The winter is cruel. Cold, merciless, without compassion and free of empathy. It insults us, strips out our comforts, reduces us to quivering wrecks and sends us out feeling miserable and dejected. Is that winter, or Idols?
I saw a bleating editorial by a humourless crone in one of the newspapers today, complaining about the nasty, sneering way I dismiss contestants from the eighth season of the reality show Idols. I had to check the date of the piece to make sure it wasn’t written in the early 2000s, when I first took the job as a judge. Back then I think you’d have been well within your rights to have called me nasty. I was 24, attention-seeking, and I thought being mean was funny. Sometimes it was, but mostly it wasn’t. I would regularly find myself in pissing contests with Randall to see who could say the most vicious and/or wittiest thing to a mumbling, bumbling wannabe. I defy you to find anything but the most subtle, ironic and only slightly jocular put-down from me now, in 2012.
I have grown up, and I’m tired of hearing the out-of-tune bugling of the grandmotherly, over-sensitive Oprah-esque who still don’t understand the TV business, or entertainment for that matter.
Idols is an entertainment TV show. It isn’t someone’s big break. I suppose you could call it one person (the winner’s) big break, but everyone else is an extra. These people volunteer (with the promise of fame and the puffery of having their friends see them on TV) and take the risk (that they might end up looking royal arses) and avail themselves knowingly to a panel of judges instructed only to give their own honest feedback. That is what I am tasked with doing. That feedback is a large part of the reason many people watch Idols – not because they agree or disagree, but because it gives them the chance to agree or disagree with us, in the comfort of their own home. Everyone’s a judge – and I’d be willing to bet most are far harsher (and quite possibly less entertaining and more devastating) in their criticism than Unathi and I – even Randall.
If you think Idols is mean, you obviously missed the initial seasons here and under Simon Cowell in the USA. We’re much nicer than we’ve ever been. In America, you’d be hard pressed for Randy, `J-Lo or Steve Tyler to manage the mildest of criticisms, even when a contestant goes down in flames. You’ll see how much we laugh – seldom at a contestant – mostly with the audience – because now we know (after such a long run) what makes South Africa the funny, quirky place that it is.
A woman called into my radio show a week ago and berated Unathi and I for laughing, being ‘unprofessional’ with contestants. I told her that if she were a judge, nobody would watch. She then unleashed a torrent of expletives and thoroughly abused me telling me that I neither knew “how to change a nappy”, nor that I “gave a shit”. I still lie awake at night trying to link these two lacunae in my knowledge and experience, in the hope of finding a solution.
Chill out. It’s TV. Last year everyone was locked in fierce debate and deep rivalry over whether they supported Mark or Dave. The day after, nobody cared less. Poor Mark and Dave. The public appetite for outrage, euphoria and humour is enormous, but also terribly fickle. In the grand scheme of things, we’re all suffering from a severe form of attention-deficit disorder, and TV itself created this monster. Who won the second season of Survivor? Who hosted the first season of American Idol with Ryan Seacrest? Where is Taylor Hicks now? You can’t answer those questions because somehow your brain knows that it won’t need that information ever again. If you’re so cross with a reality TV show judge now, that you need to write a letter to the newspapers; you’re going to wake up feeling pretty silly tomorrow.