Watch the video above and tell me you won’t get goosebumps.
Tell me you won’t get goosebumps at seeing a darker Charlie Askew with a sleeveless top and feather earring. Tell me you won’t get goosebumps seeing Charlie rip through an emotive performance of ‘Mama’, high screeches, intense gazes et al. Tell me you won’t get goosebumps as he tries to hide his tears and face through a stunningly-brutal attack from all four judges, especially Nicki Minaj, on his performance — at one point, laughing him off as if he is just a fly that can be swatted off. Tell me you won’t get goosebumps when he says one of the most heartfelt quotes of a boy in flux, a boy lost in this mad world of television, a boy trying to find out who he is but entering a domain where he is not being given the room to do that and emerge as a better artiste.
I got goosebumps. Some of them were good, some of them not as much. (I call it “cringing”.) But then, I understood that it wasn’t about a performance that was drilled time and again in my head every time I tune into American Idol, to be the “perfect” performance: a crisp first line with a solid low note, a rousing pre-chorus prefaced with glistening eyes and a stare headlong into the spotlights high above, a soaring chorus and, of course, that all-too-hyped-up big note at the end that judge Randy Jackson seems so hell-bent on having every contestant do.
Such staid, formulaic performances. Such staid, formulaic faces.
Charlie’s performance was raw, visceral and quite probably, the makings of a rock hit. (That being said, I am not Charlie, so he can sing whatever genre he wants to be because if you were just a tiny bit smarter about music choices, you wouldn’t pigeonhole an artiste to his or her genre, no? I learnt this the hard way.)
Charlie came in perfectly comfortable with his witty comebacks, awkward interactions and floppy hair. He charmed the judges through a series of wise song choices and whimsical performances. I looked forward to see what he would bring every week. The American Idol judges looked forward to see how he could up the stakes every week. That is where things begin to fall apart: when expecting something does not mean expecting more things.
Why does a contestant like Charlie Askew — who feels very comfortable being exactly the oddball (even that is a subjective word) he is — feel the need to switch it up and raise the stakes in his performance by changing who he is? Why does American Idol become this rag where the weirdest of the weird are being hung for all to gawk and stare, like as if they were racks of meat in a butcher’s shop? We laugh, we get over it — surely that says something about the sorry state of affairs we humans get ourselves into?
Kelsea Stahler from Hollywood.com doesn’t quite get it (note: I respectfully disagree with her statement below):
The overall attitude of trying to be different is wonderful. However, there needs to be parameters: Be different, Idol, but don’t forget that ultimately, you need to appeal to a wide audience. You are a series that only finds singers who appeal to a broad set of consumers, and that isn’t going to change. When Idol forgets that immovable boundary, it’s the little people, like sweet Charlie Askew, who get hurt.
Yes, American Idol has built all its success on this formula. But, does that mean we accept a social structure for what it is: an infallible construct?
For years, American Idol has produced the same old contestants, barely making anything groundbreaking except for the gospel singer who can bring the church home and back 25 times but can never break into the mainstream charts, or the earnest singer-songwriter playing on his guitar and making heartfelt songs but lacking any lasting star power that will get him through the hurdle of clinching on to the record deal past the second album (looking at you, Kris Allen and David Archuleta).
(Randy Jackson’s exceedingly blind faith saying it’s all about “the voice” notwithstanding. Wrong show, dude.)
Idol loves their success stories. Truth is, none of them made it because of Idol at all. Jennifer Hudson’s Oscar definitely was not because she was able to pursue an acting career after her shocking Top 6 elimination; it just happened. Carrie Underwood’s success in the country music scene had nothing to do with debut single ‘Inside Your Heaven’, which did not make as much of a splash as breakout single ‘Before He Cheats’ did a few months later. Daughtry did it all thanks to his smart decision to begin songwriting from the onset and going as a band, instead of marketing himself as a solo artist.
Even Philip Phillips found success not due to Idol, but due to the Olympics. (Although, one does wonder if he might have gone the way of “the songwriter boys” had he not had an Olympics-partnered song e.g. Scotty McCreery.)
What works is that on the other singing shows, contestants are being remembered also for their personality — about what they can bring to the table, about what sets them apart from every single random Tom or Jane. Charlie and Zoanette provide refreshing personalities that could push them to ‘freak status’ but also as ‘superstar’ as well. Because, let’s face it: every superstar has a freak streak. It is not a bad thing; it just makes you less of a cookie-cutter artiste.
Nicki Minaj should know better than to issue a takedown over someone trying to play up his or her personality. The woman changes wigs like Taylor Swift changes boyfriends. That is before we get to all that accent nonsense.
I am not going to fight fire with fire. Those judges can be conceited bullies for all I care, but stooping down to that level just brings what I have to say to an entirely new level. (read: veering dangerously close to disturbing)
I will just say this: if a show like American Idol cannot accept someone like Charlie Askew who is human is every way because he has all the eccentricities and complexities that every human has (and not like what the ever-too-airbrushed media tells you), then American Idol has failed to portray what is real about life, performance and art.
Instead, if such a show has a tendency for two-dimensional thinking and puts Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey side-by-side just to attract eyeballs over who is the bigger diva and whether the network will finally claw back its way into ratings, then American Idol is a sad existence of a show.
So long, suckers.
(P.S. Kudos, Ryan Seacrest, on the great words you gave Charlie. Always the classy man. Would Carson Daly do the same?)