By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
The Pond was filled with humanity. American humanity. Sold-out American humanity. Many of the excited American humans were pre-teen or what futurist Faith Popcorn no doubt calls "tweens." Also, there were five gay guys; they were very shiny and wholesome, like all America's favorite gays. The tweens were screaming. Actually screaming does it about as much justice as calling Ann Coulter mildly disagreeable. In fact, the pre-teen and tween Americans were shrieking and wailing and carrying on like they'd been transported back to a 1984 Wham!show or something. Whatev!
"It's like running into someone you know at a gay bar," my boyfriend hoped as we bought some scalped tickets outside from the best scalper ever (he sold us a pair for less than face value and they weren't even fake!). "They can't bust you because you saw themthere, too!"
"Yeah. Unless they're here because they brought their kids," I reminded him, my usual bucket-of-ice-water-on-his-hopes-and-dreams self. His hopes were dashed. There were a shocking number of Americans present without children to justify their choice of Sunday night entertainment—at $25 to $50 a pop—and we were among them. If anybody saw us, we had no starry-eyed and runny-nosed excuse whatsoever for being two out of 16,000 fans at the American Idol TourSunday night. Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!
So how do you make fun of an American Idol concert without being a big, 909-bashing elitist class snob, sneering at the rubes and yokels? How do you deplore the fact that people scarf down whatever Fox tells them to swallow—down to the most depressing product placement—without condescendingly implying that they're tasteless hicks who aren't as good as those of us who live in the city and go to concerts by actual bands? Christ, who wants to play hipper-than-thou? And would it be wrong to mention that a lot of people were grossly fat? I mean, that's a real problem in this country! And how do you gently chide the old white people who were crying during Clay Aiken's boring ballad—which was so boring I couldn't even be bothered to write down what song it was, because I was benumbed—without falling into the dismaying trap of mean and nasty class warfare? I find jokes about trailer trash appalling; poor whites and Southerners are the last people we're permitted to jeer at as a group, and I think it's awful. But what am I supposed to do? Not make fun of the twinkly young superstar who batted his eyelashes from the ginormous screen like he was Liberace? And neglect to tell you that some of the families that hadn't brought children but were singing and crying anyway looked a little bit like competitors in the Special Olympics? And that they were fat?
As a matter of fact, the Pond was a little piece of heaven, even if (sadly) there was no Ryan Seacrestrambling on about his hair. We watched in awe as girls in matching, homemade, lime Ruben shirts positively sashayed through the halls, their hips svelte and their legs coltish. They were outnumbered 20 to 1, easy, by grown-up old white people sporting preprinted red Clayshirts. We hoped there wouldn't be trouble between the competing boy-love factions. Maybe a dance off, like in "Beat It"? The Ruben girls, slim and multiethnic, would tap dance on the old white people's fat, diabetic corpses in any kind of match-up. It wouldn't be pretty—race riots so rarely are. But rhythmic? Yes, it would be that.
The show had yet to start, and plain, bespectacled middle-aged women were herding large groups of girls into something resembling order. Very, very loud order. It was very touching, all the good moms there, game and actually enjoying the twaddle. One mom-type lady was holding a banner. Clay,it read, These Girls Are Yours. It was kinda funny, the unintended paternity-suit quality of the language, except her own dormant sexuality was the last thing on her mind. Rather, she was offering to turn out any of the Ashleys, Brittanys and Caitlyns in her charge.* At what point do you decide it's time to draw the attention of a doubtless deviant pop star to your Girl Scout troop? And would she have raised the same banner at an R. Kelly show, or is Clay just totally nonthreateningly gay?
We got an excellent margarita and a not at all bad turkey sandwich (though if they're going to go to the trouble of making it right there when you order it, couldn't they throw in some tomato, lettuce and cheese as well?), and we settled in, watching the commercials on the huge screen. Girls screamed. People were happy. It was happy time. Really, for reals, it was feliz. We were part of something—something a small bit teenybop, perhaps, but something. You don't sneeze at a 16,000-person scream; you let yourself be caught up in the communal emotion, the mass hysteria, the mob mentality, even if your boyfriend is embarrassed by you—and he is. A Latino dude was next to us. Could he explain to us why the girls were screaming at the video screen showing commercials for Pop-Tarts, which was sponsoring the tour (and which one of the American Idol finalists would go on to thank)? "You'll have to ask my son," our neighbor declaimed; he was laughing and friendly, but he scrunched down in his seat, wanting to be sure we knew he was suffering through this for the kid's sake. We understood completely.
The ladies behind us did not suffer. They had multigenerational mullets, from mid-20s and hefty to early-50s and transported. Later, they would stand and bounce, singing all the words to all the songs, with shiny eyes.
And then, after some more commercials, it was time for the concert to begin!!! Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The people loved Clay loudest. I don't know why, for Ruben was equally boring. And for some reason, Clay got to own the color red, just like Mao! All the Clay shirts were red, and people shone red lights during his dull, dull song, where he stood motionless at the mic stand until about three-quarters through it, and by the simple act of finally walking away from the spot where he'd been standing, made every girl in the place go insane with shrieking. All he did was walk to one side of the stage, and everybody screamed. Everybody else had to at least pretend to dance, even the fat black dudes (who wheezed), but all the white boy (emoting jovially like Ronald Reagan telling an especially inane anecdote) had to do was walk, and he got 10 times the love and panties. He had really expensive highlights, Ryan Seacrest-style.
Some of the performers—okay, pretty much one young woman named Trenyce—were terrific. (Also, the slutty blonde one—"Kimberly," I think—had a pleasant voice, low and throaty like Fiona Apple's lower register.) And there were even some pyrotechnics during Trenyce's damn-rocking cover of the Tina Turner version of "Proud Mary." Also, Trenyce had freakishly large hands; they were as big as Gerald Ford's noggin. They were like Cubist hands, and they were cool.
And, sweetly, after each performer, they brought up the houselights so Julia and Kimberly would be able to see the plethora of homemade signs emblazoned with their names. How heartbreaking would it be to make a sign, and then not have, um, Carmen or Charlie be able to read it in the dark? It would be very heartbreaking!
Now, I understand American Idol was quite popular, and people seemed to like it very well. Hell, lots of them even paid $25 to $50 to go hear American Idol finalists sing one cover song each before introducing the next American Idol finalist and thanking the fans—who made it possible!—and Pop-Tarts. That's awfully big money for a karaoke show!
It's a karaoke show with back-up dancers, sure—they came out first in "street kid" costumes, busting those moves by that *nsync choreographer, the one whose video I could have gotten at the As Seen on TV store at The Block, but I got Back Yard Fight Clubs instead, and I'm still mad about it even though that was last Christmas.
Yeah, so the backup dancers were fine—although the pretty black dancer with the fabulous Afro was later, during Rickey Smith's song, supposed to be that girl that Michael Jackson stalks in the video for "The Way You Make Me Feel," a song I actually really like. She strutted around confusedly as Smith pretty much ignored her; also, he had a kind of bad Mike Tyson voice, so she was pretty much left to get stalked by a lady man who had as much interest in stalking her as Michael Jackson had in the original. (And by the way, did the video director all those years ago not get the memo about rapeand how by the '90s it had lost some of its cool?)
Where was I?
Oh, yes. Rape is bad.
But it did make me happy—the show, not rape—and it was nice, and the little girls got their first taste of hot lust even though their moms still shouldn't let them dress like that, and the rest of us got our bread and circuses and an hour or two of joy and screeches for Labor Day. We hope you had a happy one.
* Some of the most popular girls names from the 1990s, when all the girls the lady was pimping were born.