Libby Gelman-Waxner dissects our music-heavy existence

By Libby Gelman-Waxner
August 22, 2012 at 12:00 PM EDT

I’ve finally figured out exactly what’s wrong with the world, and it has nothing to do with the euro: There’s just too much singing. Every time I watch YouTube or turn on my iPhone or my TV, someone is making that moistly earnest, I’m-about-to-either-blast-this-note-into-the-stratosphere-or-have-an-extremely-painful-bowel-movement face. On Glee the actors have started to belt out their inspirational numbers as if they’ve got machine guns pointed at their heads, and while the show is still fun, I’m not sure that the solution to bullying is a medley from West Side Story.

Many of the actors on Smash are real Broadway pros, but Katharine McPhee, who plays an ambitious understudy, somehow manages to deliver soaring power ballads without moving her lips. On both Glee and Smash even the performers who can really sing are required to lip-synch to prerecorded tracks, which has started to get spooky; maybe soon Lea Michele will unleash a gut-busting Streisand finale while sipping a glass of water.

The singing-competition shows are even stranger because while the contestants are singing live, most of them either beam through the most tormented lyrics, like they’re Miss Idaho, or overemote and use choreographed hand gestures, to make sure that deaf viewers will vote for them. Even proven stars like Kelly Clarkson and Jennifer Nettles, who both appear on Duets, sing as if they’re worried about being eliminated, and I want to hug them and say, ”Relax, you’re already zillionaires, and stop stressing out over Taylor Swift.”

My favorite singing show is still The Voice, but only because of the rotating chairs that make the judges look as if they’re about to get mani-pedis on a transatlantic flight. And is it just my imagination, or has wallowing in those starship Enterprise Barcaloungers been encouraging several of the judges, even the ordinarily rock-star-scrawny Adam Levine, to gain weight? I’ve also been wondering if the Supreme Court might begin using those chairs, so they could listen to legal arguments regarding prisoners on death row and then dramatically decide whether to push a glowing button and swoop around, declaring, ”Guilty! I just wasn’t feeling it!”

So much relentless singing has reached an Auto-Tuned fever pitch in Rock of Ages, which uses mostly ’80s hits to tell the story of a gal who hops off the bus in L.A., gets her suitcase full of favorite albums stolen, and then falls in love with a Bieber-cute guy in a tank top. She hangs out at a notorious rock club, but the movie is so squeaky-scrubbed that everyone seems to be wearing invisible Mouseketeer ears. The cast is jammed with powerhouse names like Catherine Zeta-Jones, Russell Brand, and Alec Baldwin, who all look a little uneasy while they’re pumping their fists in the air. Julianne Hough, who plays the chickie from out of town, eventually leaves her waitressing gig and is forced to pole-dance at a strip club, where she feels degraded even while wearing more clothes than a Mormon in a snowstorm.

The big draw in Rock of Ages is Tom Cruise as the dissolute rock god Stacee Jaxx, and he’s great, maybe because unlike everyone else in the movie, Tom almost has a character to play. He stumbles around clutching a bottle of whiskey while wearing a fur coat slung over his shirtless shoulders, and he sprouts a bedazzled codpiece, as if he’s asking, ”Hey, when was the last time you saw Meryl Streep in assless leather chaps, huh?” Tom’s hair extensions give him a Valerie Bertinelli bounce, and it’s a treat to watch him stagger around on stage and avoid standing next to taller people. He reportedly did his own singing, but it almost doesn’t matter because, unlike all of those constantly tearful ”This show is really a family and I just want to bring it” American Idol hopefuls, Tom looks like he’s having a blast.

To escape from the music glut, I went to see Prometheus, because I was pretty sure that no one in deep space would burst into a Whitney Houston tribute. Prometheus is very solemn and looks fantastic, and best of all, it features Michael Fassbender as a snippy android named David. David combines Jude Law’s robot-gigolo dreaminess from A.I. with a dash of Mr. Belvedere; he’s like a sexy, uppity C-3PO, and I especially liked how, after he’d watched the blond gorgeousness of the young Peter O’Toole in a video of Lawrence of Arabia, he decided to bleach his roots, which must be a first for both androids and somber sci-fi epics.

Noomi Rapace is terrific as Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, who’s seeking the origins of mankind. Noomi is tiny and sturdy and feisty; she’s like the Scandinavian love child of Tom Cruise and Sandra Bullock, and that’s something worth singing about, if you ask me.

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