Monday, April 30, 2012

This is American Hunger Games?

I love American Idol. There--I've said it. I've been watching it for several seasons now, but for reasons that are now extinct. I got sucked watching the auditions, where awful people were consistently shot down by Simon Cowell. Now Simon Cowell is gone and with him, it seems, are the cringe-worthy auditions. I decided to keep count after two episodes without a single baddy in the bunch, and there were a grand total of three from the whole audition process. This was only my first indication that this year, things were different.
About two weeks ago that I figured out what had changed: American Idol doesn't want us to see a simple national singing competition (perhaps international, considering the British girl keeps winning...), they want us to believe we are watching an all-out brawl in which only one teenager survives. In other words, American Idol has become our very own hunger games.

We start with the reaping, where three very famous escorts travel the country collecting few from the many to bring with them to Hollywood. Instead of giving the bad singers any attention, we started early getting to know ALL of our tributes. The hometown visit is nothing new, but the amount of tributes we followed home this year was phenomenal.
The next step is arriving at the arena, or in this case the first of several arenas, where our tributes begin their training, and the first mad dash for the cornucopia: Hollywood week. Tributes start dropping like flies from any variety of...well for the most part it was overheating, dehydration and stage fright. Instead of one montage of everyone passing out on the floor, we got to see agonizing replays of our fallen friends, interviews from them as they returned from the hospital, Jennifer and Steven and Randy's reactions, and on and on and on... Don't get me wrong, on one hand I feel bad for anyone who chokes that hard when they are aiming for their life goal--but on the other hand at some point it stops being dramatic and starts looking more like the pity card played over and over. And no one likes a weak tribute.
Finally, the meat and potatoes of the games begin. Competition heats up, Game Makers throw in curve balls, and the remaining tributes (twenty four, to be exact) each get more and more attention. The personal stylist--though they all had to share him--appears and everyone is given make-overs. The fact that American Idol is grooming its contestants to be more than just good singers has always sub-textually been part of the show, however once Tommy Hilfiger showed up and started literally recreating the contestants' looks, the grooming moved from subtext to overt redesign.
As the tribute pool continues getting smaller and smaller, viewers get to know their districts--back to the hometowns we go but this time each town has been wallpapered with pictures of the contestants.
We, the sponsors, have to save the tributes we like the best by voting for them, a fact that was really driven home two weeks ago when the escorts/judges saved Jessica Sanchez with their wildcard. If this show is really AMERICAN Idol, a show with the goal of creating a pop star by the people for the people, then why do the judges have such a powerful option? They saved Casey last year, who get voted right off again a few weeks later, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if Jessica goes home soon, too.
Now that the wildcard has been used, though, No One Is Safe.

I must put a disclaimer here: I do not vote for my American Idol, and I never have. If I had my way, Casey would have won immediately last year, and this season would have been over faster than Colton can pout, but I don't get invested enough to actually pick up my phone and vote. I can't complain about either of them getting voted off, because I never did anything to prevent it. I, however, am not the show's core demographic: the American Teenage Girl. Which is maybe why the rest of these Hunger Games style dramatics have been bothering me so much.
Every week, another person gets voted off, and not even actively. They haven't been voted off the island, they have simply received less votes than the other tributes: they have less sponsors. But somehow, each week, it's made out like this element of the competition comes as a surprise, in addition to being the worst thing that can happen to a person. There's a huge difference Colton getting voted off just short of the episode where the contestants sang with what's left of Queen, and real, honest to goodness Tragedy.
American Idol game makers know what they are doing. They know that teenage girls (and, if we're being honest, the American public at large) love drama. That's why they make the contestants act like they hate each other when they aren't pretending that there are several behind-the-scenes love affairs. That's why each week begins with slo-mo "how will they go on?" and "who will be eliminated" and "Remember how dramatic last week was? WELL THIS WEEK IS GOING TO BLOW YOUR MIND" videos. But do we really need to make things so sordid? In some ways, American Idol is the OPPOSITE of the Hunger Games, because at least in the capitol the game makers acknowledge that the tributes are doing something spectacular (regardless of how morbid the spectacle is) the producers would rather pretend these kids are fighting for their lives, lives which can't possibly go on once they leave the arena.
Which is an idea worth eating poisoned berries over.

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