I know a lot of you out there in A.V. Club land hate American Idol with a fire-hot passion otherwise reserved only for hipsters, Fall Out Boy, hipster douchebags, and late-period Simpsons. (Screw you, late-period Simpsons is great, you moron!) But I've long had a soft spot for the nation's most popular talent contest. If you can get past the actual music being performed, Idol has a lot to offer: unintentionally incisive commentary on our culture's celebrity entitlement, scorching hot homoerotic sexual tension between Simon and Ryan Seacrest, hilariously awful Ford commercials, and a peek inside the pop star sausage factory, where most good (even great) amateur singers get slaughtered by the pressure of performing for millions every week. Also, if local and national government elections haven't clued you in already, American Idol reminds us that democracy is a horrible failure whose time has passed. (And I'm not saying that just because Carly got voted off this week.)
The thing I love most about Idol is how cluelessly old fashioned it is. Take this past week, when the final six contestants performed songs by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Maybe Webber is the epitome of with-it trendiness on your planet, but where I come from Cats and Starlight Express are cool only among over-eager high school theater kids and mousy librarian types (and not the sexy kind of mousy librarian). But that's why I love Idol. It's the last of the cheesy '70s variety shows. If they could just get Ruth Buzzi and a good trapeze act Idol would be just about perfect.
Well, except for one thing: Idol has become pretty much unwatchable this year. And as far as I'm concerned, the blame rests on the small, underdeveloped shoulders of one puberty-deprived young man. Best described as a hell-born cross between last season's infamous Sanjaya and Tony Danza's mini me, David Archuleta is this season's frontrunner, not because he's clearly the best singer of the lot (he's not) but because the Idol gods from up on high have seemingly willed it so. Even the irascible Simon, always the real star of Idol and normally the ice water in the face reality check for the more deluded contestants, is in the tank for David Archuleta, ignoring the former Star Search contestant's numerous annoying ticks. (Which include, but are not excluded to: lip-licking, singing with his eyes closed, forgetting the words, singing off-key, and faux-humble giggling when he's praised.) David Archuleta–you always say his first and last name, like a serial killer–is like that kid in your high school who was in all the plays and all in the choir concerts, and everybody said he would be a big star someday even if everybody knew deep down he wasn't really that talented, and then he moved to New York City after graduation and dropped off the face of the planet. Only this time, that kid is actually making it.
But maybe I'm wrong. Watch this clip from this week's show and tell me whether you think David Archuleta is "the bomb" and "absolutely perfect."
At least Simon somewhat criticized him this week, but the fact that he was so sheepish about it makes me wonder whether I'll be able to hang in with Idol much longer this season. The disconnect between David Archuleta's wan blandness and the judges' gushing praise is destroying precious gray matter I'll probably need in 50 years when I'm mistaking the clothes hamper for the toilet. (And, yes, I know wan blandness is standard for Idol contestants but David Archuleta is the Citizen Kane of wan blandness.)
If you hate American Idol, however, David Archuleta may well be the best thing (or the only good thing) to ever happen on the show. Ratings are down this year, and while that has something to do with being on for seven seasons, not to mention devoting weeks to Andrew Lloyd frickin' Webber, I think the lack of strong contestants is also to blame. It's funny how often Randy, Paula, and Simon have to keep reminding us that this is the most talented group ever. Because bullshit magically turns to truth if you repeat it enough. But mark my words: If David Archuleta wins the competition, he's not only going to bomb as a recording artist, he's also going to drag American Idol down with him.
The show's credibility with picking recording stars is already shaky after last year's winner Jordin Sparks– who is currently dealing with throat issues–and past winners like Ruben Studdard, Taylor Hicks, and Fantasia have either underperformed or been flat-out dropped by their record labels. David Archuleta is being positioned as a teen heartthrob, but he's ill-suited for the job because (1) he's not cute enough and (2) he's an enormous cheeseball. And, yes, you can be too big of a cheeseball to be a teen idol. Even the Jonas Brothers could kick David Archuleta's ass. (One at a time, no less.) David Archuleta's likely demographic would be kids under the age of 10 and women over the age of 80. Maybe he can carve out a career there, but at best he'll be a marginal attraction at the second-tier county fairs in your area.
Idol is still a huge hit, but it is losing momentum. Can it stand to foist yet another dud on the pop charts? I don't know, but my gut tells me this: Idol haters, you savior is finally here.