Conformity on American Idol

You Only Live OnceI came down to visit my sister and help her with her taxes. As a result, she tortured me by making me watch American Idol. There was an interesting woman auditioning for the show last night. She wasn’t much of a singer. In fact, I couldn’t catch the melody of the song that she was singing. In her defense, these are very tough a cappella auditions. But she clearly hadn’t ever done anything more than sing along with the radio. What was interesting about her was that she had a great back story: God told her to audition. Along with all the failed Republican presidential candidates who God told to run, I am coming to the opinion that God is an asshole. But the judges were pretty nice.

As a result of watching this bit of American Idol, I heard the story of Stephanie Sanson. She is the screamer (they have another woman singer) for the post-hardcore band You Only Live Once. Basically, it was just a stunt to get some publicity for the band. She stood before the judges and screamed out a bit of Adele’s Set Fire To The Rain. Here is the performance, but pay particular attention to the reactions of the judges:

I’ve made no secret of my dislike of American Idol, although I haven’t written specifically about it. But this little clip encapsulates what I hate about the show. I’m not a fan of Sanson’s style of singing. But I realize that it is a valid way to use a voice. It isn’t without art. And I doubt in that brief demonstration that the judges could tell how good she was. It was very telling at the end when Mariah Carey said, “I just want you to know that she plays piano and loves ballet.” It was soaked in sarcasm. But why? She was claiming that Sanson’s style of musical performance makes it impossible that she has taste in art more generally?

What this all shows is that the creators of American Idol have an extremely limited idea of musical art. It would never produce a John Lydon or Bob Dylan or even Elvis Presley. It is all about technique and never pushing the stylistic envelope. And that’s fine. Unfortunately, the show has a pernicious effect on the music that plays on major radio stations. Many people I know have lost their ability to appreciate anything but the most vanilla songs, production, and performances. And that’s especially sad at a time when there is more good music than at any time in history.

So all the American Idol audience can laugh at the screaming girl. They can all pretend that they have the line to perfect music. But they only harm themselves.


The band put out a video about what they were doing with the American Idol audition. Unfortunately, they don’t have much to say except that it was an attempt to get some publicity. It is, however, interesting that they all take what they do very seriously. It is a good contrast to the judges who ignorantly thought it was all a joke. Also on the video is a small sample of You Only Live Once: at the beginning and at the very end. The second one is a song they did in the studio and I rather like it. It is called Chasing Dreams. Check it out:

If I Were Hagel

Chuck HagelIt has to be hard to be someone like Chuck Hagel. I wouldn’t be able to do what he’s doing. It is clear that he is extremely well qualified for the job of Secretary of Defense. But all of the Republican senatorial carping at him was too much. The big moment in the hearing was when John McCain wanted a “yes or no” answer to whether Hagel was wrong to predict that the surge in Iraq would be the biggest foreign policy mistake since the Vietnam War. Hagel wouldn’t answer because he said it was more complicated than that.

Fair enough, but my answer would have been different. “What does my prediction about one part of the Iraq War have to do with anything? I may have been wrong about the surge, but I wasn’t nearly so wrong as when I originally supported the war. The problem with you is that you refuse to admit that the Iraq War was wrong, that tens of thousands of people died for no good reason. So I suppose the surge not being a total fiasco is the one thing you are hanging onto; you were wrong about everything else. You know, I was the co-chair of your 2000 campaign and you treat me like this? You have no honor, senator. None at all.” Of course, what I would have said would have been more “colorful,” if you know what I mean.

Senator Inhofe asked Hagel why the “Iranian foreign ministry so strongly supports your nomination.” I would not have have taken kindly to that question. “I realize that there is substantial cognitive degeneration past the age of 70, but you really should try to get your facts straight. The Iranian foreign ministry has done no such thing. But I suspect that they are generally happy at the idea that we aren’t going to have more people in this administration that are just itching for a war with Iran. Unlike you, I’ve actually fought in a war. I know the stakes and I will serve this country with honor as I always have. You perhaps should retire where your cognitive dysfunction won’t embarrass you or the country.”

Most of the time at the hearing was spent complaining that Hagel wasn’t pro-Israel enough. “Senators, your constant screams of support for Israel do not make the country safer. In fact, I often wonder how much you all support Israel as opposed to just wanting to appear as though you do. I have been a steadfast supporter of Israel, but that doesn’t mean that I think the country always does the right thing. No Israeli thinks Israel always does the right thing. I’m not itching for a War—for the United States or for Israel. I think you all are and thus I think you all are no friends of Israel.”

But it didn’t go like that. Hagel mostly just took it politely. He also went back on factually true statements. It’s sad. But I hope more than ever that he gets confirmed. The Republicans embarrassed themselves. Again.

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