Another season of American Idol got underway last night, and, as I was watching the primary election returns from Michigan coming in, the glaring similarities between the two contests became clear.

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 pattern eerily similar to the American electoral process.

Consider these correlations:

In both politics and American Idol, there’s a buzz that precedes every 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, dorks, punks, those who think they deserve to succeed because of some sort of birthright, and yes indeed, even a few competent people.

Some open their mouths and something pleasing emerges, and some open their mouths and out comes complete garbage. Many participants claim to be seeking their dream and/or doing it so they can help others, but many know they don’t have what it takes to win and are only in the early running so their resume can say they were once in the competition.

In both American Idol and American politics, all along the way, people with wildly varying resumes judge the contestants. The judges are lobbied by the contestants using any means necessary, up to and including empty promises, false hopes and visions of glory that rarely come to pass. On occasion, the judges will regret voting for a contestant.

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 this want.

After many months of positioning, all Americans willing to make their voices heard cast a vote — sometimes twice — and a winner is announced on a big final show that employs fancy graphics, big-name performances and well-dressed talking heads.

After the final vote is tallied, 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 grows more difficult with each passing day. There have been past winners who have no doubt asked themselves, “Why did I do this?”

Some winners are wildly successful and are able to form a long-lasting career by selling their goods to enough people, some don’t last as long and go on to other jobs, and some go to jail.

Then of course there’s the ultimate similarity between American Idol and American politics: After all is said and done, the general public sits back and wonders if the entire process was somehow rigged from the start.


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