David A Keeps writes:
You have the worst job in the world, right? You can’t BELIEVE the humiliating things you have to do in order to put food on your table. Well, try this: You could be wearing a red shirt and a name tag, carrying a styrofoam cup in your hand, and walking through a studio audience collecting ABC (already been chewed) gum out of the mouths of American Idol fans.
Yesterday, I was taken to the taping of our country’s proudest contribution (even though we didn’t invent it) to world culture, which is so wonderfully, twistedly skewered in American Dreamz, the hilarious Paul (son of fashion designer John and actress mother Susan Kohner) Weitz flick that opens on Friday. You’ve already seen the show (or not), voted (or not), and there are plenty of handicapping sites, such as idolreview.net and votefortheworst.com to provide you with hours of procrastinating prognostication in the countdown to tonight’s results show. Here’s what you didn’t see, a behind-the-curtain look, so to speak:
First, a shout-out to Despina Landers, who took me as part of her personal dog pound. She had mad hook-ups and we got VIP treatment, including valet parking on the lot at CBS (OK, the valet didn’t actually park the car, but did direct us to a nice spot in front and we didn’t have to tip him because he wasn’t there when the show was over). We got two different wristbands: a blue plastic one and a Day-glo yellow one designated a “Priority VIP” wristband, which turned out to not have a great deal of meaning, but accessorized nicely with the blue wristband. The real shizzy however, is the gray wristband, which provides all-access, meaning you can wander around and presumably get to the elevators which presumably lead to the dressing rooms, where you might presumably get to idolize your Idol. But I am being presumptuous because Des and I did NOT get a gray wristband.
Weirdly, even Idol parents, who you think would be up in the dressing rooms standing between me and their Idol children, were also in the same line for wristbands. So we saw Grandpappy Pickler pick a peck of Pickler wristbands and got a closeup glimpse of Elliott Yamin’s mama, who was rocking a very ’60s kind of get-up. We all milled around outside the studio waiting for a “security sweep” (OK, someone did actually say “bomb sweep,” which seems just an eensy bit unwise) until 4:00 when they let us in (VIPs with any kind of wristband don’t have to go in with the regular hoi-polloi audience). We milled around some more, schnarfing the trail mix and Jolly Ranchers set out on a craft-service table and enjoyed a Coke in the VIP tent – actually a curtained-off area to the side where we were certainly the most IP VIPs in attendance. We reviewed the regulations: no cell phones, cameras, clothing with logos, food. beverages, oversized posters, or gum. (As if.)
Within seconds of perching in our assigned seats – the kind you get in hotel ballrooms during sales conferences, not exactly the comfortable cushioning I was expecting at a show that is clearly a cash cow – a gum monitor spotted my masticating cud and asked for my wad of cinammon Orbit. And, I repeat, as if. I told her that I would swallow it, which I pretended quite theatrically to do, and then went about my business rubbernecking for celebs – with the offending gum wedged all up in my grill (so to speak).
We were given long and somewhat obvious instructions (stand, clap, sit down) by the stage manager on how to react and perform for the cameras, which must have some kind of miracle lenses on them that allow a studio with no more than 300 not-very-comfy seats to look like a gargantuan rockatorium. A guy named Corey, who was in the wristband line right behind us in a pink striped shirt with French cuffs, a suede-ish jacket with Western details, and some serious gel in his hair (I’m just sayin’), turned out to be the warm-up act. His job consisted of getting some guy up on stage to dance and then two honeys (one from North Carolina, “home of Chris Daughtry, wooooooh,” the other “representing Minneapolis and Atlanta, the home of Paris Bennett!”) to shake their money-makers. The latter were so good I thought they must’ve been plants. But then Corey gave them a copy of the American Idol home-edition game. Snag dabbit, I would dance like a monkey for that!
OK, so even without Corey working us up (because, you know, we’ve seen everything and we used to live in New York City, so thrill us if you can), Des and I were getting stone-cold stoked. They brought out the judges (each with a large bodyguard). Randy is a man of the dogs, pressing the flesh all the way to the podium; Paula swirls through the crowd, cleavage-ahoy; Simon takes the shortest route and doesn’t do much touching (maybe he has that germophobia that afflicts Howie Mandel). Audience members shout their undying love and Paula answers back, to no one in particular, “I love you too!” That’s pretty much the last you hear from them, because with their backs to the audience and the hootin’ ‘n’ hollerin’ going on, you can’t hear much, but you know the drill: Clap, stand up, and boo at whatever Simon says.
Then Ryan Seacrest comes on and – oh, my – that thing about the camera adding 10 pounds is really true, because that is one skinny skinny fella; would someone please take him and Teri Hatcher to Johnny Rockets for a milkshake and fries? He is also cute in a Keane painting, early Olson twins, Steve Madden advertisement kind of way and actually talks to Simon despite their old-married-couple bickering on camera.
The show? If you were expecting “Maggie May” or “The Killing of Georgie” or “Hot Legs” you don’t know Idol. People like Rod Stewart, who raised the bar for guests with a devilish sense of humor and the willingness to bring his infant and fiancee on-camera, don’t go on the show to plug their back catalog. Which was fine, really, because what better way is there to judge the Idols than by giving them actual songs to sing?
So, I said I wouldn’t but I can’t resist. Chris D looked like an angry Amish farm boy. For an onionhead there certainly is a lot of grooming going on. Those eyebrows have been shaped, honey. Many people think he is going to win, but consider this: No white boy has won Idol yet. Also, Chris is not exactly tall. For reference purposes, consider that Ryan Seacrest is 5’7″. Paris is shockingly sophisticated. Taylor, I want what you’re on; you’re old school, you’re Wayne Newton, baby. It didn’t even occur to me, a member of the tribe, that Elliott Yasmin might be Jewish. Then I saw his peeps in the crowd, one of whom was wearing a yarmulke. Despina’s line on that: “Of course he’s Jewish. Elliott? Who names a kid Elliott?” El, the most likely to get the boot tonight, is my underdog dog. Along with the sadly departed Bucky, he is the only Idol with a genuine smile. He’s sweet and petite. Go Elliott, it’s your birthday! Kellie Pickler has a teeny tiny waist. This makes her other measurements seem capacious. Last night she erased the line between naif and naff. If I wanted to listen to an idiot, I’d buy Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson records. Voters, please. Ace got a jump start on his modeling career for Men’s Wearhouse. The slick back into a Steven Seagal ponytail look took a bit of the cheese away, but still. Like Kellie, he mistakes changes in volume for emotional emphasis and that falsetto is painful. And Katharine McPhee, well, she’s gorgeous (even from a distance she’s already dressing the part with gobs of really good jewelry and eye shadow the same color as her blush-on) and captivating, because I didn’t think she really nailed the bottom notes of that song, and yet she had every last judge convinced she did. She even got a new nickname last night. You go, Kat, go.
– David A Keeps