Okay, let’s get this out of the way immediately: I watch American Idol. I’d say that I watch it because my daughter likes the show, but that wouldn’t be entirely true. Lots of people watch American Idol for the same reason a lot of people watch car racing — for the crashes — but for me it’s a little different.

Last evening, during the second show in the new season, I pondered why exactly I enjoy American Idol. I did this as some purportedly female entity, who resembled Brian Dennehy in a moo-moo with neon lipstick that looked like it was put on by a crack addicted gorilla, was attempting to either sing, pass a bowling ball, or a little of both.

Indeed, the bad singers are fun to watch, since they make me feel a little better about my own voice. Not only can I not carry a tune, but I’m also beyond tone deaf to the point where I’d need the musical equivalent of Annie Sullivan to bring me around. The good singers are okay too, but I think it’s the entire process that catches my fancy.

After all, singing competitions, pageants and the like are not at all my taste when it comes to television programming. But there’s something about American Idol, and I think I finally figured out why I like to watch.

As a fan of politics and the political process — more aptly put, as a fan of making fun of those things — American Idol follows an eerily similar pattern to the American electoral process, especially as it concerns the presidency.

Consider these correlations

At first, there’s a buzz about a new season. People with no business near a microphone, either intellectually, aesthetically, or audibly, are often the first to throw their hats in the ring. It’s an expensive undertaking involving lots of travel and acceptance of handouts, and if you want to be a finalist, you can’t be shy about either of them.

The early rounds are a cattle call complete with weirdoes, dinks, dorks, jerks, those who think they deserve to succeed because of some sort of birthright, and yes, a few competent people. Some open their mouths and out comes something pleasing to the ears, and some open their mouths and out comes garbage. Lots of the participants claim to be seeking their dream, but many know they don’t have what it takes and are only doing so to say they were once in the running.

In both American Idol and American politics, all along the way, people with wildly varying resumes judge the contestants. Some of these judges know what they’re talking about, some don’t. Some have actually been in the game, and some haven’t. Some say “dawg,” some have funny accents, and some appear ready willing and able to sleep with the good-looking contestants. Sometimes they’re confused about whom to vote for, sometimes not. The judges are lobbied by the contestants using any means necessary, up to and including empty promises, false hopes and visions of glory that never come to pass — at least they haven’t in previous seasons.

There are lots of expensive commercials involved surrounded by incessant promotional hype. Participants are coached, advised and encouraged, often by those who have no business coaching, advising or encouraging.

Toward the end, after much hype, bewailing, controversy, name-calling and clothing changes, the contest is narrowed down to two finalists. It’s not nearly as much fun with most of the fools gone, but if we’re lucky, at least one of the finalists is still able to satisfy that need.

Then, there is one final show, and all Americans willing to make their voices heard choose a winner. After which, the victor goes on tour and meets many of the voters from a safe and respectable distance, and the decision as to how to proceed from there get more difficult with each passing day. There have been many past winners who have no doubt asked themselves, “Why did I do this?”

Then, popularity ratings fall and reality sets in just in time to make an appearance as the winner of the subsequent contest is crowned, and then it’s off to write a book, perform for big money and wade through reporters asking for your opinion of your successor.

American Idol and American politics: Crazy parallel contests in crazy parallel universes. What’s not to like?

“But where are the clowns… send in… the cloowwnnnnns… 

::cough:: uh, can I start over? I have a cold.”


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