'Idol' peddles pablum parading as music

"American Idol" winner David Cook stood there on stage, trying to look cool with his big guitar and a scarf hanging by his belt.

And as fans screamed, Cook opened his rock-guy beard mouth to eke out his first horrible song, which they loved: a cover of Lionel Richie's "Hello."

If you don't remember this simpering pop ballad, it meekly goes, "Hello? Is it me you're looking for?"

When it came out in 1984, everyone with decent taste laughed big hearty laughs of humor-horror at how it gave sentimentality a bad name.

But here "Hello" is again.

After being satirized as an insipid joke for two decades, it has been rescued with earnest bluster by the big reality-show star of 2008. And 7,000 people at the Thomas & Mack Center on Saturday -- mostly teens, preteens, parents and grandparents -- thought it was super duper.

That's what "Idol" has done to this world. For seven seasons now, the sex-and-violence-free "family" show of our time has been informing and compromising kids' tastes in music, TV and concerts by forcing them to embrace ye ancient music of yesteryear. Much of that music is great, but more of it is truly, vilely heinous.

"Idol" runner-up David Archuleta, fresh-faced and 17, was super sweet and sung well on Saturday, but he covered even sappier songs. None was worse than his faithful rendition of Josh Groban's "When You Say You Love Me," which putridly goes, "Like the echoes of our souls are meeting, you say those words and my heart stops beating."

Yeah, when your "heart stops beating." That's when you want to listen to this song, when your casket is being lowered into the ground, because that's when you'll be dead, and then you won't be able to hear it.

Another performer sang the 69-year-old "Over the Rainbow," and a teenage girl in the aisle yelled, "That's my song!"

There weren't many women in their 20s and 30s at the show, but a woman who could pass for her 20s was out at the smoking section during intermission, with her husband and their dancing, finger-snapping 2-year-old son.

"You love 'American Idol,'" the mom told her boy as she bent over in high heels, a checkered miniskirt and a purse covered in lipstick-kiss images. "Say, 'David Cook.' That's who Mommy's waiting for. David's hawt!"

Then she said they'd go back in the arena as soon as Mommy finished her cigarette.

Ladies and little ladies were everywhere. At one point, I counted 50 girls and women who appeared to be their moms in line to buy T-shirts and junk. I counted three men in that line.

It's frustrating that "Idol" singers waste good voices resurrecting the past. Cook is a fine mimic. But he didn't sound fresh with Aerosmith's "I Don't Want To Miss A Thing" in his mouth, and he certainly couldn't match Dave Grohl's growl while covering Foo Fighters' "My Hero."

Curly blonde Brooke White injected some good taste with Feist's "1234," and I bet she'll be solid if she ends up using her interesting voice to do original songs in the alt-pop style of Feist or conversely in the aching twang style of Iris DeMent.

Tattooed Carly Smithson can belt classic rock, and she made a huge sound with Heart's tough "Crazy on You." But only Jason Castro, the guy with the dreadlocks and John Travolta eyes, successfully interpreted a hit, Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy," with any challenging dedication to rearranging a song's structure and feeling.

Castro's rare individuality defined the depressing status quo of "Idol." Sure, it's a crowd-pleaser. I heard another mother tell her daughter afterward that Archuleta gave her the "chills."

But if you're interested in the human race moving forward, "Idol" and this tour lets you down by breathing new life into gramophone and jukebox songs in the age of the iPod. It's like when vampires suck blood out of children so they can live forever. It's exactly like that.

Doug Elfman's column appears on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Contact him at 383-0391 or e-mail him at delfman@reviewjournal.com. He also blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.