So, you know how sometime, I stop covering Sci-Fi/Fantasy, and instead write about gender and race issues on American Idol?
… yeah, this is one of those days. I’m sorry. But for some reason, I cannot rest until I finish writing up my thoughts about this season. I need to give my thoughts on the White Guy With Guitars Phenomenon. I need to talk about the continued robotization of Female Contestants. I need to talk about Jessica Sanchez’s race problems. And I need to squee about the awesome singing.
If it makes you feel better I promise that I will not write another American Idol post until… next season.
My fascination with American Idol began in Season 10, when I fell madly in love with Haley Reinhart, the blues-rock singer who never got the respect she deserved.* By all rights, my fascination should have stopped after Season 10 – Haley Reinhart was gone, and I’d never been a fan of the show in the first place. But I kept watching. And then I got obsessed.
Partly it’s the singing. Yes, in spite of all my cynical presuppositions, there are some bloody incredible singers on American Idol. And I love watching them.
But mostly? Mostly it’s the sociological stuff. I find it fascinating – and disturbed – that the five last winners were all white men (with guitars). I’m fascinated – and disturbed – by the ways the fans act. I’m fascinated – and disturbed – by American Idol commentary. I’m fascinated – and disturbed – by the producer manipulations.
Frankly, American Idol is a bizarre back window into America’s psyche. And I just can’t look away.
1. The Phillip Phillips Victory and the White Guy With Guitars Phenomenon
A woman did not win American Idol this year.
Phillip Phillips beat Jessica Sanchez in the finale, making him the fifth “White Guy With Guitar” winner in a row on American Idol. The other four are David Cook, Kris Allen, Lee Dewyze and Scotty McCreery. [White Guy With Guitar is often abbreviated as “WGWG”]
I am shocked [okay, that’s a lie. I’m not shocked at all].
Watching the fandom reaction to Phillip Phillips’ victory was… interesting. To say the least.
Someone would say: “Oh, boo, another White Guy With Guitar.”
Then the next person would say: “You’re a racist.”
Or someone would say: “And that’s 5 WGWG winners.”
Then the next person would say: “That’s racist! You’re discriminating against Phillip Phillips because he’s white and male!”
I never entered these discussions – I was already violating rule #1 of keeping one’s sanity on the internet (Never Read The Comments). I was not going to violate rule #2 (Never Enter A Comments Argument).
The thing is, I’m one of those people who thinks that the five-year winning streak by white men is troubling. And it’s not because I hate all white men, or because I think Phillip Phillips is untalented, or because I think Phillip Phillips’ gender and race disqualifies him from victory.
So let me explain myself.
First, I want to clear something up: it is not racist, nor is it sexist, to point out that Phillip Phillips is a white man. It is not racist, nor is it sexist, to point out that he’s the fifth white man in a row to win American Idol. These are facts. If you’re arguing that Phillip Phillips doesn’t deserve to win idol because he’s a white man, then yes, that is discriminatory. And if you’re arguing that the WGWG streak proves White Men are better singers, then yes, that is racist. But to remark upon the phenomenon is not discriminatory in-and-of-itself.
When potentially problematic patterns emerge – when, for example, five white men win a competition in a row – it is normal and responsible to ask questions about the process.
And that’s the key here: the pattern. If you voted for Phillip Phillips over Jessica Sanchez, good for you! If you prefer a male contestant in any given year, I have no problem with you. If you prefer a white contestant in any given year, I have no problem with you [if you always like the white contestants and never like contestants of color, however, you might want to examine your internal biases]. The problem is not with any one person’s individual voting decision. The problem is with the pattern. Because once we rack up all the individual choices made over the last four years, and we map them out, the pattern is pretty damn clear: white men have a much easier time on Idol.
Again: I think it’s perfectly fine a white male singer to be the best, most consistent and most original singer on any given year. My problem is when people start trying to argue that every white male singer was the best, most consistent and most original singer on any given year. I don’t care what you say, there is no way you can argue that every single white male winner was a better, more consistent and more interesting singer than all his competitors. There is no way. And yet all five of these white male winners not only won their seasons, but none of them ever appeared in the bottom 3 contestants, no matter how poorly they performed
Women have a much harder time on Idol. People of color have a much harder time on Idol. And women and people of color cannot win Idol anymore. This is a fact. At this point, there is literally nothing a woman or a person of color (or a woman of color) can do to win the show. It has all been done.
This year was a case study in proving that no matter what female and non-white contestants do, they cannot beat a white male contestant. With Elise Testone, Jessica Sanchez, Skylar Laine and Hollie Cavanagh, we had the best group of female singers on Idol in at least five years. They were original, they were interesting, they had an enormous amount of talent, they all had huge shining moments.With the exception of Hollie Cavanagh, who had a few bum weeks but then came roaring back, all of these women were consistent: they made very few mistakes. Meanwhile, with Joshua Ledet, we had – as far as I’m concerned – the best male vocalist on Idol since Adam Lambert. Joshua Ledet was incredibly consistent and high-powered; he almost always exceeded expectations.
I will gladly admit that Phillip Phillips had a good run. But I defy you to argue that he was more consistent than Jessica Sanchez or Joshua Ledet. I defy you to argue that he was more original than Skylar Laine or Elise Testone. I defy you to argue that he had as many standout performances as Jessica, Joshua or Skylar. I defy you to argue that Joshua’s take on Runaway Baby, or Hollie Cavanaugh’s turn on Bleeding Love deserved a bottom three finish while Phillip Phillips’ Time of the Season didn’t. I defy you to argue that Phillip Phillips’ pitch problems were any less egregious than Skylar Laine’s country twang.
My point is: Phillip Phillips had flaws; he had bad performances, but they never seemed to matter. No matter how good, how exceptionally incredible Phillip Phillips’ competitors were, or how terrible Phillip Phillips was, he was never shaken. He never went to the bottom three. And they had no chance of beating him.
And that’s my problem with the White Guy with Guitar phenomenon. White men have it unfairly easy, while anyone who isn’t a white man has it unfairly hard. It’s a perfect example of white male privilege at work. It’s not that the five WGWG winners were untalented. It’s not that they didn’t work hard. It’s not that they don’t deserve good things, or that they’re bad singers. It’s just that, for them, things were easier. The standards were obviously lower (again: they never landed in the bottom three. Ever). Meanwhile, as I’ve detailed in my prior two posts on American Idol, the standards were much higher for women and for people of color. To completely purloin John Scalzi’s explanation of white male privilege: white men play the Idol game on the lowest difficulty setting. And women and people of color play it on a much, much higher difficult setting. [If you haven’t read John Scalzi’s post on the Lowest Difficulty Setting, you should; it’s brilliant]
As Michael Slezak once put it: “Am I going to argue that women have had an easy time on Idol in recent years? Absolutely not. You have to perform better than the men to stay in the competition […] and sometimes that doesn’t even work.”
The playing field is not level.
That’s my problem.
2. All Women are Robot Members of the Robocalypse
Speaking of American Idol and Gender issues! I’d like to share the #1 thing I learned on American Idol this year: all women are robots. They’re probably also all preparing to kill us in an attempt to institute the robocalypse… but I’m not sure about that yet.
a) All Female Contestants on Idol are Robots
Jennifer Lopez, critiquing Elise Testone: “they [the audience] want to know that you’re a person. That you feel things.”
After Jennifer Lopez said this to Elise Testone, I may or may not have thrown a magazine at the television screen (there were no witnesses. You can’t prove anything).
First, Elise Testone is a person. She doesn’t need to prove it. This isn’t Battlestar Galactica; contestants aren’t required to take Cylon detection tests.
Second, Elise Testone is the last person I would call robotic. Elise Testone is the anti-Lady Gaga. She has no poker face. Over the course of the season, it was nearly impossible for Testone to hide how she was feeling [a problem, since she couldn’t hide her disappointment, anger or sadness].
Then again, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that Elise Testone was called out for not being “human” enough. Because there is not a single female contestant this season who has not been called “a robot” or “inauthentic” or “soulless” either by the judges or by the fans.
Every. Single. Female. Contestant. has been called a robot. Every single one.
Men, on the other hand? Almost NEVER get the robot criticism.
Case in point: On the final performance episode, the top 2 singers have to repeat their favorite performance. So both singers are, by definition, doing something unoriginal. And neither Jessica Sanchez nor Phillip Phillips (this year’s top 2) made any radical changes to their re-interpretations of their chosen songs.
Let’s look at Jennifer Lopez’s critique of the two, shall we?
“I’ve seen Jessica do that before. And I just feel like that’s authentic Phillip right there.”
Wait, what? You’ve ALSO seen Phillip Phillips do that before. You’ve seen him do exactly. the same. thing.
Two contestants repeat a song. The female one? Inauthentic. Mimic. The male one? Authentic.
This whole thing leads me to believe that the “inauthentic” and “robotic” criticism is a lot less about the individual singer, and a lot more about… their gender.
Yes, indeed, all female contestants are robots.
b) All female fans are robots
Random fan critique: ” Oh Please. WGWGs win because young girls always vote for the cute guy.”
There is no myth floating around the idol fan-o-sphere that drives me more nuts than the myth that “teen girls are ruining the show because they always vote for the cute guys.” It’s also, sadly, the most pervasive myth. [And it’s the reason behind my original Why Women Can’t Win Idol post]
One of the more disgusting things about this critique is that it makes “cute guy” equal to “white guy.” So men of color can’t be cute? Girls aren’t attracted to guys of color?
Also, it’s incredibly heteronormative. Has anyone heard of lesbians? And bisexual women? They exist.
But what’s most annoying about the “teen girls always vote for the cute guys” myth is that it assumes that teen girls are entirely ruled by their hormones, and that they’re thus incapable of making an informed decision. They can’t just like Phillip Phillips because they like his music. No, it has to be because he’s a cute guy. That’s why.
And it needs no evidence! No market research, no rigorous studies, no sample size, no nothing. Because everyone knows that when a cute white guy strums on his guitar, teen girls become mind-controlled drones and start speed-dialing the cute white guy to safety.
Teen girls are robots. Their programming?
Vote for the cute white guy.
… Does anyone else see a trend here?
I find it endlessly hilarious (and by hilarious, I mean rage-inducing) that if fandom isn’t blaming the White Guy With Guitars phenomenon on teenage girls being completely mindless robots, we’re blaming it on female contestants being robotic.
What is it about being female that makes it so easy for people to compare you to a machine?
Female performers cannot be authentic. They can be great singers. They can even be perfect singers. But they cannot be authentic, real, human singers.
Heart and soul? Only guys have that. Women just sing the notes.
Authenticity? Only guys have that. Women can only mimic.
Charm? Only guys have that. Women are cold and soulless.
Female fans cannot be authentic. They cannot vote for a contestant because they like that person’s music. They cannot vote for a contestant because they enjoy their performance style. They don’t watch Idol because they want to see true music.
No, they can only watch for the cute boys. And they can only vote for the cute boys
Only men can be real fans. Men vote for the best singer. Men watch the show because they care about music. Women watch the show for eye-candy.
So, from my viewing of American Idol, I have concluded that men are people and women are robots.
It’s the robocalypse, people. And I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords.
3. Jessica Sanchez and Racism
Okay, let’s be clear. I am supremely unqualified to discuss this topic. I am white. I also know almost nothing about discrimination against Asians in the United States; I know even less about discrimination against Filipinos in the United States.
Thus, my ability to analyze the discourse surrounding Jessica Sanchez is… limited. To say the least.
Usually in these circumstances, I go: “hey, look at all the smart, qualified people who have written about this! Read their stuff!”
But unfortunately (and bizarrely), no one else has really talked about this issue.** Or if they do, they aren’t doing it in any depth – it’s all “Jessica Sanchez was voted off, so America is racist!” Or”No, America isn’t racist!”
But the issue of Jessica Sanchez’s race, and how it played into her run on Idol, deserves some discussion.
So I’m going to try here. [If you’ve seen or read any pertinent commentary, please let me know. I’m begging you.]
Point the first: Jessica Sanchez is American. [This will be important later]
Point the second: Jessica Sanchez’s father is Mexican American. Her mother is Filipina. Jessica Sanchez is thus of both Latin@ and Asian (Filipino) heritage. She’s mixed race.
Crucially, Sanchez’s Mexican heritage was almost never discussed, either on the show, in American Idol commentary, or in fan circles. She was described as primarily Asian-American or Filipino-American.
I’ve written two long posts about how American Idol systematically disadvantages female contestants. But in the case of race – at least, in the case of race this year – I did not see a lot of institutional discrimination. The show itself was not putting Jessica Sanchez at a disadvantage because of her race (although they did put her at a disadvantage because of her gender).
But the fans and the critics are another story.
I’ve seen loads of comments on fan sites and on American Idol articles that say that Jessica Sanchez’s talent is a “cheat” because her “Asian parents” have been raising her to “compete” from “childhood.” She’s a “trained-since-birth” robot. Because her family is Filipino, they’ve “chosen one child to train as a prodigy.” She has a “tiger mom” who has trained her “since birth” to “win Idol,” and thus Sanchez doesn’t “deserve to win.”
It’s the “Well, of course she’s doing well in Math. She’s Asian” argument.
This, to me, is on the same level as the “Asian-Americans are stealing all the science jobs” rhetoric we see in the news. Or the massive”Asian-Americans have an easier time getting into college” freakouts.
As I like to put it when I’m being particularly sarcastic:”Oh no! Americans of color are actually doing okay! They’re doing well in school! They’re doing well on TV shows! They’re getting decently-paid jobs! Only real [white] Americans are allowed to get those things! We have to panic now!”
And the whole makes me want to throw myself off a cliff.
[Fortunately, I don’t live near any cliffs]
This “She’s successful because she’s Asian” argument is a particularly vicious way of dismissing Jessica Sanchez’s achievements. By these standards, Sanchez didn’t get to American Idol through hard work, determination, talent and luck. She didn’t get there because she loved singing. No, she got there because her family was Asian, so they “trained” her.
Moreover, Idol commentary and fan discussions have made Sanchez’s hard work the equivalent of an “unfair advantage.” No one is going “look how focused and dedicated Jessica Sanchez is.” Instead, they’re acting like her hard work is the equivalent of cheating.
I’m sorry, someone’s going to have to explain this to me: Jessica Sanchez is a hard worker, therefore she’s a cheater? Wait, what? Isn’t working hard to achieve your goals the opposite of cheating? [If working hard makes people cheaters, I think I’d best turn myself in to my University’s Academic Counsel]
I keep wanting to tell these people: You don’t think Phillip Phillips worked his butt off to get where he is today?
But somehow, it’s okay for Phillip Phillips to work hard. On the other hand, it’s suspect for Jessica Sanchez to do the same thing.
Frank Wu, a critical race theorist, explains this better than I will: “The model minority myth hurts Asian Americans themselves. It is two-faced. Every attractive trait matches up neatly to its repulsive complement, and the aspects are conducive to reversal. […] To be hard working is to be an unfair competitor for regular human beings, and not a well-rounded, likable individual.” (Wu, Frank. Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White)
People perceived Asian-Americans as being an “unfair competitors” for regular human beings – and by regular human beings, they mean “white Americans.”
I think this is exactly what happened to Jessica Sanchez. Because she was perceived as a hard-working Asian singer, people saw her as having some kind of “unfair” advantage over other (mostly white) contestants like Phillip Phillips. Where Phillip Phillips’ hard work makes him a likeable individual, Jessica Sanchez’s hard work makes her robotic and unlikeable.
So yes. It’s racist. And it’s disgusting. And I’m sick of reading this kind of commentary. If you don’t like Jessica Sanchez’s singing, fine. Just say that. If you prefer another singer, fine. Just say that. If you think Jessica Sanchez has no emotional connection to her lyrics, fine. Just say that. But don’t accuse Jessica Sanchez of being some sort of Asian dragon-lady with “unfair advantages” over her competitors. Because yes, that’s racist.
The other really disturbing thing I see in commentary and fan forums is the discussion around Jessica Sanchez’s appearance.
Around top 8 week, I started noticing that, on the fan forums I visited and on youtube clips of Jessica or Hollie Cavanagh’s performances, there was a kind of universal consensus that Hollie was the beautiful one, and Jessica was… not. Even people who said they preferred Jessica as a singer would say things like “but she’s not pretty like Hollie.”
This turned into a mini-phenomenon. I saw it everywhere. If you do a google search, you’ll find that there are a whole lot more results for “Jessica Sanchez ugly” than for “Hollie Cavanagh ugly.” And most of the negative commentary on Jessica’s appearance also talks about her race.
There were also entire lines of comments that argued that Jessica Sanchez shouldn’t win Idol because she doesn’t “look American” and it would be confusing if the winner of Idol wasn’t American. I counted fifty of those comments when I was compiling youtube clips for this post, and then I couldn’t do it anymore.
Pardon me for the temporary rant: Jessica Sanchez is an American. Jessica Sanchez looks American. Because she is an American. The End.
Someone, somewhere, will have to explain to me what these people mean by “looking American.” Because I think they mean “white.”
And, you know, I realize the internet can be a terrible place. I do. I really do. I know that people are asshats. But that doesn’t make their conduct okay, and it certainly doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about it.
Let me put it this way. If there were no racial bias, Jessica Sanchez and Hollie Cavanaugh would probably get the same amount of “ha ha, she’s ugly” trolling. But because we tend to see white people as the “standard” of good looks, Jessica Sanchez gets the brunt of the “ugly” criticism.
Oh, yes. Now that I see their photos right next to each other, it’s SO CLEAR that Hollie is prettier than Jessica.
I would probably have let the ugly/pretty rant drop if it weren’t for the fact that the exact same thing happened with Phillip Phillips and Joshua Ledet.
Again, many commentators pegged Phillip Phillips as the winner, because they argued that women and girls would vote for the cute boy.
But no one ever said Joshua Ledet has a chance of winning the “cute boy” vote. Once Colton Dixon was gone, everyone assumed that Phillip Phillips was the show’s only male heartthrob.
Oh, yes. It’s so obvious that Phillip Phillips is the only attractive one of these two guys. SO OBVIOUS.
[This is one of those cases where my personal taste goes completely against the public consensus, because I happen to think Phillip Phillips is somewhat bland, while Joshua Ledet is a Stone Cold Fox.]
My point here is: there’s a pattern where only white contestants are labeled – either by fans or by commentators – as attractive. The entire “girls will only vote for cute boys so White Guys with Guitars will always win” inherently assumes that only white guys count as cute. This is probably not that surprising to anyone who has studied race issues in the United States, but it’s still disturbing. And we should talk about it.
So yes. Racism has an impact on American Idol. And we should talk about it. We’re probably not going to, and if we do, it’s going to be along the lines of “white people experience discrimination too!”… but I’m holding out hope.
Now that I’ve finished covering the year in misogyny and racism, let’s… end on a high note, shall we?
Here are some of the great things about American Idol this year:
1. Michael Slezak, Melinda Doolittle and Jason Averett
Michael Slezak remains my favorite American Idol commentator of all times. There is no one who is funner to read or to watch. His boundless enthusiasm, his passionate love for the show and the singers, his burning hatred of producer manipulations – he’s amazingly addictive.
Slezak is my hero. Someday, if I work hard enough, and hide my female roboticness long enough, I might aspire to be half as entertaining and incisive a writer as he is.
Some actual quotes for our edification: “I can’t fathom what (aside from Uncle Nigel sending volts of electricity into their chairs) prompted the judges to give Deandre a Standing O for a vocal this week that was about as pleasant as listening to a Snowy Owl sink its talons into a frightened prairie dog and carry it back to the nest for disembowelment.” (Top 9 recap)
On Skylar Laine’s “Show Must Go On” “It was like watching the very first space shuttle take off, and you didn’t know if it was going to make it up into the atmosphere, and then it was like – oh my god, we’re in outer space. We’ve conquered outer space.”
Michael Slezak is also one-third of the team behind Idology, a weekly American Idol video recap where Slezak joins Melinda Doolittle, the third place finisher of American Idol Season 6, to discuss the week’s results.
I love Idology with the passion of a thousand hopeful American Idol contestants. I love it because Slezak and Doolittle are having so much damn fun – sometimes Doolittle makes Slezak laugh so much I worry they’ll have to call an ambulance. The two have incredible chemistry.I also love Idology because the producer, Jason Averett, intercuts each video with amazing, hilarious clips from movies and TV shows. And it is glorious.
Averett is the invisible third commenter who makes himself known through his editing and his hilarious captions. During the first few weeks of the competition, for example, Slezak and Doolittle argued over whether Colton Dixon or Phillip Phillips had a better shot at the title. Averett kept intercutting their discussions with a photo of Phillips and the caption “Spoiler: This Guy.”
Anyways. I love Michael Slezak. I love Jason Averett. I love Melinda Doolittle. I love Idology. I can’t wait for them to come back next year.
I only have two small quibbles [because you know me; I can’t ever just like something. I have to find all the problems]
One: Idology is too short. Last year, we had thirty minute episodes, so Slezak could really get into the nitty-gritty details. And he could invite guests, he could have guest performers etc. If possible, I’d like the longer length back, thank you very much.
Two: I really appreciate Slezak’s commitment to calling out the anti-female shenanigans on Idol. But I would also really like it if he stopped calling JLo a skank. Look, she’s a terrible judge, and I’m fine with you making fun of her and her singing and her terrible critiques. Just don’t use gendered slurs to insult her. You don’t use racist terms of insult Randy Jackson; don’t use misogynistic slurs to insult Jennifer Lopez. And stop saying that she’s setting back the feminist movement, or women’s rights. It’s annoying. One of the main points of “rights” is that they don’t go away just because one woman acts badly.
Reason #2 American Idol was awesome this year?
2. There were some damn fine Singers
It bears repeating: there were some damn fine singers. I don’t think there’s been a season where I’ve liked as many people as I did this year. Moreover, when we got to the top 10, there wasn’t a single singer that I actively disliked. I wasn’t a huge fan of Hollie or Phillip, particularly near the end, but I thought they were fine.
In contrast, last season there was exactly ONE singer I still liked by the time Top 9 rolled around (the inimitable Haley Reinhart).
This season, I fell madly, passionately in love with Joshua Ledet and Jessica Sanchez. They were phenomenal. Unbelievable. And earth-shatteringly good. Joshua was all whiskey-soaked raspiness, unbridled emotions and glorious, explosive energy; Jessica Sanchez was gorgeous, finessed vocals; lovely rawness combined with a perfect range and a magnificent, terrifying power.
I don’t care what they sing. I will buy all the CDs. And the singles. Whatever. Everything. All the time.
I was also deeply in love with Skylar Laine and Elise Testone. They are tremendous. Elise Testone is bluesy and rocky and her voice is so wonderfully bizarre. Skylar Laine proves I can enjoy country music: she was artistic, original and gutsy, and she had a massive voice on top of everything else.
So yes. In spite of the misogyny, the racism, the producer manipulation, the judging issues… there were still damn fine singers on American Idol this season, and they gave some damn fine performances.
Because it’s my blog, and I’m ridiculously self-indulgent, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite twenty performances this season. And because it’s my blog, I don’t even have to be embarrassed that more than 1/2 of them are Joshua Ledet or Jessica Sanchez performances. [Okay, I am embarrassed. But I’ll live]
In conclusion! Hurrah for Season 11! And thank god I’ve got six months to recuperate before Season 12.
[These performances are in NO PARTICULAR ORDER. Don’t hurt me]
0. Jessica Sanchez You Are So Beautiful (also known as “suck it, trolls)
1.Elise Testone Whole Lotta Love (also known as “Hey, robots sing pretty good, don’t they?”)
2. Skylar Laine Stay With Me
3. Jessica Sanchez Love You I do (also known as “C.D. falls madly in love with a contestant for the first time this season”)
4. Joshua Ledet No More Drama (also known as “Wait, why didn’t he make the final two again?”)
5. Jessica Sanchez and Joshua Ledet’s duet I Knew You Were Waiting For Me (also known as “C.D.’s personal top 2 make the world explode through sheer awesomeness”)
6. Hollie Cavanagh Bleeding Love
7. Joshua Ledet When A Man Loves A Woman
8. Elise Testone No One
9. Jessica Sanchez Everybody has a Dream
10. Joshua Ledet Ready For Love (also known as “Joshua becomes C.D.’s other favorite contestant’)
11. Skylar Laine The Show Must Go On (also known as “Michael Slezak thinks this is the equivalent of conquering outer space”)
12. Phillip Phillips Volcano (I will admit, I’ve never really gotten Phillip Phillips. But I got him on this song).
13. Jessica Sanchez Sweet Dreams (also known as “the best song I’ve bought on iTunes in months”)
14. Jessica Sanchez Bohemian Rhapsody
15. Jessica Sanchez The Prayer (also known as “I’m not religious and I actually started crying in the middle of this song”)
16. Jessica Sanchez, Deandre Brackensick and Candice Glover It Doesn’t Matter Anymore (Candice better come back next year, is all I’m saying)
17. Jessica Sanchez And I Am Telling You (I actually held my breath for the last minute. The entire song was like jumping out of a plane at 10,000 feet and landing in a side-split handstand)
18. Joshua Ledet It’s a Man, Man, Man’s World (with Jessica Sanchez’s And I Am Telling You, the best ten minute block of the season. My brain almost exploded when these two songs happened back-to-back. The awesome was impossible to contain).
19. Jessica Sanchez’s duet with Jennifer Holiday on the finale (I take it all back. This was the best three minutes on the show on this season. Period. No questions asked. Do not mess with these two ladies. They will destroy you.)
Public Service Announcement: Haley Reinhart’s first CD, Listen Up, just came out. Buy it; it’s incredible.
P.S: Apologies for the spotty posting schedule. Fair warning: it may get spottier. I’ve been having some health-related problems, and they’ve been getting steadily worse over the past week or so. Hopefully I can keep a two-to-three post a week schedule… but I just started a medication that’s supposed to help my migraines and the side effects for the first two weeks are brutal. So if I disappear, my apologies.
A couple weeks ago, I wrote a post called “Why Can’t Women Win Idol? (Hint: it’s Not Because of Teen Girls).” I argued that the reason female contestants have so much trouble on American Idol is because the show itself gives men an unfair advantaged – not because a bunch of hormonal teenage girls vote for the cute boyzz.
The good news is, we’ve got a woman in the final two: Jessica Sanchez. Yes, the 16 year old who was almost eliminated during top seven week. So maybe – just maybe – a woman might win this season and end the four years of white male domination (I’m still terribly sad for
my Idol crush whoops I mean the incredible talented Joshua Ledet, who I thought should have ended up in the top two with her).
(Hey, I love him ’cause he’s talented, okay?)
The bad news is that American Idol is desperately trying to check off every.single.box on the American Idol Sexism Bingo Card. Which: ARGH. I was hoping Idol would burn the damn Sexism card, not play with renewed vigor.
(Dear American Idol: I realize you may not have understood my last post. It was not meant as a challenge. Please stop trying to prove me right and start trying to prove me wrong (by not being sexist). Thank you)
American Idol only has two more show to go. How many more ways can they try to check off the boxes on the Sexism bingo card?
Before we answer that, let’s look at the many ways they’ve checked those boxes in the past few weeks.
1. Jessica’s Dress-gate
“A subset of this problem is the clothes issue: while I’ve never heard a man criticized for his fashion choices by a judge, many, many female contestants have had their style questioned.” (Culturally Disoriented, Why Don’t Women Win Idol?)
On the Top 5 results show, American Idol mentor Jimmy Iovine gave a critique of each singer’s performances on the prior night. This is what he had to say about Jessica Sanchez’s rendition of “Proud Mary” : “That dress was too mature for her. I believe there were a lot of people at home last night who felt uncomfortable.”
What the hell, Jimmy?
By the way, let’s take a look at this so called “mature” dress.
Oh the horror?
Dude, it’s a singing contest. Why are you talking about her clothes? Why aren’t you talking about her singing? Sheesh.
The problem isn’t just that Jessica’s clothes were critiqued. It’s that only women are judged for their styling decisions on American Idol. Male contestants don’t have to worry about it. Female contestants do. If you’re going to comment on Jessica’s style, Jimmy, you have to also comment on Phillip Phillip’s. Or Deandre Brackensick’s. Or Colton Dixon’s.
My favorite American Idol commentator, Michael Slezak, often talks about the women’s fashion choices. But he also talks about the men’s. If he says that Elise had a great dress, he’ll also mention the fact that Colton was wearing a weird blouse. Equality is all I ask for, peoples.
The other problem, of course, is that Jessica’s styling decisions aren’t entirely in her hands: she’s dressed by stylists. And Jimmy even acknowledged that when he said “Stylists, what are you doing? You’re torpedoing this girl.”
So if it’s not something that’s under her control, why are you devoting most of your critique time to it? Why don’t you just go talk to the stylists? You’re the mentor, you can do that.
Or, in other words, why do we seem to think it’s appropriate for a fifty year old man to comment on a sixteen year old girl’s clothing when it’s not under her control and it has nothing to do with her performance? And when he would never say the same thing to a male contestant?
It’s not appropriate. Stop doing it – or else, start doing it to everyone. Thank you.
Ah, the land of American Idol.
BTW: My brother would like American Idol to know that “it’s about the singing, not the clothes.”
2. Men are artists! Women… are not.
“The trouble is, I’ve never heard a judge call a woman an artist. Or give her credit for song rearrangement. I’m sure it’s happened – it’s not like I’ve watched the show for that long. But again, as Michael Slezak said “somehow, it’s always easier for a guy with an acoustic guitar to get credit for song rearrangement than a girl.” Female contestants like Crystal Bowersox, Carly Smithson, Haley Reinhart, Katelyn Epperly, Allison Iraheta and Siobahn Magnus would make radical – and successful – changes to songs, and the judges would never praise them for it (…) While a man can be a great singer and a great artist, a woman on Idol can only be a great singer. It’s another weapon in their arsenal that men have, and women don’t.” (WDWWI?)
I seriously did not think this would be a problem this year, given how creative and artistic the women are.
But alas, I was proven wrong.
On top seven (redux) night, Phillip Phillips rearranged an Usher song (U got it bad). After the performance, Randy Jackson said: “This year, guys, we have a true artist on the stage.”
Now, on the same night, Skylar Laine transformed not one but two songs (“Born this Way” (pop) and “I Heard it through the Grapevine”(motown)) into country tunes. Very nice, Skylar! Surely your daring rearrangements will prompt a judge to comment on how “artistic” and “creative” you are! Particularly since they liked both performances!
[spoiler alert: it didn’t]
Skylar Laine does exactly the same thing as Phillip… but she’s not an artist. Someone explain why to me, so I can understand, because my brain is not computing the data (then again, I am an emotionless female robot. So… it’s no wonder I can’t understand).
And this, my friends, is a trend. Jessica Sanchez turned Beyonce’s “Sweet Dreams” into a ballad (I cannot get over how gorgeous the studio recording is); Elise Testone rearranged “Bold as Love” (she also transformed a few other songs, but this was her most radical transformation)**, Skylar Laine consistently “countrified” mainstream music, even Hollie Cavanaugh made some interesting changes to “Bleeding Love.” But none of them were called artists. Oh no. There is only one true artist on the Idol stage – Phillip Phillips, the white male contestant.
Seriously, what else would poor Skylar Laine have to do to be called an artist? She plays the guitar, she rearranged songs – Elise played the piano – is there anything these women can do to get the necessary “artist” label?
I’m starting to doubt it.
(other than stealing a “Y” chromosome, of course. Jessica, why don’t you try that for next week, ‘mkay?)
The other infuriating thing is that when “artists” like Phillip Phillips choose obscure songs – specifically, “The Stone” – they are praised for it. Meanwhile, when Elise Testone chooses an obscure song (“Bold as Love”), she’s lambasted for it.
Moving right along…
3. Women are emotionless drones
“And, in a case of hitting someone when they’re down, women tend to get the “cold and emotionless” critique far more than men do.” (WDWWI?)
So, after Elise Testone’s performance of “Let’s Get it On,” JLo critiqued her emotional connection to the song. Then she added in this lovely little line: “they [the audience] want to know that you’re a person. That you feel things.”
OH MY GOD, ELISE IS A CYBORG! *so excited* I’ve always wanted to meet a cyborg -*
Oh, wait, that wasn’t what JLo meant. Hem. Ignore me.
But seriously, people. We all know Elise Testone is a person. Can we please stop using this critique? Because it’s almost exclusively used for women. It’s also almost exclusively used for women in fan forums where, I swear, every single contestant this season from Skylar Laine to Elise Testone to Jessica Sanchez has been criticized for being an emotionless robot.
The fact that this critique was used on Elise Testone – of all contestants – is particularly ridiculous. Elise is the contestant this season who has had the most trouble keeping a poker face and not being overwhelmed by her emotions (something she’s been criticized for quite a bit). She’s also a deeply authentic performer. Just because she’s not crying onstage doesn’t mean she’s not authentic.
The judges, I should add, were specifically critiquing Elise for not getting more emotional about her terminally ill dog. Thanks, guys, for giving such a brilliant portrait of what it really means to be “inhuman.”
To me, this constant reminder that women are never “emotional” enough (unless they’re too emotional) is a really disturbing denial of these women’s humanity. In Jessica Sanchez’s case, one of the most common fan critiques is that she’s some kind of super-robot who has been raised from the age of three to be a singer, and thus she can’t possibly have any emotional connection to what she’s singing. Which is ridiculous, and impossible to defend against. I’m sure someone can give a more trenchant critique, but it seems like we automatically assume men are “connecting” and “human” while women have to prove it.
(Hey, I’ve got an idea! Since all the female singers have been criticized for being robotic, maybe they’re all part of an evil robot army whose plan is to take over the world through awesome singing! That would be AMAZING. Someone write the comic!)
4. Refusing to Critique/Overhyping the Male Contestants
“The Judges recognize male contestants more often. Two weeks ago on Idol, the judges gave an unprecedented FIVE standing ovations in the course of a single show. Every single male performer except one got a standing O, and the one who didn’t was mentioned over and over in the show as having “set the bar.” Only one female performer received a standing ovation, despite the fact that most critics thought performers like Skylar Laine or Jessica Sanchez (neither of whom received a standing ovation) performed better than Deandre Brackensick and Heejun Han (both of whom received one).” (WDWWI?)
I could paraphrase my entire last post in one sentence: Men win on Idol because they are framed as winners by the judges (and the producers).
And it keeps happening.
After Phillip Phillips had a mediocre performance, Jennifer Lopez – who specifically said that she wanted a woman to win this year – told him: ” “I need you to do songs that are going to get you to that last show so you can win.”
She specifically tagged him as a winner even when he had a bad performance. None of the female contestants have gotten this kind of shoutout.
He was also called the only true artist onstage.
Joshua Ledet, meanwhile – who, by the way, I absolutely love – has gotten an unprecedented fifteen standing ovations over the course of the show. Steven Tyler said he was one of the top two contestants to ever appear on the show (in eleven seasons). Jennifer Lopez, meanwhile, told him that he was one of the top two singers in the last fifty years.
Talk about overpraising! Top two singers in the last fifty years? Whitney Huston, James Brown, Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Freddie Mercury and Michael Jackson are all joining Aretha Franklin in singing: “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me!”
Then the judges called on Jimmy Iovine to take good care of Joshua Ledet when giving him a record contract. Well, first, they’re assuming Iovine WILL give him a record contract, and second… again, a shout-out that no female contestant has gotten.
They keep framing the men either as the winners or as the best things since human history was invented.
Uh, it’s no wonder men keep winning if they’re judged like this.
Even Jessica Sanchez, who is pretty heavily praised by the judges, gets nowhere near this level of critique. While the judges jump to their feet for Joshua, they will reluctantly give Jessica a standing ovation. At some point, JLo even told Elise Testone that she didn’t want to stand for her, but Elise Testone’s performance persuaded her otherwise. This is something she’s never said to a male contestant. Male contestants get their ovations unreservedly… women get them with caveats.
The other problem with the judge’s critique of the men is that… well, they’re not really critiquing them. Ever. Phillip Phillips and Joshua Ledet haven’t received a constructive critique in I-don’t-know-how-long. Even when Phillip Phillips completely screws up (in ‘Time of the Season” (no, seriously, it’s a bloodbath)) or when Joshua Ledet forgets the words of his song (“I Believe”), they get free passes. The women on idol do not get this kind of free pass: if they were anything less than brilliant in the past few episodes, they were critiqued, and often quite harshly.
And it’s not that I think women shouldn’t be critiqued. It’s just that if you’re going to give men a free pass and tell them they’re “great” when they’re… not, then you have to do the same thing for women.
6. In Conclusion
Yep, American Idol is still sexist. Boo. Boo, I say.
I would really like to hold out hope that there won’t be some kind of bias against Jessica Sanchez in the finale episode – that she and Phillip Phillips will truly be judged as equals. Because that, in the end, is what bothers me so much about the sexism I see on American Idol. If Phillip Phillips wins, I want him to win because of his popularity and his hard work, not because of the show’s unconscious bias towards men. I don’t want to have to keep seeing female contestants get undercut on stage. If the men are truly better – if the men are truly more popular – they will win even without the show’s bias. But right now, the show has a bias, so it’s impossible for me to say that any result is entirely fair.**
I hold out hope that the finale will, in fact, be a showcase of both Jessica and Phillip’s talents, and that both will be praised and criticized in a fair manner. But I’m not holding my breath.
Which is why I tell you, Jessica Sanchez: if you want to be judged equally… maybe consider dressing as a boy for next week? They might call you an artist! After all, only men are artists! And they certainly won’t criticize your clothes…
(I’m being facetious here; please don’t hurt me).
And finally, before we all leave. Sexism is not confined to American Idol, people! Guess what other show is guilty of some pretty blatant and disgusting misogyny! The Voice! HURRAH!
Yes, on the final performance episode, Christina Aguilera dared point out that the song Tony Lucca chose to sing – Jay Z’s “99 problems” – was “a little derogatory towards women.” She also praised Tony’s voice and said “but all in all it was good fun.”
The lyrics are “”If you’re havin’ girl problems, I feel bad for you son / I got 99 problems but a bitch ain’t one.”
A little derogatory. A little derogatory.
Now, of course, the real problem is that Aguilera was eviscerated for daring to point out the misogyny in the lyrics. She was eviscerated by Adam Levine, Lucca’s mentor, who condescendingly told her that “bitch” didn’t mean “bitch” but “everything bad in life.” (which is still sexist, by the way), and that the word was a “metaphor.” She was eviscerated in the recaps and the fan forums the next day.
I’ll leave most of the coverage here to Shakesville, where BrianWS writes a great takedown of the issue. But here’s my comment. Aguilera has been called a bitch many times in her career. And she was called a “bitch” for daring to point out the misogyny in Tony Lucca’s song.
Were those critics and fans being metaphorical?
What’s the metaphor?
(Hey Christina! What kind of world do we live in?)
* Elise Testone may be the most Science Fictional contestant ever. First, she’s a cyborg. Second, she covered “Bold as Love,” which, as SF fans knows, is the title of Gwyneth Jones’ incredible novel about a dystopian England ruled by rock stars. I love her. Madly.
** when I talk about fair results, I don’t mean that the best singer wins. I just mean that the results are unaffected by issues of the show’s bias, or sexism, racism, homophobia etc.