Hey, have any of you guys been watching Oprah Winfrey Presents: American Idol this season? In just four episodes, we’ve witnessed contestants struggling to overcome homelessness, failed record deals, deceased spouses, legal blindness, moms with seizure disorders, and even apartments torn asunder by tornados. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say the show’s ad-sales team was looking to add a tissue company to its roster of 2009 sponsors. (Can’t you just imagine a weekly ”Kleenex: Laughter Through the Tears Moment” wedged somewhere between the ”Ford Music Video” and the ”Ritualistic Fondling of the Red Plastic Coca-Cola Cups”?)
What the show’s powers that be fail to realize, though, is that it’s too early for so many maudlin backstories. After seven seasons, any veteran Idol watcher can tell you that it’s folly to get emotionally attached during the audition rounds. How many of us have heard a few a capella bars and promptly fallen for previous Golden Ticket winners — like season 6’s pedicab driver Tami Gosnel or season 4’s stay-at-home mom Jennifer Todd — only to have them totally tank or (even worse) fail to score a hot minute of airtime once Hollywood Week arrives.
In other words, if I’m going to get misty during an Idol episode before, say, Groundhog’s Day, the lump in my throat will be induced musically, or not at all.
Which is exactly why it pained me to see the producers spend such an exorbitant amount of time focusing on Leneshe Young’s hardscrabble upbringing. I’m not completely obtuse; I understand the girl’s tale is a TV producer’s dream. But was it really necessary to replay the same harrowing sound bite — ”we were raised with nothing, and homeless” — three times in a 63-minute period, or to keep showing us the same exact footage of some random, littered road beneath a bridge? (Oh, by the way, thanks, Fox, for running Idol long and messing with everyone’s DVR/viewing schedules on the night of ABC’s Lost‘s premiere. Way to build viewer loyalty, idiots!)
But getting back to Leneshe, the minute she started singing, her economic background became a moot point. Sure, I flinched when she announced she was going to be ”completely original” and sing a self-penned ditty called ”Natty” — oh how ”singer-songwriter” becomes the most unfortunate of titles during Idol‘s audition rounds — but lo and behold, her songwriting skills proved to be as sweet and contemporary as her vocals. It wouldn’t have mattered if Leneshe was a filthy rich veteran of MTV’s abhorrent My Super Sweet Sixteen (okay, maybe it would’ve just a little), my fandom was sealed. Unfortunately, in our label-’em-quick society, I worry Leneshe will always be considered ”homeless girl,” a label that could do as much harm as it will good if/when her Idol journey continues over the next few months. (Side note: Was anyone else left wondering just how many siblings Leneshe has after Idol showed that birthday-party photo with a brood big enough to shock the Jolie-Pitts?)
NEXT: Kara goes over the top (and under the table)