[21 May 2007]
PopMatters Associate Multimedia Editor
One of the chief barriers I experienced when reviewing the new American Idol “Talent Challenge” from Tech 2 Go, besides the singing twelve year old girl on the cover, is the fact that I’ve never seen the show. I’m only running on bits and pieces here, but the show, from what I understand, is a massive public display of the American Dream being shattered. Being informed that we are not good enough to become mega-celebrities is a rite of passage that almost all Americans must experience and here, it’s done in such a way that the show allows us to grieve for this loss. We cheer and hiss as each contestant is shattered, cast aside to be forgotten, and just as quickly we dismiss the winners with equal vehemence. It’s an expression of the near-universal need to express Fight Club‘s message of outrage from the comforts of our couch, so to speak—a brilliant realization of that act on a smaller scale, to be shared with your friends.
At the most basic level, for $49.99 you receive a small device that allows you to link a microphone into your television set. It comes with a DVD featuring a Karaoke style format with a twist, but we’ll get to that later. What’s really key here is the little machine. This thing is high magnitudes of awesome. First, you can either plug it into a socket or power it with four double AA batteries, so that any singing performances that involve excess swinging don’t need to be cruelly cut short. Second, the microphone still works when you use other DVDs in it.
Let’s address the full the implications of this: you can, while watching the film of your choice, become the voice of God within the medium.
I know this because I did it myself and can honestly say it stays entertaining longer than I initially expected. The machine has an output option that allows you to switch from microphone to television, so that you can increase the authoritative tone of your own voice over whatever you’re watching. An echo and fade dial further help with issues of cadence so that your voice can decently mimic any pitch you might want. I was able to do a passable impersonation in sync of Ralph Wiggum or my favorite interviews from American Pimp after a little fiddling. Should you seek to perfect any other impersonations of someone on DVD, this device is an effective practice tool. Oh yeah, you can also sing with it. All in all, if you’re like me (that is, not a twelve year old girl), the thing’s worth buying just for the novelty of talking into your television.
But let’s not leave the ‘American Idol’ out of American Idol “Talent Challenge”. The DVD is essentially an elaborate series of menus that quite cleverly allows for a karaoke game with judgment. One has the option of choosing between singing along with a large selection of contestants or choosing from a smaller number of songs that can be sung with a swirling trippy background or slideshow. The words are easily visible in white and your progress is indicated by the usual yellow in either option. Track sessions are blissfully short (a minute long, generally) and will allow you to quickly get to the judgment portion of the program.
At the start of any song you are prompted to choose between having two to four players. At first I was a little bit annoyed that there wasn’t a single-player option, but then I realized how idiotic that would be and just put in two. One person sings, the other person judges. At this point an image for each judge appears and you select a number between one and nine. The DVD will then play a video of each judge with their commentary matching the number rank you chose. Having the judges express glaringly different views of someone’s singing is actually funny for someone first seeing the program, and several of my friends gave performers the scores they wished they had received in the actual show. You can keep score and have winners if you want, but generally, it’s not worth bothering. Once no one feels like singing anymore there is a public humiliation auditions section that includes a shuffle feature. They have not, as of yet, stopped being funny.
Despite the features of the DVD itself, the device is still what makes the biggest bang for your $49.99. If you have a sound system attached to your T.V. like my neighbor does, you can have a pretty good time with the thing. After I got bored with the American Idol DVD, I broke out my Ween Live in Chicago DVD and kept that up for a while. After that it was the Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry Music Video Collections. Needless to say, I’ve wanted to Karaoke rap “What Up, Fat Lip?” for a very long time. There’s no words on the screen so it’s sort of Karaoke for experts, but you can always just buy an actual Karaoke DVD if this bothers you. There aren’t currently any additional DVD’s with the American Idol features (though more are forthcoming), but that doesn’t really inhibit the value. It’s an easy to plug-in karaoke machine for $49.99 and those that this concept appeals to should let their next impulse buy be this one.