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It's an ‘Idol’ world, we just live in it

Hard to escape the three-ring circus that is the show
/ Source: The Associated Press

I know I’m late doing this, but I need a chance to vent:

How could they eliminate Chris Daughtry from “American Idol”?! What, were their hearing aids broken?! Did they vote with butterfly ballots?! I demand a re-count!!!

Whew, that’s out of my system. Now I feel better. I feel like I’m part of the national conversation.

Fox’s “American Idol,” if nothing else, is all-inclusive. Everyone is welcome to take part. In fact, you can hardly avoid its pop-cultural maw.

Certainly the world was thunderstruck last week when . A bald, sexy dude with a husky voice and mischievous grin, he was zapped as the field shrank from four to three.

He had seemed to have the title virtually in his grasp! What could have gone wrong? The world struggled to make sense of it all. (An Op Ed piece in The New York Times explained the upset in terms of Wagner’s opera “Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg.” Works for me.)

Then, this week, Elliott Yamin was voted off, his showing just a fraction of a percentage point behind the others’ in what was almost a three-way dead heat.

Now, “after 16 weeks of voting and 515 million votes” (as host Ryan Seacrest intoned) two singers remain: Taylor Hicks ( country boy who scored with “You Are So Beautiful”) and Katharine McPhee (angel-faced brunette who warbled “Over the Rainbow”). They will have one last sing-off Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET, with the winner crowned during the two-hour finale at 8 p.m. Wednesday.

Season has been a great oneThis, the fifth season of “American Idol,” has been a great one. Unlike certain past “Idol” competitions, the women didn’t all seem to be channeling Whitney Houston, nor the guys Phil Collins. Indeed, there was a wide range of styles, with voices robust and mostly on key.

Especially Chris. HOW could he be treated like that? HOW could so many viewers be so — whoops, I know, I already had my say.

Besides, it’s not like he’s really leaving the fold. He’ll be on the compilation CD coming out soon. He’ll be on the “American Idol” tour (order your tickets now). He’s part of the troupe. He’s soaring, undeterred, over the rainbow along with the others, thanks to “American Idol’s” launching pad.

“American Idol”: what an awesome enterprise! It’s a pitch-perfect blend of freak show (many of the early auditioners seemed like spillover from “Jerry Springer”), the old “Ed Sullivan” variety hour, “Extreme Makeover” (singers get their necessary primping), and competitive pageantry that, by next week, will approach Super Bowl proportions — while maintaining a feel-good, we’re-all-in-this-thing-together camaraderie: “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” Goes Gold.

Remember, entertainment is the signature product, but salesmanship — with a beaming sales force — is what drives “American Idol.”

It’s an ever-expanding marketing platform that showcases not just the singers but also a gallery of brand placements and merchandising, and even past-their-prime stars like Rod Stewart and Barry Manilow, each of whom dropped by this season for his own promotional boost.

Who DOESN’T want to get on board?!

Three-ring circus
“American Idol” is rich territory for handicappers (Hicks is now favored 1-to-2 — $1 won for every $2 bet — proclaims one Internet betting site), prophets, pollsters and, of course, the press.

It’s a three-ring circus:

—In one ring, the contenders.

—In another, the judges, that wacky tribunal of presumed music experts. Let the singers come and go; the judges reliably stay put, their act as predictable as the tides. Here’s Randy Jackson (“Yo, yo, dawg!”); Paula Abdul, a sort of candy-coated Candide (for whom nearly every singer is the best of all possible singers); and Simon Cowell, who, along with his bully-boy image, brings the show a token reality check.

This trio constitutes “your favorite dysfunctional family,” in the words of Seacrest, whose easy blandness and mail-slot smile are useful assets in his role as ringmaster. (And when it counts, he can hurl a zinger: “Did you see the moves that Paula was pulling off?” he said after Abdul, who always has a hard time sitting still, got particularly dancey during one singer’s number. “I feel like I’m obligated to give her a dollar after that.”)

—And in the third ring, of course, is the public — watching (an average 30 million viewers), evaluating, picking up the phone. Helping mold popular taste and set the cultural agenda.

But who can resist this show, with its come-on to the public to be part of TV’s biggest act? And who can buck those bass tones underscoring the action (“BA-dum, BA-dum, BA-dum, Ba-dum-dum-dum ...”), a hypnotic throbbing that, were it the slightest bit louder, would surely drive viewers insane?

Thank goodness the people who run “American Idol” know what they’re doing. This is powerful stuff they’re playing with. Powerful stuff indeed.