What a dilemma: should the title go to the scrawny, faggy white ugly- duckling-turned-swan or the big fat black guy? Neither fits the profile of an American Idol. North Carolinian Clay Aiken was transformed from a bespectacled geek to a handsome, though somewhat soft and nellie, hunk suitable for gay porn fantasy. It was done in a style and presentation worthy of any Jenny Jones episode. By George, you did it! But was it intended?
American Idol is rife with homophobia. Judge Simon Cowell unrelentingly "fag-baits" hunky host Ryan Seacrest in every episode, making fun of his fashion sense, trendy hair, girly mannerisms and some mystery guy named Arnold. Seacrest, who usually ignores Cowell's crass remarks, occasionally retorts with his own anti-gay humour.
Cowell also poked fun at contestant Josh Gracin, a marine, for participating in a TV commercial for a hair-streaking product made by one of the show's sponsors. A final-episode skit where Cowell imagines making out with judge Paula Abdul takes a homophobic turn when he wakes up, horrified, actually in bed with judge Randy Jackson.
The final two contestants must have set off gaydar alarms across North America. Aiken, a counsellor with the YMCA, and Ruben Studdard, who confessed to an Entertainment Tonight correspondent a passion for massage and manicures that make his nails "nice and shiny," each decisively stated that he would look after his mother's financial needs with any earnings garnered from this experience. The two shied away from questions about marriage and girls.
Each played the nice-boy card to the end, but the less talented Studdard came out the winner. Lucky for him he doesn't look gay and they couldn't transform his 350-pound figure into something stereotypically gay.
Aiken, a powerhouse singer with rich, sensitive, in-depth vocal styling, improved with the weekly criticism. He developed artistically, and his physical and fashion image underwent an incredible transformation. He did everything right - and became a "boy-band-like" head-turner destined to please those on Castro Street or Santa Monica Boulevard and young teenage girls (who buy lots of records).
Studdard listened with a vacuous expression to his weekly criticism, never changing his solid Luther Vandross style. His attire remained the same, usually an emblazoned T-shirt, track pants and sneakers.
Studdard spoke often about his faith in God, and his final performance featured numerous gospel singers in church robes.
The frequently run commercial for Canadian Idol pretends to show us lineups for auditions that haven't happened yet and features a talentless young man (an American) doing an effeminate impersonation of a pop diva. The homophobia debuts in Canada on June 11, 2003.
In reality, the Fox "reality-based" talent search robbed the scrawny, white fag ugly-duckling-turned-swan of the American Idol title. But the unlikely result of a win by a big black guy is just what Bible-thumping America needs to feel better about itself. Fox needs ratings and wants to sell records, so it must play it safe. Who is most likely to embarrass the network with an honest and overt homosexual display, the newly transformed swan or the God-fearing and loving big guy?
Kevin Sheard is a local entertainer, director and playwright and hosts a local gay version of American Idol at Zipperz Bar.