Talk of the Town - Gotta sing, gotta dance June 03 2004

But someplace else, OK?

America is many things. The Land of Opportunity. A Shining City on a Hill.

Now it's One Big Shower Stall.

Not because of flooding or mold. But because Americans won't stop singing. Every time I turn on the tube, someone is belting out a tune.

It's Shower Stall Syndrome run amuck. We all think we sound great singing in the shower. Tile acoustics. Steam heat to moisten the vocal chords. Plus, you're naked. If those inhibitions aren't at a bare minimum by now, you must be Calvin Coolidge.

But behind the cloud of Lifebuoy suds, we all know, at least we should know, that we stink — talent-wise, that is. I mean, most people don't sing well. Or at least with enough panache to merit company.

For decades, it didn't matter. Since the invention of the shower stall, the gentleperson's agreement was simple: Sing all you want, but keep it behind the curtain.

Not anymore. Television, in its quest for inexpensive drama that brings high ratings, is pitting horrifically untalented people against each other and foisting them on the viewing public. "American Idol" is the apotheosis of this trend.

I remember thinking the first "American Idol" was kind of cute. Until I realized that these screaming polecats weren't going away. Like relatives who visit for the holidays — and then never leave.

The show's recently concluded season rippled through metro Atlanta because of the plucky young woman who made it to No. 2 in the finals. She hails from Snellville, where the civic saying, I am told, is "Everybody is somebody."

Could be a motto at the county coroner's office.

Snellville folks are proud of their songstress and jammed the Georgia Dome, along with Gov. Sonny, to cheer her long-distance on the big night. For some, loyalty meant going the extra, quasi-ethical mile.

Such as the guy on the radio, before her defeat. A landsman of the contestant, he related how he tele-voted for her at least 100 times, and that a friend was working on an automatic-dialing thingamabob to generate even more "yes" calls for the hometown gal.

Actual artistic merit didn't seem to enter into it. And it wouldn't matter if a majority of people actually thought a contestant was good, so long as said aspirant received a slew of repeat votes. There's no sense, or belief, that innate ability is enough. Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing.

Who said that? Oh yeah, Mussolini. Shortly before they strung him upside down outside a Milan gas station.

So why is "American Idol" such a huge hit? One theory is that, with all the agita caused by global turmoil and terrorism, we seek escape. Personally, I'm less scared of Ayman al-Zawahiri's latest threat to turn the East Coast into infidel paste and more frightened by the umpteenth off-key demand that "A Hero Lies in You."

And why do so many people want to entertain? Why is America bursting with people determined to perform? Why is there such a surplus of people ready to do something we don't need at all, even as we experience an acute shortage of teachers, nurses and unindicted corporate CEOs?

Do they have this problem overseas? Is there a "Senegalese Idol"? Are millions of French teenagers lined up to declare "A Crepe Suzette Lies in Vous"? I don't know. I don't want to know.

Forgive the diatribe. It's been building for a long time, ever since junior high when a traveling troupe of singers visited for an assembly. They were called Up With People, and their big number was titled, not surprisingly, "Up With People."

They were young (though older than seventh-grade me), peppy and represented more ethnic groups than the U.N. General Assembly. They were supposed to convey the message that humankind is one big, happy — relentlessly happy — global family. Trouble was, Up With People stank, even if seeing them did get me out of an Earth science test.

This was just the beginning. Over the years it's become clear that, given the national penchant for fourth-rate performance, Americans need an audience far more than they do entertainment.

So I wonder: Can we, the nonperforming population, perform a public service by just sitting there and listening to the innumerable, untalented hambones desperate for mass approval? Could that be our gift to society?


Make it stop. I just want the singing to stop. Or at least confined to a huge shower stall, accommodating several million people, installed somewhere in the Utah desert. Andy Warhol promised us each 15 minutes of fame. I'd trade mine for five minutes of silence.

So before the next season of "American Idol," I'm making my counter-programming suggestion to a rival network.

Shut Up With People.

Now that's a show.


Glen Slattery is Up With Alpharetta.