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Wake me when ‘American Idol’ is over

Viewers finally learned how the show operates and they’re bored with the formula.
/ Source: contributor

This will sound incredibly ridiculous to just about every single person reading this, but it’s actually my job to sit on my couch and watch “American Idol” with my friends. I’m sorry if you have a really boring sales meeting coming up in 15 minutes and you’re just killing time on the Internet until then and I just made you start daydreaming about how awesome it would be to get paid money to watch TV. But that’s my job. Really.

Of course, then I have to write somewhat detailed recaps of the show. Recaps that go on for thousands of words where I analyze “Idol”-related issues of monumental importance.

OK, for example, serious questions like: does David Cook really think he’s that groundbreaking? Did America just use Carly Smithson’s rendition of “Jesus Christ Superstar” as an excuse to step away from the lady-in-black with the face-tattooed husband? Is dreadlocked Jason Castro… you know… smoking something? Wouldn’t it be great if someone tricked innocent Brooke White into watching “A Clockwork Orange”? Does David Archuleta cry himself to sleep at night over his lost childhood? And the one that keeps me awake: Why Syesha?

Here’s what I’m not paid to do: Figure out why the ratings this season are at an all-time low.

It might be this simple: Viewers have finally learned how the show operates and they’re bored with the formula.

We all know now that David Cook or Chris Daughtry can’t be the only somewhat-rock-oriented person out there, that there could be many rocker guys out there with a Cook-level talent (there are, in fact, at least one or two of them in nearly every sound-alike alt-rock band), but that the show only needs one per year.

In fact, it wouldn’t be silly to assume that Cook actually auditioned during Daughtry’s season and simply didn’t make it through to sing for Simon, Randy and Paula. He wouldn’t have been what the producers were looking for then, everything coming down to corporate-driven-yet-idiosyncratic casting. All the talk early on this season about “ringers” coming in was too little, too late. It’s been a staged event since the beginning. We just see it all more clearly now.

Best season ever? Really?So even though audiences still feel affection for people like Kelly Clarkson and Fantasia Barrino (and, yes, even for the much maligned and punch lined Clay Aiken and the recently dropped from his label Taylor Hicks), feeling as though they helped find these performers, they know somewhere deep down that they didn’t at all. And it’s souring them to the process.

And then there’s the phony mythology the show presents about itself. It makes you or breaks you! It creates stars! It’s huge! Even huger than ever! Season 7 is the best season with the most talent ever! Ever!

Except it’s not. The ratings are slipping. The star-making machine sputters. Cast-offs move more units than winners. Seventh placers wind up taking home Oscars. And the casting? If one thing is more “ever” about it, it’s the blandness. Though it can’t touch last season’s Jordin Sparks/Blake Lewis anti-climax, this season’s top 12 featured approximately three interesting “characters” and one potential fame-tragedy-in-the-making.

The memorable ones this time out:

Amanda Overmyer: Yes, the rock ’n’ roll nurse dressed like Beetlejuice and had a somewhat generic perpetual smoker’s voice, but she didn’t take the show nearly as seriously as David Cook takes his morning facial hair preparations. And she was way more fun because of that.

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Carly Smithson: That the show took an interesting eaten-up-and-spit-out by the music industry story like Smithson’s (briefly: she had a next-big-thing record deal a few years back and it tanked) and tried to pretend it never happened, instead of capitalizing on it and offering viewers a chance to give this season’s most accomplished and mature singer a second shot at a career, was a big blunder.

David Archuleta: Seen as a prodigy, the 17-year-old’s every move earns shrieks of tween hysteria, but he seems more like a boy Judy Garland in the making than anything. Vocally gifted beyond his years, he yet suffers a stage dad (who was recently banned from the set, save for a seat in the audience for tapings), who gives off a mean little league coach quality. The man’s son seems ready to pass out from nerves and go on a stress-crying jag after every song. Would winning even be good for him?

Let go of the ‘importance’So it’s not really all about singing. It never has been. It’s about learning to love a character on a reality show and joining that character’s team. But now the show wants artistic credit. It wants to be seen as valid instead of loveable. So on come people like Andrew Lloyd Webber as a contestant mentor, a person who may have saved Broadway’s box office in the 1980s, but who has nothing to do with the pop charts of 2008.

And why? For the same reason the judges harp on arrangement and song choice all the time: To pretend that a task of major importance is being accomplished, rather than what is being done — selecting a pop star.

Not that pop stars aren’t wonderful creatures and sometimes even life-changing, but they don’t pay your rent for you. They want to take it from you. And you really have to love someone to give them your money. So next season, “Idol”? Give us someone we can think we found, someone who challenges us a little, maybe, with a voice and a personality to fall for. Someone we don’t have to feel weird and worried about. We’ll watch even if we know better.

Dave White recaps “American Idol” for He is the author of “Exile In Guyville.”