Saturday, May 26, 2012


Everything said hereafter is after the fact.

Now that the dust has relatively settled and the emotions have abated, we can all talk about this like adults.  We can set aside all the personal or emotional investments, shift our nationalistic fire (Read: Pinoy pride) on second gear --- and start getting real.

After all, as one of my more level-headed (Read again: cynical) friends said: "You are letting an American reality show with Jennifer Lopez shaking her booty actually upset you?"  

But then again, I held onto my guns.  That friend of mine still plays Iron Butterfly and Black Sabbath and believes that Justin Bieber should be stoned to death.  So I do not and cannot take him seriously. 

Then again, there is still a grain of truth to what time-warped friend said.  The real deal is that:

(a) American Idol may be a high-rating (well, not that high in the ratings any more) American reality t.v. show but it has really got nothing to do with us on the other side of the third rock --- except providing us with excitement, escape and --- in certain episodes --- exorcism.
(b) Phillip Phillips (Georgia's answer to Bernardo Bernardo) IS the eleventh American Idol and there is nothing we can do about it --- not that we really have anything to do about it --- nor will any change happen if we should so decide to do something about it. We have better prospects in resolving that issue about the Scarborough Shoal with the Chinese.

(c) Jessica Sanchez is an American with Filipino ancestry much like all the other celebrities who are  famous enough to be featured in TMZ --- like Lou Diamond Phillips, Tia Carrera, Nicole I-can-never-really-spell-or-pronounce-her-family name of the Pussycat Dolls, and  a whole roster of others.  Let it also be known (as I have pointed out in an earlier entry) that Jessica of Chula Vista is as much a Mexican as she is a Filipina --- and we have to acknowledge and respect that. Although we insist that she is most embodiment of Pinoy Pride, she can very well be Mexico's poster kid as well ... and we can't argue about that.

And finally ...

(d) The eleventh season is over.  The twelfth will be rolling out its auditions this coming June. And life goes on and on and on.

Not that this is of any national concern, but I will confess that I did not entertain any appointments Thursday morning to be able to catch the announcement of the winner at the Nokia Theater.  I knew I was swept by this whole Idol fever at a pitch not quite like before because --- like so many Filipinos --- Jessica Sanchez was there and she had Pinoy blood so I felt that there was a part of me in the fight.

Like all other Pinoys, I wanted a rallying point. I thought it was good for my national ego to root for somebody who looks like one of my kind ... even if she does not speak a single one of the seventy languages in the country or she has never set foot on any of our seven thousand islands.

I was one with the people of Samal, Bataan, the ancestral town of her mother -- who, I found out, left the Philippines when she was only in her teens.  But whatever. Pinay pa rin siya, period. So there.

It was not enough that I was glued to the tube --- but I was also  squeezing the keyboard of my Blackberry, joining the deluge of tweets coming from all over --- including JM Rodriguez who was right there at the theater, privileged to witness the entire event in the flesh.  

As the show progressed, a fiery online exchange of ideas came as tweets cascaded an entire spectrum of observations and opinions.  This was more than half the fun of it: while watching the show, I was actually having a conversation with God knows how many people reacting to the same event.

But then we all get our adrenaline shots watching over-the-top season enders like the ritual of American Idol crowning its winner.  For one thing, singing stars and icons emerged from the netherworld to prove to the rest of us, the living, that they were still very much alive and still capable of doing things that they were doing about forty years ago.

I mean, the mere sight of Chaka Khan singing I'm Every Woman wearing that catsuit to match all that hair is indeed a vision to behold. It was like going through a Time Machine and realizing that indeed fashion in the 80s was just so bad that even bringing  that to the twenty first century is a far greater sin. But still!  

Then, of course, there was Neil Diamond (uh, ok)and the appearance of Fantasia Berrino whose sheer presence confirmed the definition of  doppelganger for the Wailing/Braying Joshua.

So we were all having particularly tacky fun --- and there is nothing wrong with that. From the very start, we knew we were not going through the hoity poity ritual of high art here. As Ryan Seacret would enunciate, "And this is ... American Idol!" and not "Kennedy Center presents ..."

I was prepared for anything. Well, I thought I did. 

When two Idol alumnae were called onstage to have a very public wedding proposal, I cringed. I literally cringed. No, I didn't cringe.  I had an acid re-flux.

( I have realized that I have committed one of the greatest sins in my life. I have always assumed that no one can do anything more cheesy, tacky, eeechy and baduy when we want to pander to cheap emotion than the Pinoys.  This moment in American Idol proved me wrong. The Kanos can do far worse.

I thought their ultimate yuuch moments came in episodes of The Bachelor, The Bachelorette or even The Real Wives of Wherever.  But this onstage, on camera in front of the world wedding proposal baked the multi-layered, diabetes-inducing cake. This was far worse than any pakulo or pakana of any edition of Pinoy Big Brother. 

Did they think anybody with an IQ slightly above normal would believe in a highly contrived, obviously scripted exercise in weird romance? If this happened, say, while skydiving without parachutes while singing a song chosen for them by Jimmy Lovine ... perhaps that would have been more convincing. And impressive.

But to fall on one's knees to mutter those all too predictable words, "Will you marry me?" elicited only one kind of reaction from people of my temperament. I thought it was going to rain frogs in Los Angeles.

But I should have heeded this segment as a warning. This sort of showbiz ploy is geared for pure titillation.  This is the sort of schmaltz that makes middle-aged women with hairs dyed in sky blue teary-eyed and regretting menopause. This is nothing more than entertainment and not a prelude to the London Olympics.

This is only a show. And it is a show meant for a specific audience.

American Idol is indeed targeted for Heartland America.)

When the winner was finally announced --- after what I felt was a real lackluster, anemic duet featuring Jessica Sanchez and Philip Times Two, I was --- well, yes --- crushed and disappointed.

But I shouldn't be.

At the back of my mind, I knew this was going to happen and I am not even going to use the Racist Card to trump my deal.  Even midway through the Top 12, I somewhat doubted if the voting segment of America who constituted the bulk of Idol's diehard viewership would ever allow an Asian/Latina be called their idol.  

This brings me back to the four realizations I mentioned earlier.

(a) American Idol was mounted, designed and sold for Americans. Kaya nga tinawag na American Idol! It never made any pretenses or claims that it is all about talent. Rather, it is all about votes.  Regardless of how many times Randy Jackson shouts "Dog!" or Jennifer Lopez sputters, "This is craaaazy!", it is still not about talent --- but it is about popularity. 

For the record, there is nothing wrong with that.

The moment you hand the power of selection ... the right to beatification ... to the public out there armed with their texting power, then you have divested the true measure of talent, authenticity or even validity from the game.

Remember that there is indeed a thin line between democracy in action from good old mob rule.

This show is all about audience appeal --- or how to provide adequate fantasies for tween girls who will rip off pages from magazines to make wallpaper out of those tear sheets carrying the photograph of their idol-for-the-moment.  It is all about the number of screaming fans --- whose collective voice can drown out whatever authentic singing that might take place in any of the performances.

It is all about the voting ... and not the singing.  And the voting is for America.  

Kasi nga ... this is ... American Idol! (Insert theme music here.)

(b) When the judges gave Phillip Phillips a standing ovation during the performance night and hailed him a true artist, I knew that the fight was over.  To use a local expression, tapos na ang boxing.

It was not that his rendition of his supposed first single was any bad. On the contrary, it was good for the genre that the material represented.

Most unfortunately (or coincidentally), the world and especially the three judges agreed that the song they gave Jessica was not only mediocre: it was on the eve of dumb.  

Not only was it devoid of any challenge to highlight the talent of the singer --- rather, it was mediocre. It wasn't bad ... it was worse: a bad song you can remember ... but a forgettable one drips down your back.

I surmised that the battle was over when the judges started rendering their lip service to Ms. Sanchez, commending the way she tried to get the most out of the song given to her.  But they all agreed that the material sucked.  So what was needed was a miracle to squeeze blood out of a sample rock.  All their compliments for whatever the girl did had all the sincerity of the words from a greeting card.

( My whole take on this was not how they reacted but rather what they were reacting to: after all, the show was not a songwriting competition. So why bash the song that the contest assigned to the competitor, right?  Of course, she could have said NO to that song ... but then the fact that she did what she was told was not good enough a reason for all the dissing.  Ah, but let that go.

I am nitpicking.  No, I am still whining because I thought the situation was quite unfair. And it made me feel a bit suspicious.)

The choice of Phillip should not come as any surprise because of all the contestants --- it was only he of the redundant name who never reached the Bottom 3.  He was never threatened with elimination.

As attested by all those who have suddenly made scientific market studies about the results of the show, Phillip should win because he complied with all the demographic requirements that have been ruling the choice of winners for the past so many years. After 2007, the predominant female teen-age crowd became the most rabid AI followers who would religiously dedicate a part of their human existence sending text votes to protect their Tributes from being decimated. 

Moreover, Phillip Phillips sang the right kind of songs that catered to --- well, the larger part of the audience in America. Again, this is in line with the trend that prevailed in the choice of winners for the past four and now five years. The phenomenon of the WGWG --- the White Guy with a Guitar.  

But, despite the success of David Cook and little Scotty --- the success of the WGWGs did not and still could not match the mega status of Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. Even if the template of the string-strumming stud puppy has become seemingly irreversible and irreplaceable, not a single one of the winners for the past four years yielded better careers than some of their runners-up. 

The fact that Adam Lambert was flamboyant and wore eyeliner automatically struck him out from the voters' choice. But his career has outraced Cutie Pie Kris Allen by so many solar systems. So there. Lambert performed in one of the shows this season. Kris Allen wasn't even invited to the Finale. Ah, life. There are limitations to being cute.

(c) Jessica Sanchez is the closest thing Filipinos could identify with in the uphill battle for supremacy.

We should have known better.  We all thought we really had a fighting chance. But, as Nestor Torre pointed out in his PDI article, she was up against not only a tradition. She was riding against a trend.

Even if she is not a Filipina but an American with Filipino blood, the support and love given by the Fil-Am communities as well as the Pinoys back home were overwhelming.  If you are not a Filipino, you will find it hard to understand why a Third World country would suddenly drop everything on a Thursday morning to await the results of a singing contest.

It really goes much farther than that.

Aside from the Filipinos' love for the underdog, the success of someone adopted as one of us became our own personal journey to success. We of the telenovela mentality would like to live our lives vicariously in the shoes of others.  This time, we also anointed this sixteen year old Americanita to embody us --- all of us --- who fantasize our big dreams.  

Jessica Sanchez became the wish-fulfillment of all the karaoke/videoke/Magic Mic addicts who sing Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey songs in the cubbyholes, cubicles or even literally hole-in-the-wall establishments where vocal chords are exercised with uncontrolled frenzy.  

In a nation obsessed with singing --- even to the point of turning the act of rendering a song as a defense mechanism or a method of escape from all the banes and burdens of Philippine existence, Jessica Sanchez is literally --- a dream come true.

Right before our very eyes, this little girl is becoming a star --- not in a contest held at a plaza, not even in local television --- but in a reality show watched by millions all over the world.  She just had to be ours.


(d) The next season auditions was announced some time middle of next month with the Top Twelve going on a nationwide tour. 

In the meantime, the murmurings continue. It is perhaps unfair to Phillip Phillips that the whole WGWG-Syndrome is now being blamed as the principal reason why the viewership of American Idol has dropped by 30% from its previous record. The Season 11's Finale of 21 million viewers goes down in history as the lowest ever garnered by the show.

Uh-oh. The cracks are showing.

Everyone from the judges --- down to the production assistant who serves coffee to Randy Jackson --- is being blamed for the downhill course of what was once the ultimate barometer of Cultura Americana. 

Unfortunately, after eleven seasons, the show has already run its course.  As pointed out by media observers, there are too many shows of the same format that have sprouted in competitive channels --- and, let's face it, Adam Levine is far much more pleasing and exciting to watch than either of the men who sandwich Jenny from the Block.

Not everyone is happy about Phillip2 being crowned this year's winner --- but then that is not his fault either.  Blame it on the demographics. Or, as someone pointed out, more of the same for the past five years simply means something has gone wrong --- very, very wrong.

The saddest (or is it?) part of the Announcement Show was the fact that Phillip was not at the peak of health.  His performance in that final show was ... uh, just there. He was sick, for crying out loud.  He seemed like he was being tortured to go through the motions because he was in pain. But one must commend him as a pro.  He was going to stick it out to the very end so that everyone would be proud.

But nobody remembers what he did throughout the entire show until he was crowned winner and made to sing that song all over again --- and he cried. Yes, that was how he will be remembered for the final night. He proved to the world he was a sweet boy and no mean machine with the appetite of a GW (Great White) rather than being a WG (With Guitar).

However ...

Whether it was a gross miscalculation or an unconscious move to prove a point, the inclusion of a duet between Broadway legend Jennifer Holiday and Jessica Sanchez right near the final production number of the show would prove to be fatal to who eventually emerged as the winner.

To pit a sixteen year old girl with a singer whose pipes could cause tectonic movement by sheer volume was ...either an invitation for a disaster or the ultimate testimony as to who's got it ... and who ain't.  When the little girl from Chula Vista crossed the stage to meet Jennifer Holiday to sing the most memorable song from the musical Dreamgirls, Jessica Sanchez did not need to win the title of American Idol. She won so much more.

She awed the world.

For how many singers can dare do a duet with Jennifer Holiday? Not many.  That woman makes the word fierce sound like a sissy.  But Jessica got her wish: a duet with a legend.  When Mario Lopez interviewed Sanchez in Extra, she said that after that duet with Ms. Holiday, she was ready to give the title to Phillip.  She had what she came for.

Yes, Jessica, you were right.  America got Phillip.  The world claimed you.

In the meantime, while the next WGWG is busy strumming his guitar and honing his vocal chords to deliver his next country ballad, we will all move on.

I, for one, realize that the thrill of watching American Idol has so greatly diminished. It is no more fun to know what it takes to be its winner. Moreover, there is truth indeed: it is only for a specific kind of audience.  

I have no problems about this show being a popularity contest and not one searching for real talent --- but then, apparently it honors only one kind of music.  Unfortunately, it is not the kind I choose to listen. 

So I guess I am sticking to The Voice instead.


  1. Yeah I kept telling mom in the end Jessica would not got the title kaya nga "American Idol eh!" but yeah Jessica stood her ground against Jennifer and that alone showed the world. I think Jessica would have more projects and deals, look at Adam compared to Kris Allen, Adam Lambert tend to stand up more than the actual winner Kris.

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  3. Thank you, Direk, for articulating what many of us feel.

  4. We must be proud of Jessica Sanchez because she had embodied the Pinoy spirit of going against the trend

  5. Just for the record, Kris Allen sang in one of the results show, Top 7 or Top 6, launching his first single from his second album. But of course Adam also launched his and went on topping the billboard hot 100 the week after. So there. Although I'm not a fan of Adam, coz I'm a fan of Kris, I must admit that Adam had a better career, but nothing compared to Underwood and Clarkson's careers. But that doesn't mean I should listen to Adam now because he is more sikat than Kris. I still love the feel-good, laid back feel of Kris' music plus the fact that he compose all the songs in the album, which Adam for the life of him, may not or can't ever compete with. So there, at the end of the day it's still your choice of music that matters.