Another season of “American Idol” began last week. As I was flipping between watching the primary election returns from Michigan and the “Idol” season premiere, the glaring similarities between the two contests became abundantly clear.
As a fan of politics and the political process – more aptly put, as a fan of making fun of those things – “American Idol” seems to follow an pattern eerily similar to the American electoral process.
Consider these correlations:
In both politics and “American Idol,” there’s an air of anticipation preceding every new season. People with no intellectual, aesthetic or verbal business near microphones and television cameras are often the first to throw their hats in the ring. It’s an expensive undertaking involving lots of travel and the shameless acceptance of handouts, and those ever hoping to be finalists can’t be shy about seeking either of them.
Contestants come in all colors and sexes, and it becomes apparent that, though there might be some good talent in the pool, those most qualified to run never even entered the competition.
The early rounds are a cattle call complete with weirdoes, dorks, punks, those who think they deserve to succeed because of some sort of birthright and, yes, indeed, even a few competent people.
Some of the contestants have followers and assorted hangers-on who believe the person they support is the most talented and should win, but is, in fact, not doing well in the competition to any number of conspiracies to hold them down.
Some contestants open their mouths and something pleasing emerges, and some open their mouths and complete garbage comes out. Many participants claim to be seeking their dream and/or doing it so they can help others, but many know they don’t have what it takes to win and are only in the early running so their resume can say they were once in the competition.
In both “American Idol” and American politics, all along the way, people with wildly varying resumes judge the contestants. The judges are lobbied by the contestants using any means necessary, up to and including empty promises, false hopes, delusions of grandeur and visions of glory that rarely come to pass. It isn’t rare that a judge will end up regretting having voted for a contestant.
The competitions involve a slew of seemingly endless expensive commercials which are surrounded by incessant promotional hype. Participants are coached, advised and encouraged, often by those who have no business coaching, advising or encouraging.
Very few of the contestants appear to be conservative, much to the chagrin of those onlookers who prefer a more traditional and classic approach to the art form.
Toward the end of the competition, after much hype, bewailing, controversy, name-calling and clothing changes, the contest is narrowed down to two finalists. It’s not nearly as much fun with most of the fools gone, but if we’re lucky, at least one of the finalists is still able to satisfy this want.
Finally, the big day comes. All Americans who are willing to make their voices heard cast their votes – sometimes twice. Due to distraction, inattention or diminished intellectual capacity, some accidentally vote for the wrong contestant and later claim that the process is too confusing.
After many months of posturing, the winner is announced on a big final show that employs fancy graphics, big-name performances and well-dressed talking heads.
After the winner is announced, the victor goes on tour and meets many of the voters from a safe and respectable distance, and the decision as to how to proceed from there grows more difficult with each passing day. Many promises end up going unfulfilled, and there have been past winners who have no doubt asked themselves, “Why did I ever get myself into this?”
Some winners are wildly successful and are able to form a long-lasting career by selling their wares to enough of their fans, some don’t last as long and go on to other jobs, and some end up consumed by legal trouble and sex scandals.
Then, of course, there’s the ultimate similarity between “American Idol” and American politics: After all is said and done, the general public sits back and wonders if the entire process was somehow rigged from the start.