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Simon Cowell Ate My School

My beloved alma mater is an American Idol camp. Does anybody care but me?

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The deal is done. Applications are on the way. It’s too late to do anything now. Idol Camp, the flagship sleepaway brought to you by the creators of American Idol, will open this summer on the campus of my alma mater, my hippie wonderland in the Berkshires, my barefoot boarding school, Northfield Mount Hermon. We were the anti-Deerfield. The anti-Andover and anti-Choate (partly because a lot of our kids got kicked out of those schools). And now I’m looking at Idol Camp flags and banners digitally draped all over Northfield’s Victorian buildings, in a brochure enticing Idols-to-be (ages 12 to 15) with classes like “Industry Insight” and “Get the Look.” It’ll cost almost $300 a day.

How did this happen? “Think of it like a grand experiment,” the school’s PR rep told me. “Look at Jennifer Hudson. Wouldn’t it be great if she’d come here?” She explained that the school was losing money, and that market testing showed that after September 11, parents were uncomfortable with how the school had two campuses, one on each side of the Connecticut River (Northfield was once all-girls, Mount Herman once all-boys). So they closed Northfield down—my campus! Now just Mount Hermon is left. Northfield is up for sale; Idol Camp is renting it.

It’s hard to imagine the Idol brats having the same experience my friends did: bong hits after lunch, then forging through the miles of forest and building secret forts. Or summiting Roundtop, where we tossed our cigarette butts near the grave site of our Bible-thumping founder, D.L. Moody, whose sermons we snoozed through every Saturday. Was anything to be done? I decided to call the most famous former student I could think of, Uma Thurman. She left after her sophomore year. I asked for an interview. “She wouldn’t do this type of thing,” her flack e-mailed. I called my old basketball coach and history teacher, Jim Shea. “It’s embarrassing,” Shea said. “We shun the traditional values of prep school, like being a successful businessman, and then ... boom!” I called my old English teacher, Dennis Kennedy. He lives across from Gould Hall, my old dorm, now abandoned, a soon-to-be Idol barrack. But he was just happy an empty campus would have kids. “I look at the campus at night and see ghosts,” Kennedy said. “The windows are dark and you know it’s empty, but you look again and you see students. Yes, there are ghosts.” He didn’t have to tell me.

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