Fresh off its intellectualization of The Hills, the New Yorker has turned its attention to this American Idol phenomenon that is so big with the kids (and their parents... and their grandparents). And, hey, guess what America? You can stop text-messaging your votes to the show because it doesn't really matter who wins! What matters is that Americans are learning very important things about music. For example, wrote New Yorker music critic Sasha Frere-Jones, Idol contestant David Archuleta's awful rendition of "Sweet Caroline" taught us to finally respect singer-songwriter Neil Diamond:
Have you ever taken "Sweet Caroline" for granted?... Though the song is not a technical challenge, "Sweet Caroline" stumped Archuleta, who is better with big, fat expressions of positive somethingness. John Lennon's "Imagine"? Sure! It's optimistic and vague. "Sweet Caroline," though, is both wistful and obscure, and needs to be sung as if its series of images described an emotionally logical sequence, even if Neil Diamond's lyric is not tied to anything as dull as logic. ("And when I hurt, hurting runs off my shoulders.") Diamond's song is stubbornly ambiguous, until the killer chorus brings everyone to their feet. Archuleta opted to smile, sing for the cheap seats, and trust that unalloyed sincerity and the killer chorus could carry the day. Not so fast. (In every participant's defense, the songs are all shrunk to less than two minutes.)
Idol watchers have been trained to think about aesthetic concepts like arrangement and song choice, and, by the time the judges weigh in, we have already been sorting out our thoughts.
OK, sure, Idol viewers do think about arrangement and song choice, but they also pay attention to (and make catty judgements about) contestants' personalities, clumsiness or gracefulness on stage and physical appearance, not to mention how Simon Cowell eviscerates them or how Paula Abdul screws things up (as when she rcently reviewed a song that was not performed).
In the following clip of Archuleta, for instance, watching the contestant shout Neil Diamond's song in Neil Diamond's face is at least as interesting as the singer's on-stage performance: