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'American Idol': Latin down the hatches

April 11, 2007 |  8:18 am

Melinda300_3   In warfare, there are great battles whose heroes echo across the centuries. Visitors to Gettysburg stand at Little Round Top and recall in reverence the tragic fallen, the spot where Civil War soldiers gave everything they had and the fate of the world was decided.

And then there are other battle fronts –- World War I's the Battle of Verdun, or the Civil War's Wilderness battle –- where on ground favorable to no one, troops desperately claw at each other until exhausted, the survivors slink from the field, no advantage gained on either side. No reputations made –- only many destroyed.

American Idol’s Latin night was a battle in the latter category, and perhaps the less said about it the better. 

After a string of strong weeks, marked by flawless performances by the top tier, the contestants can be excused a week where operating on unfamiliar ground, they were just okay. No advantage gained or lost for any contender –- only Blake probably taking a step forward.

Melinda however, enters a danger zone where having peaked so early, having lost her winning “Who me?” grin, she must now meet insanely high expectations each week. From my seat in the Idoldome however, I can say Melinda’s applause was by far the loudest and the longest. Haley’s moment before the judges was one of the most brutal of the competition thus far. Clearly, still all too vulnerable to the judge’s words, she visibly writhed as Simon twisted the knife deeper. Finally able to take no more, she turned to Angel of Death Seacrest, pleading for him to come save her.

The constant whirlwind of emotions these contestants go through was brought home to me in a conversation with last week’s vanquished, Gina Glocksen, who spoke on the phone from New York where she is doing her post-elimination publicity tour. Now one week after her stunning, unanticipated (and senseless) ouster, the wound still stings.

Asked if she’s made peace with what happened, Glocksen responds with an unambiguous “Noooooo…it really hasn’t hit me yet. I've just been on the go. I haven’t had any time really to think about what's happened, or what’s in store, what’s next for me. I really wish I was sitting in the chair right now getting my makeup done or with the vocal coach getting ready to go up on stage.”

During her time on the show, it was clear that the super-gregarious rocker, seeming best friend to the entire group, beneath her cheery exterior, took the competition very very seriously. As much as anyone, you could see Gina tense up during the judging. She now says, that while she “has always wanted to be the center of attention” and that she had no fear about her actual performances, she found the crucial moment of standing for judgment, “Very scary. No one wants to hear bad things said about them, especially when you know America listens to what they say and may react to how they respond.”

Of her fellow contestants she recalls, “Some people really got down on themselves, like if Simon were to tell them a picky comment, they’d get really down on themselves. And you just have to remember that it’s a reality TV show and they’re just there to make you feel that way specifically, and not to take anything personally.”

Offstage however, Gina confirms that the buddy atmosphere seen on stage really does exist. “This year, we've been told by a couple producers that this is the closest group ever, and there’s really no nasty gossip, there’s no fights there's no cliques, We all got along and there was nothing bad that happened backstage.”

And that goodwill, she insists, extended to Idol anti-hero Sanjaya.

Gina vehemently denied my analysis of a couple week’s back that there was visible tension between the contestants, claiming with fairly convincing force, “I think what you were seeing was maybe a little envy towards Sanjaya. He just went out there and did his thing and didn’t care what anybody said or thought. We wished the rest of us could feel that way sometimes.”

Beneath the camaraderie however, there was a constant tension. Glocksen claims that the Idol dorms, where the contestants are placed, secluded from their families and cut off from the world was not at all the college fiesta environment that some (such as I) would like to imagine. “Most of the time I went to bed by ten. There were some times when I’d go out and eat with Chris and Blake or Hayley. But it’s not a party atmosphere. We're there for one specific reason and that’s the competition, and you try not to party at all.”

Which finally is the paradox at the heart of Idol’s appeal. From the depths of obscurity, twelve are drawn and brought to the cusp of all the treasures American society has to offer, only, for most, to have them snatched away.

Twelve are brought together, locked away from society with only each other to turn to -– but each with the knowledge that for them to succeed, the others must fail.

Gina describes the elimination ritual thusly, “Wednesdays were probably the worst days of my life. There are people you get so close to and so attached to and the next minute they're gone.”

But after the beheading, the Idols gather for one of the show’s less publicized rituals, but one that the contestants have apparently observed since the beginning. When asked what the greatest moment of her Idol journey was, Gina replies, “my kickoff dinner.“ Every Wednesday night, the remaining contestants dine together one last time. “It’s a very intense night. We eat and we just tell each other what we think of them and why we love them and we congratulate each other on making it as far as they did.”

Gina Glocksen is looking ahead to rejoining her comrades on the tour this summer, after which she plans to move to Los Angeles to make music.

And tonight, another contestant will have their kick-off dinner.

(Photo courtesy Fox)