Friday, May 22, 2009

American Idol

The longer I live abroad, the more I'm drawn to American Idol. It connects me with some of the people who are in my heart and thoughts, but aren't a part of my daily routine because of our distance: my mom, aunt, best friend, sister-in-law, etc. Watching the show from our separate corners of the earth and then meticulously comparing notes and conspiracy theories allows us to share an experience in a way that isn't usually possible for people oceans apart.

I'm a relatively new Idol fan; I began watching the Taylor Hicks season (5) covertly in 2006. I was busy trying to teach poor kids in San Jose how to read and was thus embarrassed by my frivolous Tuesday and Wednesday night guilty pleasure. When season 7 premiered in 2008, I had just moved to Sydney and craved the familiarity of Paula's nonsensical comments, the Coke cups, the intro music and even the way Simon pronounces 'terrible.' Yes, the show is cheesy and contrived, but I'm thoroughly entertained by it and now don't care who knows that I follow it religiously.

Weeks after David Cook won the title of American Idol last year, I learned that my clever, sophisticated friends Andrew and Alyssa had followed the whole season. I was surprised by their interest in the show, but more disappointed that I'd missed my opportunity to discuss it with them week after week. I would have loved their fresh insight on this monster hit reality show that I thought captivated only commoners like me. It was as if an unknown dimension of our friendship suddenly revealed itself.

While watching Ryan "honor" this year's outstanding male and female during last night's finale, I recalled (as I do every year) how profoundly different the first few weeks are from the rest of the show. The first episodes of every season depict the judges dutifully scouring the countryside for America's best and most delusional singers. I used to believe that awful singers sought fame or were actually aspiring actors/comedians who create a character and then try to put one over on the show's producers as an artistic challenge.

However, I now believe that most contestants aren't that clever and are simply delusional. My generation grew up listening to Mister Rogers tell us we were special and received sports trophies for merely participating (heck, I scored goals for the wrong soccer team and I still got one). Those of us who were lucky realized that the term special is relative. The unlucky ones have good-intentioned parents who, blinded (or, should I say deafened) by love of their offspring, cheered on years of mediocrity.

All grown up, some of these people audition for American Idol and are utterly perplexed by their rejection. The looks on their faces tell the same story every time: they genuinely believed that they were talented singers and are stunned to learn that the judges don't agree.

In stark contrast to the thousands of lousy singers, this year's top 8 were fantastic. If you don't recall how significantly more talented this year's lot were than last year's, let me point out that Christy Lee Cook and Jason Castro were in season 7's top 8. 'nough said. Aside from fugly tatts (my pet name for Megan Joy) and blind dude (Scott, bless his heart), I loved watching everyone this year.

Though my friend Steph disagrees, my mom and I are convinced that the show deliberately tried to conceal Kris' wife. There was one performance show a couple of weeks back during which he specifically mentioned her. Simon called him on it, advising that it wasn't wise to seem unavailable. From then on, when the camera panned to Katie, the caption never indicated 'Kris' wife.' Likewise, montages of his homecoming in Conway, Arkansas featured emotional reunions with his parents, not Katie.

There was also a lot of speculation about Adam's sexual preference: was he gay? why the guyliner? does that matter to America? I'm not sure whether Adam ultimately didn't win because he's gay. Homophobia perhaps played a small part, but that isn't the only reason why America sided with Kris. Adam was the front-runner from the beginning; many agree that he's the most talented performer to have ever graced the Idol stage. America fell in love with Kris more slowly because he grew as an artist as the weeks rolled on, he was handsome, charming, had unique arrangements and played both the piano and guitar.

I adore Kris, but am convinced that America got it wrong. When faced with a choice between someone truly great and innovative and someone good, but more familiar, they opted for the more conservative contestant. Though the comparison is ridiculous, I'm glad that America opted for the more progressive candidate (perhaps the Adam Lambert of politics) back in November. In other words, I'll take Obama and Kris Allen over four years of John McCain any day.

Despite my disappointment with the results, I loved the finale show: the duets with the greats, the jeers at the judges and the awards for those who brought us laughs in the early weeks: Norman Gentle and Tatiana. I screamed when Kara joined bikini girl on stage and whipped out her own two-piece for charity. She was so brave.

Adding to my enjoyment of this season's farewell, was watching with my friends Jess and Chris. It was fun to act as our own judging panel: evaluating the celebrity performances, Paula's tan and level of drunkenness, etc. For me (cue Randy Jackson impression), American Idol isn't important the same way the presidential election is. The fact that Kris Allen won isn't really important either; both Adam and Kris (and Alison and Danny for that matter) will go on to have successful careers in music. What's important about the show is the way it shapes bonds between me and the people I care about, both here in Sydney and back home in America.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Two Up

I wanted to spend Anzac Day, Australia's day to honor the sacrifices of its brave service men and women, in style at the races. In the US, 'style' and horse 'races' don't belong in the same sentence unless you're talking about the Kentucky Derby maybe. Here in Australia, you can get drunk at the races (getting drunk is an integral part of every Australian holiday), but the fashions at the Randwick Racecourse elevate the sport of horse racing to a level more sophisticated than the hot dog days at Santa Anita in my youth.
A day at the races is so much more than senseless betting and beer when it's framed as Randwick's Autumn Carnival, an event sponsored by Schweppes and the phrase 'princesses will stop at nothing,' which I still can't relate back to horses or Schweppes products. Anyway, I can't say anything more about the races because Mickey and most other members of our crew weren't tempted by the prospect of drinks and horses in pretty clothes as I was. Maybe next year.

Instead, Jess, Chris, Mickey and I met our token Australian friend Tim at his local watering hole, the Quarryman's in Pyrmont for drinks and two up, a gambling game that's legal in Australia only on Anzac Day. (Funny that our plan B also involved alcohol and betting. It's clear that the boys couldn't be bothered dressing up).

Two up is pretty simple, but has a couple of nonsense rules. Someone holds two coins on a small paddle. People make bets on whether the coins will land heads or tails sides up. The spinner, or spinnah, as we say here in Australia, must make the coins flip around a couple of times at least at a height over his/her head. Two tails mean that tails wins, two heads mean that heads win and one of each means that you must flip again, a rule designed to help people lose money just a tad slower.

Again, it's a simple game, but it kept Tim's crew and the other patriotic Australians in the pub entertained for hours. I generally loathe gambling, but took a chance and ended up tripling my money. That's right, I came in with $5 and ended up with $15. The luck of the fallen soldier was with me alright.

I achieved the most enjoyment from watching Jess take the paddle and get gently heckled by the drunken gamblers shouting, 'come in, spinnah!' in a cockney accent which, like two up itself, is unique to Anzac Day.