I missed the first season in 2002 and never knew the early days of Kelly Clarkson. In fact, I didn’t have any idea what this show was about at the time and hardly ever watched television anyway. But, somehow when 2003 rolled around, I tuned into the second season and have been seriously hooked ever since.
Fourteen years ago, I had twin three year olds, a 13 year old middle schooler, a 17 year old graduating from high school, and a 20 year old in college! My 13 year olds’ math teacher just happened to have been Clay Aiken’s teacher and close family friend. She was invited to the American Idol finals and we hung on her every word when she described to us how “nice” Simon Cowell really was. It was celebrity through association!
We looked forward to watching the show for the two nights a week that it was on. I would set the VCR to record so that I could watch the episodes late at night after the twins were asleep. If the VCR failed (which it often did) or if I was out and no one remembered to turn it when I’d sit down to watch and find NO recording I would completely fall to pieces with disappointment. There seemed to be no way to recapture missed episodes at the time, which was so frustrating.
I loved every minute as I watched the rags to riches stories and the parents of the contestants beaming from ear to ear. I wanted to be one of those bursting-with-pride parents so badly but having no one in the family with any remote musical talent or interest, it was highly unlikely. I’m not sure what it was about those stories, but each one captivated me. From the abused and resurrected women, the husbands whose beloved wives had passed, the blind contestant who could play piano and sing like there was no tomorrow, even the one who cried on stage incessantly clearly suffering from some mental malady, they all stole my heart. I remained mesmerized week after week. For a while some of my kids did too. Oliver would watch with me and we’d boo some and cheer others in sync.
On many nights we would all settle into the infamous and everlasting “family bed” with Shep and watch with delight. One night Oliver came home from a date with his girlfriend Anne. They came upstairs to let us know they were home and Shep and I were in bed glued to some contestant singing. “Hop in,” we said, “it’s the family bed and you can watch Idol with us!” Oliver and Anne stared, shrugged, brought some popcorn up, and Anne jumped in with us too, watching for the next hour or so. Hilarious and what a memory!
About eight years ago my son who lived in Boston became terribly ill with Chronic Lyme disease. He would spend the next four years often bed ridden in our home, connected to IV antibiotics, pain meds, and more while suffering endlessly. We did however, watch “Idol” faithfully and I would pick out the “hottest” contestant on a regular basis and say, “Marry her!” The show engaged us fully and was such a good distraction from the misery that had invaded our family. It helped in some small way.
The trips that the three finalists get to make to their hometowns have always brought me to tears along with each of the overwhelmed contestants. I tried to imagine just how thrilling it might be to have that many people cheering you on. Wow.
There are some Idol memories that stick with me. When North Carolinian Clay Aiken sported that red leather jacket singing “Grease” or when he sang “Bridge Over Troubled Water” so beautifully https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QC9SKjdoTXg . David Archuleta singing, “Imagine” might have been almost as beautifully done as John Lennon’s original https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bn0WqfK3NIc or Katherine McPhee rivaling Judy Garland singing “Rainbow” at the suggestion of Simon Cowell was completely unforgettable https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=it6vcq1Jzq0 Also a North Carolina native, Fantasia stole my heart early on as a struggling single mom but when she sang “Summertime” on her knees I am not sure I’ve ever recovered. It completely blew me away https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGnak9GsiOY Adam Lambert’s Mad World got under our skin where it stayed for awhile as I don’t think we blinked during the entire performance. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W77opwAH3wI or when he walked down those stairs singing “Feeling Good” some said that stairs would never be the same! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RjqmNOxsvCc
Carrie Underwood singing “Stand By You” while she carried around African children orphaned by AIDS grabbed my heart and never let go so much so that when Oliver graduated from high school we tried singing it to him! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=viBIH_NxEYk When Jessica Sanchez sang “I Will Always Love You” we were sure Whitney was channeling and sat open mouthed. We all knew that Jennifer Hudson should never have been ousted, but we bore witness to that and many others who broke our hearts to leave but claimed great success just the same. And that happened many times. When Kelly Pickler referred to her false eyelashes as “spiders” and to the food she was fed as being completely foreign, it made us all laugh.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Dy1izRSSqA She too though tugged at my heart when we learned that her mother left her at age two and father was in a penitentiary. See, these were the stories that always grabbed my heart and kept it captive.
There were some awful judges that included that stint with Nicki Minaj’s
Insanity, stupidity, and inappropriateness. Ellen Degeneres was inept and embarrassing and Mariah Carey was just plain dumb and narcissistic. Paula Abdul often seemed drunk and always ditzy. The Steven Tyler years were kind of fun though sometimes painful to look at as an aging rocker who’d totally abused every inch of his body and mind. The three judges for the past couple years Lopez, Connick and Urban have been good, not overly exciting, not Simon Cowell, but good and pleasant to watch though Jennifer Lopez’s coy referral to “goosies” kind of grates on my nerves.
This is the last season ever for American Idol. I no longer have a VCR and currently do not even have cable tv. Fox keeps this show under tight wrap and I could not seem to watch the missed episodes in any easy way. Finally, through Hulu I was able to watch on my phone and let me tell you, I actually looked forward to the gym each morning as I caught up on all the episodes I’d missed this season. I have fallen in love with La Portia this time, partly cause she is a strong, angry survivor and single mother and partly because she refers to the women in the shelter for abused women on a regular basis. This speaks to my soul in every way and when asked to sing a song about needing a man, she did so resenting every single word. She is a powerful African American woman with huge hair, a cute baby and a determination to make it on her own which now looks very likely.
There are three episodes left and that will bring to an end 14 years of watching that I have thoroughly enjoyed. I will miss American Idol a great deal and while I may be one of a shrinking audience, I am still here, though I am watching alone. It will be sad to see it go. After all, I’m still grieving the loss of Howdy Doody, Mary Tyler Moore, Thirty-Something, and Knotts Landing. So while I may not be an avid tv watcher, when I do, I choose carefully and tend to fall in love. So ends my 14 year love affair and Ryan Seacrest, yes, “This is American Idol.”