Abstract: Whether we like it or not, Idols makes idiots of us all…
The joke goes a little like this: How do you know when Idols is on M-Net? When your dog scrambles under the sofa…Like Idols, there’s a faint touch of reality to this joke. Apparently, dogs panic at the sound of other dogs howling in pain.
Tomorrow, we know, about 3 000 children in sub-Saharan Africa will die of malaria. South Africa rather wants to know who’s going to win Idols. The word ‘perspective’ pops into mind.
I have been following the developments in Idols with disinterest. So called ‘reality shows’ just don’t do it for me. Maybe it has something to do with the blatant lack of reality, or because my hackles rise whenever someone tries to dress up a Yorkie as an attack dog. But then I remind myself it’s all just mindless entertainment, similar to those infomercials on TV, just with worse singing in it.
But when it’s suggested the final contestants were the best South Africa could produce it makes us look pretty pathetic. I find it hard to believe that the same country that created the multi-award winning Miriam Makeba and Ladysmith Black Mambazo is now kowtowed to spewing out wannabees. It’s like trawling through a well-packed Woolies food store and coming out with nothing more than a limp stick of celery and a tin of rice pudding.
And let’s examine the show’s honesty. Run your eyes and ears over the names of the finalists. Were there any regular Agathas, Dirks, or Nimrods in there? No, they were all exotic names like Anaisha, Annabella and Dusty-Lee; just like Anastacia, Madonna and Britney – you know, names that would sound cool enough to be created by ad agency, or that would look good on a CD cover. (Hint: if your name is Walter Mokoena or Agatha van Rensburg, don’t even think about trying out for Idols IV!)
I know the doting parents and fans of the contestants, present and past, are now venomously spitting, “what does he know!” So let me admit this: I am not a singer, I cannot sing and I don’t pretend to; neither do I ever want to. But I have spent almost 25 years in broadcasting – that’s long enough playing the music of people who can sing, to tell when someone can’t.
I’m not going to single out anyone on the show. When it comes to the specific players in Idols, I have no idea who’s who in the cacophonic zoo. I am normally pottering around the kitchen when the show’s on; so I am unable to associate a particular name or a face with any specific performance that had the poise and artistic temperament of an ass with its hind leg caught in barbed wire. But I was still within earshot; close enough to be bruised and battered by the discordant drivel that was supposedly ‘singing’. Like an acoustic lumber punch, each teetering screech and missed note was skewered into my body with the force of a freight train. It’s toe-curling stuff. The contestants could be forgiven for simply doing cover versions if they had just managed to use the right notes at the right time and in the right order. They forget their performance will automatically be compared to the original; so if it’s not good enough it sounds terrible.
But we shouldn’t blame the prospective idols. They’re just puppets, dancing under the manipulative fingers of a scheming collective of fool-mongers. Everyone from the organisers to the judges to the supporting pop-mulch media fertilises the ruse. They would have you believe that young ‘Tamara’, after hacking her way through, say, Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water, is just so jaw-droppingly incredible that she could be but one step away from the podium at next year’s Grammys; so reach for your phone right now and fire off yet another hyper-costed SMS.
Unfortunately, like all human dramas, Idols was fuelled by the misery of the forsaken. From every poor mite who auditioned, fuelled by parental ill advice, “of course you’ll get on Idols my poppet, you sing like an angel”, and then given hell by the judges; to each finalist who got voted off by “you, South Africa”, (because they actually had buck teeth and never fitted the profile anyway).
Idols is, and I say ‘is’ because the next season’s not too far away, not about people who can sing, because they can’t. It’s all about devised tragedy. It’s about building up peoples’ expectations and then mercilessly trashing them on national TV. It brings out the nasty voyeur in us, which is then milked by M-Net and its affiliates. And that’s not funny at all.
Originally published in the Saturday Star, 26 November 2005