Saturday, March 11, 2006

Is This a Singing Competition – Or What?

Officer, arrest that TV show! There’s been a felony travesty.

Somebody stole Gedeon McKinney’s slot on American Idol – and the AI crew are accomplices.

This week, one of the top 16 contestants may have been eliminated because of her biography and another because we didn’t get to see his biography.

During the auditions, we learned that sweet Ayla Brown is the daughter of a Massachusetts state legislator and a TV reporter. Some viewers decided she is a child of privilege, an heiress to the easy life, even after her interactions last week with Simon Cowell revealed that her success in singing and sports are the product of hard work. A hard worker who strives for excellence? Gee, we don’t want one of her kind in the top 12.

Today I read two articles detailing the obstacles Gedeon overcame to compete on AI5. I have been paying close attention to every broadcast, but I don’t remember American Idol publicizing Gedeon’s remarkable human-interest backstory.

  • Gedeon is the valedictorian at the Yo! Memphis Academy of Visual and Performing Arts.
  • When the Memphis auditions for American Idol were cancelled due to Hurricane Katrina, Gedeon wanted to audition in Chicago but his family could not afford the expense.
  • The Academy's artistic director suggested holding a concert to raise the needed money. Gedeon’s fellow students paid $2 and adults $5 apiece to watch him perform.
  • The local Afro American Police Association donated $300.
  • Gedeon and his mother drove to Chicago with $700.
  • Gedeon is one of seven children, so his mother had to send his grandmother to Hollywood in her place.
  • Gedeon’s father, singer Tony McKinney, died in December 2005 right before the semifinals.

At seventeen, Gedeon already performs like a mature professional. Simon of the stingy praise compared him favorably to the legendary Sam Cooke, whose civil rights era classic A Change Is Gonna Come Gedeon sang so powerfully during top 20 week. Simon even speculated that, in an earlier time, Gedeon could have been one of Berry Gordy’s Motown superstars. Clearly, his singing wasn’t the reason voters failed to advance Gedeon McKinney to the top 12.

Some viewers found Gedeon cocky and even creepy. Do you think his triumph over so many personal obstacles might have tempered their negative impression? How about the fact that Gedeon never portrayed himself as a victim? Thanks, American Idol. You screwed up big time.

The most publicized backstory of any contestant this season belongs to Kellie Pickler. From her video clips, we know that her father is serving time in prison and has a history of arrests, her mother abandoned her, her grandparents raised her, and then her grandmother died. Wow.

Do you want to know what I consider creepy? The image Kellie promotes is that of a naïve, innocent victim of a tragic childhood. And yet the nineteen-year-old has injected blatantly sexual moves into her last two performances, inspiring Simon to call her a little minx. Minx is defined as a “seductive woman who uses her sex appeal to exploit men.” Little wonder that Simon likes her better than Carrie Underwood, who merely sang her heart out.

The last thing teenage girls need to see is another pop tart with daddy issues acting out sexually. Do I hear an amen? Get this girl some self-esteem counseling and put a muzzle, or a really uncomfortable codpiece, on Simon.

I haven’t been this creeped out by American Idol since Simon drooled over another famously disadvantaged nineteen-year-old, Fantasia Barrino, as she lay on the floor, singing Summertime. Twice. How strange that AI viewers learn more about how Simon likes his ladies than how hard it was for one of the best season five contestants to pursue his dream.

Last year Constantine Maroulis and Nadia Turner oozed sex appeal – and Simon looked mightily appreciative when one of them, I’ll let you figure out which, danced close to his chair during the season four grand finale. But they were both grownups with sturdy personas, nobody’s victims. They were also decent singers and interesting performers, until they weren’t and then their fans stopped voting.

I have two words for anyone clinging to the illusion that American Idol is a talent contest: Kevin Covais. Aside from his hometown friends and family, who is voting for Kevin? The Cabbage Patch Kids? Kevin is amiable, poised beyond his years, and quick with the quips, but his singing and performing are mediocre. I found Clay Aiken’s nerdiness charming, too, but Clay can sang.

Let this be a warning to Mandisa, Melissa McGhee, Taylor Hicks, and Elliott Yamin. The self-appointed experts on how an idol should look and behave who frequent the AI-inspired message boards are gunning for you next. You better film those tear-jerker video clips pronto.

And Gedeon - God bless you.