Jasmine Who?

 

by John Tyler Connoley

June 29, 2004

 

Do the names Leah LaBelle and Matthew Rogers mean anything to you? Do you remember Camile Velasco? Or what about Amy Adams? No? Well, surely you've heard of Jennifer Hudson and John Peter Lewis. And I don't even have to ask about Fantasia Barrino. Right?

 

If you're not a Fox reality TV fan and you don't watch talk shows, then you've likely never heard of any of these people. They're seven of the twelve finalists on American Idol last season. Fantasia Barrino won the competition and a recording contract in May. Even if you are a fan, you may have only recognized a few of the names. I'm a fan, and I had to look them up, because I'd forgotten most of them.

 

This year was my first season watching American Idol. My spouse, Rob, saw the first two shows on a business trip and became addicted. So, when he came home, we started watching it together.

 

The first week, watching the results show, I thought it was one of the cruelest broadcasts I'd ever seen. On the results show, which is taped live, host Ryan Seacrest recaps the judges' criticisms from the night before. He takes almost an hour to slowly whittle down the contestants until three are left (the bottom three). Then he takes a commercial break, comes back and tells us who is "safe" this week. He takes another break, before telling the two lonely kids which one is booted. Finally, he makes the loser sing her song from the night before -- the song that apparently got her voted off the show.

 

At the time, it seemed the height of cruelty, playing with these young lives that way. Now, however, I've decided there's something crueler than the American Idol results show. It's the American Idol Tour.

 

This summer, while the rest of the world has moved on to other things (like The Simple Life 2), the American Idol kids will be traveling to 52 cities in a three-month concert tour. Soon they'll experience the boredom of the band bus, the bad food in the green rooms, and (most importantly) the screaming fans.

 

Right now, the kids are likely rehearsing. As they learn their numbers and go to costume fittings, they're being told they'll soon be stars -- just like Clay Aiken and Tamyra Gray, past Idol losers who've gone on to successful recording contracts. They're having a blast, experiencing what must be a dream come true. After the show is over, however, they'll be dumped in Hollywood to fend for themselves in the star factory. And here's the cruelest part of all: four of them can't sing and a couple have no rhythm.

 

The American Idol kid I feel most sorry for is Jasmine Trias -- the third runner-up. She's a sweet native Hawaiian girl with a big smile and a flower in her hair. She's quite pretty in a traditional sort of way, and I'm sure she'll make a fine local entertainment reporter someday. However, she can't sing and she can't dance. As Simon Cowell (a.k.a. the mean judge) said to her on the night she was finally booted off the show, "The only reason you made it this far is that all of Hawaii has been voting for you." And I'm sure he's right.

 

When they sent the three finalists to their hometowns for a visit, Jasmine received a queen's welcome. Thousands of people met her at the airport, and everywhere she went screaming fans asked for her autograph. Unless, by some fluke, she becomes a real star, that 24-hour trip was probably the highlight of her life -- the story she'll tell her grandkids. And that's why I feel sorry for her.

 

Jasmine Trias, more than any of the American Idol kids, knows what it feels like to be idolized. She's been pampered and slobbered over by the press. She's seen a whole island bow at her feet. And, she's been told that as an American Idol finalist she has a great music career ahead of her. In her final episode, she promised Paula Abdul (a.k.a. the kind judge) that she would move to Hollywood and make a career of singing. I think it more likely she'll move to Hollywood and be ground up in the cogs of the star factory. Eventually, she'll wash ashore in Hawaii, and if she's lucky she'll make a living doing local commercials, or she'll become a veterinarian with a nice scrapbook. The irony is that by softening her criticism, the kindly Paula Abdul will be partly responsible.

 

As we watched those first few episodes I was horrified at the way the gruff Simon treated the kids. He never held punches, telling them exactly how bad they were. I would say to the television, "They're just kids. Give 'em a break, Simon!" But, I've come to realize that he is in fact the kindest of the judges. In an interview with Ryan Seacrest, Simon said the part of the show he hates the most is the false pretense that they'll see the eighth or ninth runner-up again, on stage somewhere. "We'll never see them again," he said. Unfortunately, the whole show is working against his honesty, and the kids never hear it. All they hear are the screaming fans who will soon forget their names, as they move on to the next reality TV star or pop music phenomenon.

 

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Copyright 2004 by John Tyler Connoley

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