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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Idol Worship

When I traveled to Namibia for the first time – about five years ago – the entirety of Southern Africa was focused on just one thing. Who was going to win South African Idol? The show was all over the TV and radio. The final few, then the final two, then the winner – it was all front page news. I didn’t get it. Not at all.

Who cares about the winner of a singing contest? (I thought) When I heard that this was an export from Brittan it all made sense. Of course – smaltzy and stupid TV.

Then the Idol franchise turned up in the US. I boycotted the first season, but somehow got suckered into the second season.

(I probably need to apologize to my colleague/lunch mates who were forced to participate in lunchroom Idol conversations.)

I must admit that I was rooting for Ruben all along – but in retrospect it does seem like he was a really poor choice for American Idol. He sounded great all the time, but there was nothing exciting about him – like pretty wrapping paper around a box with nothing inside.

I got to thinking about American Idol a few weeks ago when I recieved an e-mail from Erin, the lovely young woman who was Jaden and Rowan’s Tuesday night babysitter back in DC. We shared an interest in American Idol, and if the show was still on when I got home from wherever (usually just roaming the city aimlessly because hooray – I had the night off) we would sit and watch together. It was nice having a partner in Idolatry.

The bizarre thing about Anglo-American culture is that you can never really get away from it. Why just last week, a South African version of Deal or No Deal – perhaps the stupidest show in the world – debuted. People here in Tanzania are buzzing about it - and there is media for it all over the place. It is not often that an African has the opportunity to win $100,000 US. But as Liz recently observed Deal or No Deal [is so damn lame that] the major dramatic question revolves around the riveting premise: Pick a number. Nope, guess again. Nope, guess again...

Liz… you’ve always had a way with words!

(BTW… I know you are wondering. Yes. The African host of Deal or No Deal is also shaved bald – it is part of the formula.)

Nevertheless, the South Africans have some major competition from the armpit of Africa (in a geophysical sense… not because it is any less lovely than anywhere else). The first season of West African Idol began a few weeks ago – and people are going nuts over the auditions. In fact, they are loving the audition shows so much that the cable TV provider here now has an all Idol-auditions, all-the-time, station going. So, if you are in need of some mind-numbing stimulation, you can turn on channel 37 and watch a full day of auditions from Abuja or Accra or Lagos.

Just shoot me now!

The judges also follow the formula. (They even sit in the same order.)

The “Randy” judge is a fat, jolly guy with an American accent (I just went online and found out that he is indeed American - but also a radio host in Nigeria) who likes to call people “dog”.

The "Simon" judge is a tough-ass queen – about as queeny as I’ve ever seen anyone here. He says nasty catty comments and generally entertains the others.

The only judge worth her post is the "Paula Abdul" replacement. She is a beautiful, exotic womyn with a capital Y! She is smart, sassy, and not nearly the dit-brain that Paula has become.

Interestingly, the contestants sing all the same songs that you’d hear on an American Idol show. I wonder why none of them try to sing African songs? Perhaps it is against the rules to be ethnic?

But then, just as I was getting into West Africa Idol I was channel surfing the other night and lo and behold, I found American Idol – running up against West African Idol on another station. The American Idol show is a few weeks behind where you are in the US. They were auditioning contestants in Seattle. On this side of the pond, they were in Lagos.

It was like Sophie’s Choice!

Which show would I choose? Should I have embraced my new African sensibility? Or was it better to stick with the show that might actually produce a global megastar.

Would it be Randy, or the Randy look/act-alike?

I couldn’t take the pressure!

And then, in switching between channel 37 (West African Idol) and channel 15 (American Idol), I happened upon E Entertainment’s coverage of Anna Nicole Smith's death/custody battle. Problem solved. For now.

In this blog I was going to complain that only the worst aspects of American culture end up in the media here. Between 50 Cent’s “eye candy” dance girls on MTV and Ryan Seacrest hosting both American Idol and E’s daily celebrity news program – what are the Africans to think?

I tried to comfort myself with the fact that we also get The L Word (several seasons old) and the British version of Dancing with the Stars (which I love – although I, like all other normal curious human beings, really want to watch this season’s Dancing with the Stars (American version) just to see if Heather Mills McCartney’s prosthetic leg flies off – uncovering the stash of Paul McCartney’s money she stuffed inside).

But if I have to be honest… I don’t really care so much what the African’s think – even if it is their cable provider. They’ll just have to deal.

I would miss the smaltz, and the dancing, and the singing, and the gyrating, and the gossip, and the girl-on-girl action, and the flying prosthetic legs if they didn’t carry those things.

But not the bald, shinny-headed game show hosts.

No deal.


Blogger Ruth said...

Funny post. I laughed out loud at the Heather Mills McCartney comment. Then felt like a bad person. But THEN I saw on Google News that an online gambling website is offering bets as to whether her leg will fall off...


9:03 AM  
Anonymous Lisse said...

Just about the funniest thing I have seen like that was the Russian version of Survivor,

3:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The dumbest show on American TV now is "Are You Smarter Than A Fifth-Grader?". Often, the answer is "no." In your case, though, the answer is a definitive "yes, and then some--quite a bit, actually." Great blog. Please keep the observations coming!

4:28 AM  
Blogger suburban dyke said...

I've never watched the show. Colleagues discuss it and I am mystified. Now, Grey's Anatomy and Desperate Housewives reign our house. I confess to a former Apprentice addiction, but it's not the same without George and Carolyn.

1:00 AM  

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