Oh, Gina, Gina, Gina Glocksen, it wasn’t your time to go. It was Haley’s. Or possibly that guy’s, the one who makes me want to hang garlic around my neck. I won’t even mention he whose mission this week was to “show America [he] can sing.” We all know he’s not going anywhere.
But your departure made some things perfectly clear about this season of American Idol. For one thing, Tony Bennett and the judges are right: Sanjaya is a performer more than anything else. He might have discovered his niche entirely by accident (or, as I like to maintain, desperation) but an entertainer he definitely is. I just wonder what that says about Blake Lewis, who is also an entertainer more than a singer.
And before all the Beatbox Blake Bunnies descend in screaming fury on my poor head, I’d like to say yes, he and Sanjaya don’t deserve to be grouped together (it’s a moot point anyway – how can you possibly group anyone with a person who now has his own personal universe?) but the fact still remains that his best performances rely on his charisma more than actual singing talent.
But this is a good season to have a personality because most of the others either simply don’t have one or manage to hide it pretty well. Philferatu’s a patriotic zombie, Haley is a weepy pair of legs, Chris R… exists, I guess, LaKisha of the big voice is afraid of animals, Melinda is adorably/nauseatingly humble, while Jordin is young and makes faces. That leaves (or left, rather) us with Beatbox Blake whose USP is that he actually acts his age, Sanjaya of the Other Realm, and Gina.
Gina’s problem was that she had an image to live up to. Bear with me, it’s not as crazy as it sounds. You see, ever since Bo Bice and, more to the point, Chris Daughtry decided to give Idol the rocker stamp of approval, they’ve used it to deflect all kinds of criticism. How can Idol be a cheesy talent show geared towards grandparents and 12-year-olds when ‘genuine artists’ walk its boards? We saw the judges drag their names out of the closet the moment some upstart (deluded) contestant started reaming them about being the show that sold music down the river (read: ‘is uninterested in whatever horrendous crap they’re peddling’).
Enter Gina, the dental assistant. Pink stripe in her hair, rocker gear, a band back home called Catfight, and a mega crush on Simon Cowell. Could she be more perfect? Well, yeah. For starters, she could have been older than 22 so that she could join the rest of this show in celebrating her rocker cred. Gina couldn’t seem to understand that this show is all about catering to people’s expectations. Of course, they’re usually crap and there is no reason why you should cater to them – unless you’d like to win the competition.
People like labels. They like to know what to expect when they see your mug on TV or buy your CD at a Starbucks or pick up your book while waiting in line at the supermarket. Imagine you picked up a CD with a guy dressed in a lot of bling, a sneer, and baggy jeans falling off his hips on the cover; you get into your car, shove it in, and hear Christmas carols. How would you react?
The question isn’t whether guys with that kind of an image can sing carols. Of course they can (in fact, it would be kind of awesome to hear some Christmas rap). Silent Night is a holy night for all of us, irrespective of our sartorial tastes. But that’s not what the paying public expects. And thus, as soon as Gina stepped in, everybody wanted her to be the Rocker Chick.
Problem was, Gina’s a 22-year-old. It appeared she had ideas of defying expectations and doing her own thing. All of which are noble ambitions except when you consider two things:
A) To defy expectations, one needs the kind of talent that will allow one to do so. Gina is definitely talented but part of honing that talent is to realize your strengths as well as your limitations. Not all of us are prodigies and that’s okay as long as we can recognize that fact and play up to it. Chris Daughtry, if you’ll remember, very neatly side-stepped the issue by simply choosing songs that he could adapt to his style.
B) This is Idol. It’s a beast that thrives on formula (but don’t tell them that – they don’t like to be reminded of it). By the time the producers are done with you, by God you’re produced and you’ll stay that way if you know what’s good for you! The only way you can escape that fate is to either bow down and embrace it in ways they never expected you to by (I’m sorry but I’m going to say it) “making it your own” a la Taylor Hicks or you can get voted off and do whatever it is that you want to do a la Chris Daughtry.
In fact, just the other day Nigel Lythgoe, czar of the Idol empire, was moved to ask a rather philosophical question – “What do you mean by winning?” Hmm, oh I don’t know – like maybe when Miss America gets the shiny sash and glittery tiara? It’s that thing your friend Simon says he loves to do all the time. We figure we’d like some of that, too.
But of course, he has a point. As much as Simon might get pale with fury at the suggestion that this show is merely a stepping stone to a brighter future, that’s the entire premise of this show, isn’t it? Competitions that are an end by themselves usually involve winning prizes like a car or an all expense paid trip on the Cruise of Death (well, you know what I mean). They don’t feature an entire career as a prize. And it’d be a pretty sad career if winning a TV show, even the most popular TV show of the time, was the best you could say about it, don’t you think?
So Gina of the candy-striped hair went this week with the promise of summer employment and a chance to find out who she is on her own time. In the process she (together with Chris Sligh) taught us all that Simon is living proof of an old Indian saying, “the best relationship with a snake is neither friendship nor enmity”.
For that piece of valuable information and the classiest sing out I’ve seen so far this season, I thank you. Good job, Gina. We’ll miss you.
[Originally published at Blogcritics.org]