Reviews

World Idol

Leigh H. Edwards

As 'Australia's Idol' or 'Canada's Idol' gyrated onstage, we could picture what the U.N. would look like if it were run by singing waiters.


World Idol

Airtime: 25 December 2003, 1 January 2004
Cast: Simon Cowell, Pete Waterman, Anthony McPartlin (host), Declan Donnelly (host)
Network: Fox
Amazon

The United Nations will never be able to bring the whole world together like pop music television. The World Idol competition, a two-part series Fox aired on Christmas and New Year's Day, showed us what such unity could look like. Eleven gawky youths from around the planet performed American pop songs, selling their hooks with the best Britney or Justin impressions they could muster.

As winners of their nations' own Idol contests, each was identified by the country he or she represented. An "international jury," comprised of a judge from each nation, evaluated the performances and millions of viewers worldwide called in to vote for "the ultimate world pop superstar." Simon Cowell, the Winston Churchill of all this capitalistic pomp, displayed diplomacy as he leaned in for kill after kill: he trashed a teary-eyed contestant, savaged his fellow judges, parodied his own alpha male meanie persona, sipped his Coke. The designated "American" judge, the British Cowell sat next to the "British" judge (Pete Waterman), fortuitous representatives of this overwhelming reality franchise, initiated in the U.K. At long last, the sun is no longer setting on the Empire.

Following Cowell's lead, the other judges recited the rules of world domination. They seek the "total package" of voice, performance, and image; they fetishized the market, implacable and agent-less, as if their own actions and contracts don't help to create it. The singers, pondering what becomes a World Idol most, looked terrified. Meantime, a spiky-haired British hosting duo (Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly) told us that the contest was, actually, "The United Nations of Pop." The "Polish Idol" (Alex Janosz), desperate in her braces, was the most spectacular washout, her punk attitude failing to cover mediocre singing; one leg of her jeans caught in her white boot, she cursed her home judge, and tried tremulously to understand the proceedings, her English abandoning her.

As subpar performances piled up, the judges started to bicker. Some wheels threatened to fly off the pop consensus cart as they raised old bugaboos like "authenticity." As "Australia's Idol" or "Canada's Idol" gyrated onstage, we could picture what the U.N. would look like if it were run by singing waiters. We could all unite over hair gel, leather pants, and the German Ambassador's rendition of Michael Sembello's "Maniac."

Then there's the problem of the "world" language here -- Western pop sung in English. The "Pan-Arab Idol" (Diana Karzon), assigned to represent an entire region rather than a country, broke ranks by singing a traditional Arabic song in her own language. Challenging what counted as pop, she implicitly put geopolitical tensions, like Middle Eastern wars in a post-9/11 world, on the table. Cowell finally proclaimed her performance had "no place" in the pop music industry, but that she had a "voice like an angel." The others applauded her cultural "integrity" and the U.S. voters, perhaps weary of real political conflicts, voted her high on the roster of "greats."

The judges blinked at the cameras, trying to keep their eyes on the corporate prize, even as they were distracted by their own language and cultural differences. Just when everyone was in danger of thinking about how complex such differences actually are, the "Belgian Idol" (Peter Evrard) appeared. He wailed Nirvana's "Lithium," wearing long hair, soul patch, and combat boots. Cowell, who knows a perfect strawman when he sees one, saved the day by staging a coup over fabricated pop music categories. He castigated Evrard for raking Kurt Cobain's ghost over the coals. How could you sing anti-commercial prog rock in these unhallowed pop chart halls? You know, Kurt really "stood for something," and you would scare him.

Opposing Cobain to pop, Cowell said what many must be thinking: the Idol franchise stands for nothing. Pop music mustn't matter. The day was saved. The judges breathed a sigh of relief -- they had nothing to do with politics. Cowell united them under one banner, one battle cry: pop music is pabulum.

So inspired, the show lurched towards its climax. In the end, the victor was a man decried by one judge as an unattractive "hobbit." The "Norwegian Idol" (Kurt Nilsen), a plumber in his spare time, won the whole kit and caboodle. He crooned U2's "Beautiful Day," beating "American Idol" Kelly Clarkson, who sang about feeling like a "natural woman" while looking uncomfortable, like she was appearing under contractual obligation, through the entire proceedings. Cowell, careful not to mention how U2 opens the worm can of geopolitics all over again, crowned Nilsen, since millions of voters can't be wrong, and united the world in global pop peace.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image