#8216;Idol#039; painfully good television

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The first the couple of episodes of &#8220American Idol” are like those painful days in high school when someone had to stand up and perform a song or something and you really want them to do well but in all actuality it ends up being bad and as painful for you to watch as it was for them to perform it.

Then their mothers and fathers and friends told them how wonderful it was. And you were quite sure that for the rest of their lives these blessedly unenlightened souls would go on believing how wonderful they were and their years would be better for it.

&#8220Idol”, however, has allowed these same blessedly unenlightened souls to actually test their supposed wonderfulness against the harsh reality of critical acceptance.

The majority, sadly, are found unworthy.

But doesn't it make for great TV?

Many Americans tune in to Idol - at least for its earliest episodes - because of the zany cast of characters the show attracts. A high percentage of these people know beyond a shadow of a doubt there's no way they'll make it to Hollywood (the next step in long elimination process), but this is their 15 minutes of fame and for that they're willing to make total imbeciles of themselves.

Seemingly, the new drug of choice is fame.

And some, amazingly, prosper. William Hung, a Chinese American college student, tried out for Idol in 2004 with a horrendous version of Ricky Martin's &#8220She Bangs.” Of course, Hung never advanced past his first meeting with judges Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul, but he subsequently released three albums, the first which sold 195,000 copies, more than Season 2 winner Ruben Studdard's third studio release. Hung was also part of a media blitzkrieg, appearing on &#8220Entertainment Tonight”, &#8220The Late Show with David Letterman”, and &#8220Jimmy Kimmel”, among others.

I don't know what's worse: The fact that a clearly untalented person such as William Hung can sell 195,000 copies of an album, or that there was 195,000 people willing to buy it.

Also, how do the preliminary judges manage to sit through these spectacles? Obviously, Cowell, Jackson, and Abdul can't sit through the thousands of applicants who converge on places like Minneapolis, Los Angeles and Memphis, so it's up to these poor few to weed out the possibilities as well as the nuts like Hung who make for good TV.

Had the Italian poet Dante Alighieri (he of &#8220The Divine Comedy”) lived in today's age, he would probably revise his map of Hell to include a circle especially reserved for bad American Idol contestants, one where they're forced to judge the most horrible performers for eternity.

Kevin Pearcey is Group Managing Editor of Greenville Newspapers, LLC. He can be reached by phone at 383-9302, ext. 136 or by email at: editor@greenville.advocate.com.