IMAGINE THERE’S NO ARCHULETA: Long ago I promised a post on why I hate Young David Archuleta, and recently some unsavory elements have been bugging me to finish it. I can’t, though. Actually, I don’t hate David Archuleta. I just hate the idea that he is going to win American Idol.
It’s not because I dislike his performances, though I do. It’s not because I dislike his antiseptic approach to song selection, arrangement, and delivery, though I do. It’s not that I think his voice is not as great as all the hype – weak and breathy in the lower register; clearer but nothing special in the glory-note range – though I do. It’s not exactly because I dislike the calculated collection of tics in which he wraps himself (the pursed singing lips that connote sensitivity and depth; the furrowed brow that signals sympathy for the homeless or solemn acceptance of criticism; the rehearsed shrug-slump-grin that shouts “I’m so relieved to be safe” at the same time it whispers “is there anybody out there who fucking believed I wasn’t? Bitches” – though I really do hate those as well.
No, the reason that a win for Archuleta would be so thoroughly depressing is this: He, David Archuleta, hates this shit.
I’m not saying that he doesn’t want to win. Clearly, he wants to win, the same way that I want somebody at Best Buy to approach me at a store and ask me if I need help getting a box of something that is locked in the storeroom. Yes, I want some help getting that box. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the way this works is that if you (the audience) are wearing a blue polo shirt and khakis (have access to a voting apparatus) it is your job (your moral obligation) to get me the box for which I want to pay (to make me your American Idol). But that doesn’t mean I’m going to enjoy parking, walking into the store, standing in front of the display of the thing I want with my head set to “max swivel”, stage-whispering “jeebus criminy can I get some help here,” debating whether to walk out, or waiting while the blue shirt finally gets to my order. I do those things not because I like them, but because if I don’t do them, I can’t have the box that’s in the storeroom.
Well, Archuleta is not enjoying himself. I think – and you may disagree, but hear me out – that he just doesn’t like music. Exhibit A: his taste in music is terrible. Given a choice of any 25 songs from the 1980s of which Nigel Lythgoe has heard, is there any music lover who would pick in his top 12 some obscure Australopop filler that sounds like dreck that got cut from a Mister Mister album? To choose that song and reject any 13 others, you cannot have a musically-discriminating bone in your body. And that’s not to mention the Phil Collins, Bryan Adams, and “Shop Around” that he also used. Exhibit B: he knows nothing about the Beatles. I like the Beatles, but obviously there’s nothing wrong with not liking them, especially if you’re only 17. But to be an aspiring professional pop musician – somebody whose most embarrassing moment involved performing professionally before thousands of people, for crying out loud – and not know the Beatles? And not “what exactly is the difference between ‘Meet the Beatles’ and ‘With the Beatles’” or “who buried Paul what?” Beatle-ignorance, but rather “I didn’t recognize any of these 25 Beatles songs, including ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and ‘Let it Be,’ but there was one song that I remember Stevie Wonder performed” ignorance. That’s like being an abortion litigator and saying, “gosh, that Roe v. Wade, remind me again?” And then it even gets worse, because everybody knows there’s Good Stevie (“Superstition”) and Bad Stevie (“I Just Called”), and most of Stevie’s covers are Bad Stevie, including the exact one that YDA chose to sing, which really brings us back to Exhibit A.
Exhibit C, though, is the smoking gun. Look at Archuleta’s eyes when he performs. There is nothing there. The happiest he looks is when he’s scurrying off the stage. The look in his eyes when he’s singing – separated from the rest of the constipated love-me face that he works so hard to put on – is the same look as the guy who’s reviewing due diligence documents or dishing pad thai into a plastic container or sorting mail by zip codes. He might be good at what he’s doing, but he’s just punching a clock. If you’re only 17 years old and you can’t find the joy – not satisfaction or contentment, but joy – in singing right in front of a few hundred screaming teens and into literally tens of millions of television sets where millions upon millions of people will pay money to shower you with adulation, man, you are in the wrong line of work.