Just Like Us!

Anyone can be an American Idolbut a star? Not so much

Unless you're the heir to some kind of dynasty (acting, oil, mental illness) with a mug that's perfect for, uh, a mention on Access HollywoodBrandon Davis: Moves on from Mischa, hair remains oily—it's unlikely that you've ever looked at the television screen and seen your face smiling back. And yet, when the Paris Hiltons and Nicole Richies and K-Feds of this world are dropping albums and landing modeling contracts, you can't help but think: maybe I can do this too.

And so we now have something on the order of 6,502 reality TV shows for every one filmed sitcom, and at the top of them all is AmericanIdol, whose contestants are not idealized or interesting versions of Americans, but rather normal, mostly, which is to say that some are ugly, some are poor and some . . . are stupid. Lest you consider yourself above such a spectacle, remember why Idol is the number one show season after season: there is a strange vindication in watching these pathetic representatives of middle America become humiliated or celebrated in the most public of modern forums.

But what happens to the people who, through either talent or a slick handling of Paula Abdul's fading sexual ego, win? When you succeed in American Idol, you're no longer among the plebeians who built you a throne of Ford endorsement deals and TRL appearances. Is it feasible for a lowlife fatty to skip the Mickey Mouse years and hurdle directly into the majors?

Seems not. Despite the power and momentum that surround Idolcontestants, history shows it's improbable that any winner—or, in the case of Clay Aiken, runner-up—will escape the clutches of normal human existence. They can't, because they're essentially ordinary, if ambitious, kids who got lucky. None of them has the magnetic, inherent charm and allure—the charisma—of a Jessica Simpson or a Justin Timberlake.

Even Kelly Clarkson, who is by far the most successful Idolto date, is a golden example of how, when the appropriate resources are allocated to the cause, pretty much any semi-cute mallrat without a stutter can be polished into something of a pop singer and still remain . . . a semi-cute mallrat without a stutter. In Clarkson's case, her rise to the top of Idol captivated millions of couch-bound Americans, particularly those who were least likely to have unusual or celebrated life experiences, and resulted in a couple of Billboard records and a few singles that range from decent to almost awesome. Yet she will never be a star. Her essential normalness is the basis of her appeal, sure, but it's also what will prevent her from growing into a powerhouse icon; Clarkson has the carriage and style of someone who works hard at an office job, plays soccer three times a week and doesn't get too drunk at her friends' baby showers. This relatable candy pinkness lacks the ambitious edge, the sexuality and the command that top-tier stars require to rule the hearts and minds of the Western world. Where Mariah or Christina would be glowing, Kelly C. still looks like her head is spinning.

On Sunday, Anaheim's Arrowhead Pond will host the top 10 contestants of the most recent season of AmericanIdol. This will not be a showcase of seasoned performers, but a polished freak show of some questionably lucky souls. Inasmuch as it is entertaining, to some, to be in the presence of people who appear on TV, the purpose of this Simon- and competition-free live performance is to provide a last gasp of quasi-fame for the contestants—of whom only one or two have any chance at all of making a lasting dent in the Zeitgeist.

American Idols Live at the Arrowhead Pond, 2695 E. Katella, Anaheim, (714) 704-2500; www.arrowheadpond.com. Sun., 7 p.m. $35.50-$69.50. All ages.

 
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