Politics & Policy

Confessions of an Idol Addict

"I'm living the American dream!"

When it comes to confessions of reality TV junkies, I have had enough programming addictions to warrant a lifetime of 12-step programs.

My name is Bridget. I’m a political columnist. I own all three seasons of The Simple Life on DVD. I rushed home to watch women catfight over Public Enemy’s Flavor Flav on VH-1′s Flavor of Love. I tuned into ABC’s The Bachelor faithfully until it became apparent that the happily-ever-after matches lasted about six weeks. I took it extremely hard when I couldn’t watch George Galloway dance in a leotard or pretend to lap milk like a cat on the U.K.’s Celebrity Big Brother.”

But nothing has compared to my American Idol obsession.

Thing is, I’ve never bought a single album cut by an Idol contestant. I only started watching during Season Two, and I turn the station when a screechy Kelly Clarkson song comes on. I think it’s endlessly hilarious that this year’s “American Idols Live!“ tour is sponsored by Pop Tarts. Yet on Tuesday night, I was editing a piece on the latest Hamas brouhaha with one hand, and repetitively text messaging votes for Taylor Hicks with the other hand.

That’s right: I, an L.A. native, cast all of my 20 votes this week (and the last, and the ones before that) against hometown girl Katharine McPhee and for Hicks. Yes, she’s beautiful and talented, but so are thousands of other starry-eyed fame-seekers out here in L.A. It’s just not a spectacular sight to this cynical Angeleno, and it’s been a greater pleasure to watch a southern boy who’s been pounding away at the honky-tonks and busting out the harmonica just because he loves music. It’s a breath of fresh air to see an Idol so real, so unaffected–and if Hicks suddenly flings aside the harmonica, buys a compound in Malibu and runs off with Paris Hilton, I stand corrected.

My point of view has been enough to start fights among the ever-growing legion of Idol fans, though. Those afflicted with McPheever might echo Simon Cowell’s earlier comments about Hicks sounding like a drunk dad at a wedding, while “Soul Patrol” deputies could counter that Kat couldn’t really cut an album featuring a dozen renditions of “Over the Rainbow.” I’d add that Hicks has been a class act all the way, has a really enthusiastic whoop, and did great covers of “The First Cut is the Deepest” and Elton John’s “Levon.”

And now I can gleefully, shamelessly add … I WAS RIGHT!

After a two-hour finale peppered with the surreal–like Clay Aiken actually looking sexy–to guest appearances ranging from a stoned-sounding (and acting) Toni Braxton partnering with Hicks and Meat Loaf singing a frightening duet with McPhee, Hicks was crowned the victor. Unfortunately, the Idol winner had to follow a too-cool-for-words Prince, who was too cool to perform with any of the Idol contestants (but not too cool to use the Idol audience numbers to boost record sales). But Hicks’ reaction was, as one would expect, befitting an Idol–he raised McPhee’s hand and gestured for the audience to give her a due ovation, and in the middle of his triumphant final song interjected “I’m living the American dream!“ And what’s more American than a stellar comeback–Cowell originally passed on Hicks in auditions.

And as online betting sites have been on fire with weeks of Idol predictions, I have a post-Idol prediction: Season 5 will have garnered significantly more interest among American voters than November mid-term elections will. Hey, about five times as many votes were cast during Season 4 of American Idol than were cast in the 2000 presidential election. Before anointing Hicks the new American Idol Wednesday night, host Ryan Seacrest announced that 63.4 million votes had been cast in the finale–“more than any president in the history of our country has received. “

You could say Idol is the perfect exercise in democracy–that is, if everyone had two hours to stuff the ballot box, if a Brit was handy to foist unflinching criticism on the candidates, and Paula Abdul wept in their honor. You could also argue that Idol has given Alabama an unexpected superiority in the union–Hicks hails from the state, as does Season 2 winner Ruben Studdard and Season 4 runner-up Bo Bice. So this begs the question: Does Alabama have a good GOP presidential candidate to offer? And can he or she carry a tune?

Reality TV Magazine pondered Tuesday night whether the McPhee-Hicks showdown was really a red state vs. blue state contest. “Taylor Hicks’ musical style is very similar to that of legendary southern singers like Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, and Otis Redding. Southerners will turn out in force for Taylor Hicks not only because of where he’s from but because his musical style is popular in the region. Katharine McPhee’s musical style is very similar to that of popular Broadway performers, and her voice will appeal to those from states like New York and California, where Broadway is very ingrained in the culture. … Taylor Hicks represents the Southern gentleman, while Katharine McPhee represents the California dream girl.” No word on if the Idol finalists were polled about their views on abortion, gun control, the Iraq war, deficit spending, or gay marriage.

Even the politicians may be hoping to siphon votes from Idol fans, a.k.a. the last loyal, dependable voters in America. Sandwiched with the standard Ford and Coke commercials Wednesday night, California state Treasurer Phil Angelides–probably the grumpiest, blandest, most un-hip hopeful to grace a gubernatorial primary–bought pricey air time during the Idol finale for an attack ad on state Controller Steve Westly. Perhaps with the proper stylist, some vocal coaching and Seacrest to announce his platform, voters could overlook just how rancid Angelides’ policies

are.

And for those who still turn their noses up at the phenomenon, accept that Idol isn’t going anywhere. In fact, it’s only getting bigger. In its most successful season yet, viewership was up 14 percent to an average of 30.3 million tuning in each week. People love a winner, and equally love laughing at those who massacre songs.

But this season is over, and I’m happy that Hicks will be the one to show the world just what an American Idol can be–talented, gracious, humble, and someone who knows how to have fun. Now if there was only a cure for my impending Idol withdrawals… ah, the Ted Nugent vehicle “Supergroup” on VH-1 just might do! But will Angelides try to join the band?

Bridget Johnson is a columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She blogs at GOP Vixen.

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