"Who's y'alls' favorite?"
"Can you believe she got kicked off?"
We're bombarded with these questions at the park, at coop classes or at the Y. We know the librarians like Adam, the plumber is pulling for Allison, and our neighbors' bracket is betting on Kris. Each week at the grocery store, we listen attentively as our favorite checker argues the singers' merits with the less critically acclaimed (but more vocal) baggers. It's really all very exciting!
Of course, we're not watching.
But we did. Once. Season 5. It was thrilling! So much so, that it has apparently sustained us for the three seasons since...
The girls began watching the show, I'm happy to say, after succumbing to peer pressure. Friends in their homeschool hiking club were big fans and made it clear that, if M&K wanted to interact in conversation of any kind from January through May, they would have to fan the flames of idolatry. Discussing books, science experiments or poetry was out. "Normalcy" was in. For once, M&K decided to give that a try.
Honestly, we were all a bit skeptical. And, after the first audition episode, M&K's reluctance grew. But I only saw opportunity. When they announced that there was "no way" they were watching next week, I declared a national (ok, familial) emergency and imposed an executive order stating that American Idol was officially, from that moment on, part of our spring 2006 school curriculum. I justified it on intellectual grounds: it would serve as a much-needed impetus to study music theory, a subject we'd long neglected.
Besides that, I had a hidden agenda (I am a mom). I cynically judged the worthiness of American Idol for its potential to expose the kids to something much more important than musical styles: namely, it could enhance their Jerk Identification Radar. I told a bewildered Chris, "This is great! Real, live jerks, so now I don't have to feel guilty for overprotecting them anymore!" (Sure, Chris and I do our best, but we're only two examples of jerks. . . How limiting is that?)
Truthfully, my strongest reservation about homeschooling M&K was that they might miss out on the most important lessons school could provide. No, not trigonometry, macroeconomics or physics. But, the study of human nature: "reading" people's body language, "calculating" others' ulterior motives and, basically, honing essential skills in the survival of the finesse. (Perhaps I was also overcompensating due to the haunting voices of former private school students who stated, "We may not be book smart, Ms. Sarkar, but we're street smart!" Irony on so many levels, I never could think of a suitable response... If that sounds too haughty and judgmental, blame it on months spent with Simon Cowell.)
American Idol could supplement my innocent, sheltered children's education in condensed, 60-minute weekly classes that encouraged them to survey all aspects of American culture and social nuance. Together, we would watch many "types" of vulnerable folks parade across our tv screen and exercise our God-given right to judge them without mercy. And, bonus, it was fully sanctioned, socially acceptable scrutinizing that even scored them points at playgroup!
There were some halfhearted attempts to tie this into our academics. We did learn to identify whole, half & quarter notes and taught ourselves to play "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" on the girls' recorders. We rewatched Sound of Music - the 'do re mi' part - several times. We conducted ourselves admirably when reviewing the sections of an orchestra and even attended the symphony - and not just because there were fireworks. We listened to almost two classical music cds. And, finally, as Idol's singers exited each week to the tune of "You Had a Bad Day," I likened it to Aristotle's theory of tragedy and gave them an enlightening 30 minute lecture on identification with and empathy for the iconic tragic hero and his fatal flaw of hubris. I mean, isn't that what comes to everyone's mind upon hearing that song? Anyway, it counts because they took notes. Oh, and about halfway through the season (once we found out it was free), the girls loved haggling over the performances and calling in their votes - that was democracy in action, so I jotted it down under 'political science.' Who knew pop culture was so cross-curricular?
But, my original "social studies" mission didn't turn out as I expected. What I hadn't counted on was the preponderance of unbelievably nice and nerdy people wanting to be our next American Idol, many of whom were also quite talented. Pretty quickly, even before the final 24, the "mean girl" was eliminated and all we had left to ridicule were the country singers, Bucky & Kellie. They weren't very good, but still seemed too endearingly naïve to incur much of our wrath.
Plus, there is no way to express my relief or Chris' parental bliss when the girls did not swoon for the sultry Ace or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, the squeaky Kevin. Mikaela's top crush was the clean-cut crooner and Sinatra crony, David, and Katrianna fell for Will, the Brady Bunch's lost sibling. Other than that, there was the very sincere Elliott (and his mom), the marvelous Mandisa, the effervescent Paris, the naturally graying & soulful Taylor and even the cool but dependable rocker dude who had married a single mom (thereby automatically securing the votes of many moms I know).
I heard that season 5 was the most watched in Idol history, ratings no doubt buoyed by our cutting edge, trendy family of 4. It showed that real life - at least as portrayed on a tv 'reality show' - is schmaltzy, heartwarming and generally the good guys & girls win in the end. Really, American Idol was chock-full of virtuous role models for the kids and it restored my faith in humanity. So, now you see why we stopped watching. Who wants a repeat of that?