We knew it would be a lengthy process, but when the final installment of American Idol made its way into triple overtime, the people in my house were fighting the urge to propel themselves out of the nearest windows, which, honestly they may have done, had it not been so damn wet outside, and had the windows not been, quite un-dramatically, located on the first floor.
The most painful, and most American aspects of Tuesday and Wednesday night's grand finale were the blatant and insulting intersections of corporate interests. The winner is awarded a recording contract with RCA, so she or he may record an album that you, loyal fan, may buy. Many of the commercial breaks incorporated "legitimate" recording artists singing for Coke (one of whom was Mya, ironically serenading a soda bottle with the lyrics, "Make it real ..."). The consumerism wasn't limited to national spots, however, as there were more than a few local Raleigh/Durham commercials sporting banners that read "We love you, Clay!" or "NC is proud of you, Clay!!" In fact, a cousin of Clay's who lives in Smithfield was interviewed by the local news after the program, and in between discussing her disappointment at Clay's loss, even she managed to shamelessly plug the restaurant she owns.
But nobody does commodity culture better than the cell phone industry. Fans were encouraged to use their Nokia 3650 phones (Nokia's newest--a phone, PDA, and digital camera in one device!) to vote for their choice between Ruben and Clay, by way of Text Messaging, a service provided by, among others, AT&T Wireless. After the first half of the final American Idol on Tuesday, May 20, fans could stay tuned to Fox to see 24, the "real-time" action-drama, and observe many of the characters therein also using Nokia 3650 phones. It was estimated that over 2 million text messages were received by Mobliss, the technology providers for Idol, on Tuesday night alone. Go to any AT&T Wireless store, or visit them online, and you can buy songs from Idol to use as ring tones on your Nokia phone.
Slimiest of all were the series previews for new, ever-inventive Fox shows, such as Ocean City. The new show is an obvious clone of Melrose Place, redirected towards a younger 15 to 20-year-old audience, and is replete with wayward teenagers, rich and white high schoolers, casual sex and binge drinking.
Then there is Paradise Hotel, a reality show in which fans of American Idol are invited to register to win a spot, provided they are, as the commercial insisted, sexy enough. Lastly, Fox is giving us American Juniors, a miniature version of Idol which focuses not on the exploitation of children and their creative possibilities, but on the competitive nature of American middle-class parents. The clips shown for this gem were generally composed of miffed parents insisting their children had been "robbed" if they had lost, and then hurling insults at other parents, and, quite maturely, at other parents' children.
For those of us who were hoping the reality show trend was just that, it seems we are in for a longer haul than anyone expected. For now, we hope you are ready to watch, America, because Fox is anxious to insult you once again.