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"Idol" Banter: the '60s undone

February 22, 2008 |  9:10 am

Were the coifs really that flat way back in the 1960s? The retro-cheezo outfits worn by the Top (for the last time) 24 during their awful opening medley made me long for the Milos Forman version of countercultural nostalgia, as defined in his messy, frizzy, fabulous 1979 film of "Hair."

Of course, these "Idol" hopefuls weren't even born then, aside from maybe Evil Michael Johns, who's really more of a Val Kilmer-via-Oliver Stone kinda guy. Their idea of the swinging '60s is Beyonce in "Goldfinger" — a parody of a parody. The song selections our finalists have slaughtered and/or have been saddled with fit right in with the bizarre rewrite of pop history that "Idol"'s producers have been authoring for years — a revisionism in which both Elvis and the Beatles would have fit right in on the "Ed Sullivan" show, rather than upsetting millions and changing cultural history.

"Idol" has arisen during a cultural moment that's killing symbolic rebellion with kindness. Look at this season's "edgy" contestants: biker mama Amanda Overmyer and andro-brat Danny Noriega would have been shocking on prime-time television even a decade ago, but now their attempts to mess with formula are absorbed as quirks to be overcome. When Amanda had to stand up there and sweat her possible elimination, I felt like the judges were giving her a slap on the wrist. Good girls, "Idol" girls, do not growl: remember what happened when Kelly tried last year?

Speaking of that Guns 'n' Roses fan, a video's been jumping around the Web showing David Archuleta singing his prepubescent lungs out for Kelly in a hallway during Season One auditions. Most people are responding to the clip as a confirmation that, as Richard Rushfield aptly stated, Archie is the Chosen One. Am I the only one who finds it a bit creepy? Here's a preteen, singing the takedown number from "Dreamgirls" — a song meant for a woman experienced enough to not be taking it anymore. And though now it's Jennifer Hudson's to bequeath, in 2002, the song still belonged to bodacious Jennifer Holliday, a very strange role model for a 12-year-old boy.

That's "Idol" — the place where "making it your own" means divorcing a song entirely from its cultural context and affixing to it whatever abstract emotional signifiers you've absorbed in a short lifetime of random, if professionally driven, listening. "Idol" has no place for record collectors, club kids or even blog brats. Its stars are the ones from the drama club, the high achievers who do love music but see it as a way to get their parents to love them more, not ground them for a week. And why not? In a decade where it's wholly possible that your grandparents were the ones who once tried pot and free love, that risk-abstinent attitude is a groovy kind of love.

As for the vote-offs (Garrett Haley, Amy Davis, Joanne Borgella and Colton Berry): yawn. More room for the potential troublemakers. I will miss Colton, though. He was a drama club kid who had enough snot in him to throw a spitball now and then.

-- Ann Powers
(photo courtesy of Fox)