Real life - June 1, 2003 -
No False Idols Here
by Linda Sharp
Say what you will about the spate of reality TV programming that currently occupies so many hours of prime-time television. And while there really is no defending programs that feature gourmet horse rectum as a menu item (Fear Factor), masked men making out with a wannabe Cinderella (Mr Personality),or Hot Tubbing as a mandatory date component (The Bachelor), network programmers have learned that "if they program it, we will come."
The space between our ears
We should all hang our heads in shame for bestowing instant celebrity status on such mental wastelands as Joe Millionaire's Evan Marriott, and we should be smacked with our remote controls for actually caring who gets a rose from Mr Firestone. These programs are so vacuous in nature, yet such Nielson ratings darlings, one has to wonder about the space between our ears.
There is, however, one program that is actually deserving of the hype, interest and even arguments it has spawned this season. American Idol 2.
What proved to be a winning combination for FOX last season -- singing talent culled from around the country and America's thirst for the interactive -- has completely bypassed its own predictions for second season success. The reason? Two words: Ruben and Clay.
A more unlikely pair of finalists could not even have been dreamed up by Aaron Sorkin and a field of mushrooms. As opposed to last season's fashionable and easy on the eyes American Idol finalists, the lithe and lovely Tamyra Gray, curly-topped Justin Timberlake wannabe Justin Guarini, and the cute as a button Kelly Clarkson, Clay and Ruben are mere mortals. Until they open their mouths.
And therein lies their appeal.
No one would dispute the fact that Clay Aiken has morphed more than any "contestant" on the plastic surgery show, Extreme Makeovers. Of course he has welcomed the help of the American Idol stylists, losing his glasses in favor of contacts, and actually sporting a hairstyle now, but one look at him and you still know he never was, and never will be mistaken for a GQ model. But one listen to any performance, and you know that what God missed in the looks department was made up for in the vocal cords He gave that boy. Clay Aiken, an unassuming Special Education teacher from North Carolina, who loves his Mom and thanks God often, has a gift.
And what can one say about Ruben Studdard? Ruben is what you see, a hefty 300-pound Mama's boy from Alabama. He can't dance, isn't a verbose personality and his most stylish attempts at fashion include the occasional newsboy cap, or a variation on the 5XXXL jerseys he favors to cover his girth. He too, thanks God each week and loves his Mom.
Not exactly your typical music industry offerings are they?
So how did they make it to the final two? How did they get voted past the sexy Kimberley Caldwell, the smooth grooves of Ricky Smith, or Diva in training Trenyce? Simple. America has finally found two people they can actually relate to.
Face it, very few of us in couch potato land are size 0s. We have funny hair, get pimples, eat too many French fries, don't have perfect teeth, work hard for what we have and we all have secretly harbored some sort of wish for stardom in our lives. We disdain those who give off the "worship-me-because-I'm-pretty" vibe, and we can smell insincerity through the airwaves.
Ruben and Clay take the stage and melt our hearts through their talent, their grace, their obvious appreciation for the amazing opportunity being afforded them. And while their singing styles and vocal ranges differ, they have in common something very important. They are US. They are every person who missed the prom because they couldn't get a date, every one of us who was the "fat kid" in grade school, who was never "cool" in high school, who suffered the slings and arrows of cruel teen peer pressure.
And yet we are seeing them triumph. We are helping them triumph. And in helping them, we are helping ourselves.
With everything going wrong in our world, we are realizing that we don't need another unappreciative, finger flipping, belly button baring Britney Spears. We don't want another self involved, crass, out-of-touch, bejeweled P. Diddy. Call it cheesy, but maybe Burt Bacharach was right. What the world needs now is love, sweet love. And we have found it in the unlikely forms of a nerdlet named Clay and a big teddy bear named Ruben.