We're watching "So You Think You Can Dance" right now, and as with every reality show that features talent –or lack thereof– I am always amazed at the people who so blindly and unselfconsciously are eager to showcase their delusions on national television. Some people don't enjoy the auditions in both "American Idol" and this show, deeming them cruel and inappropriate.
It's true: the judges can be petty and cruel in some of their observations, and innocent people sometimes seem to be chastised and humiliated seemingly only for showing up. I imagine maybe some people have never had a charitable family member or close friend tell them with all sincerity, "You suck, horribly." And so, when the process of auditions happens and harsh, never-heard before words are uttered with a side or snark or sarcasm (possibly triggered by having spent the past five to eight hours listening to mediocre talent) and in front of a camera crew and famous and formerly-famous people, it must be incredibly ego-crushing and horrible.
This is part of the reason why I'm sure we don't see all of the reels featuring such auditions –some of which they do show briefly and which are not very exciting–, and why it is actually okay to point and laugh at most of the ones they do show.
"But wait," you may be saying to yourself, "we DO see these auditions! We are privy to such inexcusable cruelty!"
This is when I reach through the Intertubes and pat you lightly on the crown of your pretty little head for being naïve.
I do not claim to be one of those super cool people who have insider information on how these kinds of reality shows are cast or staged. But I believe that I have an okay grasp on human nature, and I also understand something simple: footage of you on TV cannot be used unless you consent to its use.
This means that all those crazy people they arrest on COPS signed a little form after their arrest –and presumed release– that said,
"Sign here if you are fine with 20 million viewers seeing you drunk/stoned/totally effed up/in a furious, blind rage. You will receive no other compensation other than the ephemeral and possibly embarrassing recognition and/or identification of your peers and future employers."
Next time you watch COPS (assuming that you allow yourself to watch such crap, as I do), pay attention: once in a while, you will see a person whose face is pixelated. It usually isn't the person being arrested, but the next-door neighbor or a random passer-by who wants nothing to do with the arrest or the domestic disturbance.
That's because no normal person –other than the cops themselves– would ever want to admit ever being featured on COPS.
So from COPS –the original reality show, albeit sans auditions– we move to these talent shows, but with an expanded perspective. We know all the contestants had to sign a release form à la COPS so their footage could be used. And we know that there is far more no-talent out there than there is talent –because otherwise it would not be an eagerly-watched show, if everyone and anyone could sing or dance like these select few can.
So you know there are some people out there who are praying that FOX never uses their audition tape.
But then there are these crazy people auditioning and showing up –some of them season after season and city after city– who do not have talent and do not give up. They want that audition tape to be shown. They make sure it will be so.
They dress up in ridiculous getups sometimes. Or they shake and convulse frantically, and wail like wounded wolves. They flaunt their bodies and their awesomeness and believe in their own act fervorously. They taunt and, on occasion, verbally abuse the judges; and sometimes exit the premises absolutely offended that their "talent" isn't recognized as such. And then re-enter. And then exit again.
Not satisfied with having the audition footage to "brag", they also agree to an interview with the show's host ("Why do you think the judges are wrong?" "Do you feel you've improved since your last audition?").
Sometimes they also agree to have family members speak on their behalf ("Did she show promise at an early age?" "Do you think your son has what it takes?").
These people are comfortable becoming a temporary household name –a budget tabloid celebrity, only working for the recognition and the laughs and the disbelieving looks they mistake for a celebration of talent; and on occasion for the novelty record hit as in the case of William Hung (in some ways a reluctant such participant who just happened to have a great combination of being a good sport, having a sense of humor, and rolling with those particular punches). They are no better than the slutty girls looking to bed Bret Michaels or Flavor Flav –as if that had ever been a coveted prize in the first place; or the slutty people looking to bed each other in front of the cameras in every show from Blind Date to Big Brother. They are there looking for the fabled fifteen minutes of fame, and they are there –barring embarrassing mental illness– to entertain us.
It's not abuse if the presumed victim is really the perpetrator, I say.
And so, I allow them to entertain me.
(And secretly, I pity them.)
Pee Ess: YAY FOR DAVID COOK!!! Let's just hope his career goes more along the lines of Carrie Underwood and not so much along those of um…. yeah. Good luck, David.