on scaring the Archie-loving tweens with your witchy-womanishness.

Meanwhile, Simon totally misses the point of her tonight and calls her performance "angry." Well, yeah. So what? Anger's inspirational too.

Archuleta time. No anger there. Only the grim determination not to disappoint. I think he should give us a ballady "Pac-Man Fever," but he's going to do "Angels" by Robbie Williams. "At least it's not another fucking song about having dreams," I say to Xtreem Aaron.

"I have a dream about him," says XA. "I want him to be tortured in the next Hostel movie."

And while this does sound appealing, and though I think I should stress that I'm not a fan, nor will I become one, I'm developing a low-level case of the feel-sorries for this kid. Because he is just a kid. And that thing that everyone sees as false humility is beginning to look like a fairly serious level of social awkwardness, terror, and a genuine inability to deal with praise of any sort. Remember Katherine McPhee's father and how he'd sit in the audience and cry because he was so blown away and proud of his child? Contrast that with Papachuleta, who looks like nothing so much as the mean Little League coach, ball cap screwed on tight, applauding a lot from the sidelines in a way that looks like approval, meanwhile inside he's yelling "Hustle! Hustle! You dropped that fly ball, you fucking fairy!"

Cut to a VERY YOUNG GIRL in the audience holding a gruesomely sexual homemade sign. It's got a photocopy of the Archu-cabeza on it and it reads, in all caps: LICK THOSE LIPS!!! Where are the parents?

Brooke White is going to sing "You've Got a Friend" from Carole King's Tapestry album instead of my choice for her, Ray Stevens's "The Streak." But Carole King makes sense, especially since Brooke seems to have raided Jan Brady's closet for that hideous dress she's got on and Marcia's wig room for the ironed, parted-down-the-middle hair. And dang, tonight she MEANS IT. WITH THE FACE. Where was all this angst when you sang "Jolene?"

And that ends episode one of THREE. FUCKING THREE.

Now on to Idol Gives Back. My question here is, How do I recap a 2-1/2 hour show without:

(a) getting carpal tunnel

(b) losing my mind

(c) hating orphans

The answer is that I plan to skim mercilessly. And that's because I feel very strongly about telethon-style shows being almost useless in real-life terms. I know that the biggest TV show in the country should definitely be doing something to raise the issues of global economic injustice. But that's not what this show does. It emphasizes one-shot charity and does it with feel-good misery. I went back to my recap of last year's show and found something I'd already written. Here it is again because it still applies:

The kind of decontextualized horror show meant to evoke viewer dollar-donating sympathy but not questions about international debt, the politics of aid to developing nations, or the role greedy First World corporations and governments play in keeping the majority of the world in crushing, extreme poverty. But Dancing With the Stars is going to cover all that shit next week, so wait for it.

I will admit that in 1984 I bought "Do They Know It's Christmas?" just like everyone else. But you know what? That famine was caused by a civil war waged by Ethiopia's own government. Frankie Goes to Hollywood, admirable activists though they were, didn't really help anyone that much by allowing themselves to be bossed around by Bob Geldof for 24 hours. And it's this kind of temporary conscience-salve that builds up over time into "compassion fatigue" and makes people wonder why nothing they do is of any lasting help. So yeah, send in five bucks. Then go vote for John McCain in November. And keep wondering why everything sucks so bad. Oh, and by the way, Exxon/Mobil? Thanks for your sponsorship. Howsabout dipping into those hundreds of billions of dollars in profits you clear every year and making this show unnecessary?

OK, quickly:

1. The So You Think You Can Dance Kids join the idols for "Don't Stop the Music." When they get to the mama-say-mama-sah-mama-ku-sah part the cameras cut to Archuleta who seems like he's about to hyperventilate. IS NOT A BALLAD! DO NOT WANT! HOW TO SING?!

2. Celebrities begging for your cash = Jimmy Johnson, George Lopez, Kylie Minogue, Maria Shriver, Ben Stiller, Kobe Bryant with a bandage on his face, Triple H, Randy and Paula, Mary Murphy, the Jonas Brothers, Billy Crystal and Miley Cyrus pretending not to know who the other one is in a bit that goes on for a very, very, very long time, Julianne Moore, John Cena and his exceptionally impressive forearms, Adam Sandler, Eli and Peyton Manning talking about how New Orleans is still all fucked up, Posh and Becks--OK, I have to talk about Posh and Becks. Have you actually heard them speak? They're like urchins out of Oliver Twist. Americans think everyone over there sounds like Helena Bonham Carter or Emma Thompson in a Merchant-Ivory movie. But these two are like, "I dropped a hunna-thousand quid at 'arrods last week, me! Got a Balenciaga scarf. Ace! Cor! Blimey! Bubble-n-squeak! Thanks guv'nah!" After them comes Kiefer Sutherland, Celine Dion, Jimmy Kimmel (who wisely spends his time insulting Simon Cowell's haircut and huge nipples), Whoopi Goldberg, Ellen DeGeneres, Forest Whitaker and his wife, Sarah Silverman (who manages not to mock malaria or AIDS but does goof on Mrs. Whitaker), Keith Urban, Reese Witherspoon, Dane Cook, Alicia Keys, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Rob Schneider, Tyra Banks, David Spade, and Brad Pitt dressed like a hobo.

3. Jennifer Connelly appears in a truly powerful and affecting clip about the fact that one fifth of the world's population doesn't have access to clean drinking water. Of course, all it says at the end is "HELP." Not even a URL.

4. Snoop performs. It's uneventful. His microphone is bejeweled out the ass.

5. Teri Hatcher performs with a band of TV people playing in her band. I recognize that adorable Greg Grunberg playing drums and the guy from Desperate Housewives on guitar. I don't know anyone else. Teri Hatcher sings as well as I do.

6. Miley Cyrus performs twice, which means that my 6-year-old niece is bouncing off the ceiling of my brother's house back in Texas right now.

7. The idols are all "manning the phones." This is, I have zero doubt, 100% fake. They all have silver MacBooks on their little tables and pads of paper they scribble things on while they pretend to talk to actual human beings. Ramiele probably is secretly chatting with Danny Noriega ("Girrrl, you can't believe what they've got me doing here. No, for real..."). And I like the idea that anyone would feel comfortable entrusting their credit card information to Jason Castro or Amanda Overmyer, and that the kids are dutifully writing down those 16-digit numbers and getting the spelling of people's names right and then handing over their pads of paper to a production assistant who'll have to decipher their handwriting. After that the list will be delivered to Bono, who'll provide matching funds from his own petty cash drawer.

8. Fergie sings. ACK. And with Heart, no less. I didn't know that incredibly awesome band Heart needed Fergie's assistance with "Barracuda." But apparently they do. Impressive one-handed cartwheels, though, Fergie. I can't deny that.

9. Is it weird that the most wrenching moment of the evening comes when Annie Lennox visits Africa and goes to a house of young boys in who are raising themselves because their parents died of AIDS and then she breaks down into convulsive, heaving sobs? These aren't stray fake tears of the "I'm sorry, I told myself I wouldn't do this" school. This is blubbering. You half expect Seacrest to break in and say, "Your donation will help Annie Lennox pull herself back together." Then she sings a truly moving version of "Many Rivers to Cross."

10. Carrie Underwood sings. Then Gloria Estefan and Sheila E. come out and do "Get On Your Feet." And Sheila E., who remains a complete bad-ass, wrecks shit and knocks her drums over. Then the idols sing "Seasons of Love" from Rent. What, Fergie's too busy to help?

11. Robin Williams pretends to be Russian. I don't...I's...look, I know this guy named Eddie who's kind of a...I don't know what he'd call himself, like a "healer" maybe. I like to think of him as a warlock. I think he's in a real coven and everything. It's pretty awesome. He makes these magick oils and soaps that are supposed to make things disappear or attract money or sex or peace or whatever. I'm going to buy some "Get Lost Forever, Robin Williams" soap and take a very hot shower.

12. Daughtry sings and then my TiVo cut off at the 2:31 mark. I think I missed Mariah. Fuck.

And now on to Chopped and Screwed Night. Except I'm kind of fed up now and pretty beat. And the show doesn't make it easier to love by forcing the Idols to sing a super Jesus-centric gospel song. I mean, I know that most gospel songs are about Jesus. And I got no beef with Jesus. It's just that this one is REALLY REALLY SUPER ABOUT JESUS. Xtreem Aaron asks, "Is this legal?"

I'm wondering this myself, since the song starts with "My Jesus, my savior, Lord there is none like yooooooo" and only ramps up the 700 Club-isms from that point on. The husband/partner/whatever, who's finally made it to watching his first moments of Idol all week and who is a total atheist, says, after giving me a WTF look and a mild harrumph, "I believe in the separation of church and American Idol."

Being the gospel music fan in the house, I have to say that this song would make me very happy if I heard it in church. If I ever went to church. And I do appreciate that the biggest belting and wailing chores have been given to Carly the tattooed barmaid. So I guess I'm OK with it. Xtreem Aaron sums it up with, "Now will they sing 'Shout at the Devil?'"

And I'm just blowing off the rest of this. Everything. The Ford commercial, the continued begging for cash, the clip of celebrities lip-syncing to "I'm a Believer," Jordin Sparks dueting with Chris Brown. All of it. Because while I still like orphans, my arms hurt.

The bottom three are Carly, Syesha, and Michael Johns. The best part of this is when Syesha looks directly into the camera, throws a sexy face, and mouths the words "bottom three." It almost makes me care about her fate. And then the Aussie gets kicked off. And since I care about him even less than I care about Syesha, I'm not upset. I wonder if I can drive over to Pico in time to watch them pull the scrim over his mug? That would be interesting to watch.

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