Whining (It's not fair! The judges don't know what they're *#[email protected] talking about!) is a core mode of expression on "American Idol." So in that spirit, on the eve of the show's eighth-season premiere, let's take a moment to whine melodramatically about the collateral damage this TV juggernaut has inflicted on American culture:
1. Because for four full months a year, Fox puts these people in charge of American pop culture: (if you haven't already seen this hilarious clip of a gang of heartbroken fangirls frrrrreeeeeeeaaaaaaaking out as David Archuleta fails to win the 2008 "Idol" crown, well, brace yourself).
2. Because the producers relish baiting not just the talentless and the tone-deaf, but the mentally ill. In November, Paula Goodspeed, a longtime stalker of "Idol" judge Paula Abdul, made headlines when she killed herself. Her death by apparent drug overdose, while she was sitting in her car not far from Abdul's Los Angeles home, is obviously a tragic result of mental illness. But horrifyingly, it turned out that the "Idol" producers had baited Goodspeed. Abdul told Barbara Walters on Sirius XM radio: "I said, 'This girl is a stalker of mine. Please do not let her in.' Everyone knew. I was shaking." Abdul added that over the course of 18 years (dating back to Adbul's pop-star days), she'd sought restraining orders against Goodspeed, who'd sent her "disturbing letters." Nonetheless, the "Idol" producers booked Goodspeed on the show as a contestant "for entertainment value," as Abdul put it. "It's fun for them to cause me stress. This was something that would make good television."
3. Because it's painful to contemplate Paula Abdul's pain. It's bad enough that poor Abdul has been the target of ridicule time and time again for her sometimes foggy, erratic judging performances -- prompting Abdul to reveal that for years she's been on pain medication for a rare neuropathic disorder. She spoke out, she told People magazine, because she found postings on "AI" fan message boards about her "spaced out" behavior to be "hideous and mean." OK, so it's bad enough she's already taunted by "fans" -- but then the "Idol" producers, who should be watching out for her, book a stalker on the show who later ends up offing herself? Why, Walters asked Abdul, would she stay on a show that treats her like that? Her sad little answer: "I'm under contract."
4. Because of the Daughtry Effect. (Multi-platinum artist Chris Daughtry was the fourth-place finalist on the fifth season of "AI.") This is also known as the Cook Effect. (David Cook won the seventh season.) In other words, thoroughly average dudes attempting to "rock" their way to pop-cultural credibility by channeling grizzled Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder. If you've ever suffered through a boozily earnest, throaty rendition of "Jeremy" in a karaoke bar, you know exactly what style of singing this is.
5. Because of its sustained raping and pillaging of the Great American Songbook and beyond. Think of your favorite song ever. Chances are it's been butchered on "Idol." Now, lots of great songs have been sung badly on TV over the years, but there's something about "Idol's" omnipresence and virality that can cause it to crowd out the original version in our collective consciousness. And think of the millions of kids who know classics, from Irving Berlin standards to Beatles songs, only from their "Idol"-ized versions. Sigh.
6. Because it's made Broadway, which was bad enough already, worse. Broadway stages have become dumping grounds for otherwise unemployed Idols and runners-up.
7. Because of the new Paula Voting Block. This season, a fourth judge will join Abdul, Randy Jackson and Simon Cowell. She's a songwriter named Kara DioGuardi, a pal of Abdul. DioGuardi's bubbly, hyper-cheery talk-show appearances thus far suggest she'll be just as gooey a judge as Adbul. Great. Just what we needed: more insincere pity-praise of the under-talented in an already over-coddled culture.
8. Because "Idol" helped drive Detroit into the ground. Seriously. As neuromarketing expert Martin Lindstrom recently wrote in these pages, brain-scan "emotional engagement" testing conducted on 2,000 "American Idol" viewers showed that Ford's high-profile sponsorship of the show fully backfired. "In fact," Lindstrom says, "the brand equity Ford had before the study fell consistently throughout the show and ended up negative after the show." Anybody who's ever cringed through an "Idol" Ford Music Video can understand exactly how this happened.
9. Because of, well, the crapfest. Some day soon, when record companies stop pressing CDs, the generally mediocre records from most "Idol" winners -- not to mention the generally horrible records from dozens of "Idol" losers -- will exist in a sort of digital purgatory: streams of 1's and 0's briefly coveted by preteen girls, and then mostly forgotten. But for now, think of the millions of physically extant "Idol" CDs that are destined for our already overstuffed landfills.
10. Because not even the Magic Kingdom is safe anymore. "American Idol" has infected even Walt Disney World. (See disneyworld.com/idol for the gory details.) With apologies to Chris Cocker: "Idol," leave Mickey Mouse alone!!!