My name is Emma, and I’m an American Idol fan. I’m not ashamed to admit it. On occasion, I even vote—literally call in or text—for the contestant I want to win. I don’t do this ironically, but in a completely earnest, jumping-up-and-down-on-my-couch-after-an-amazing-performance kind of way. And I am apparently the only person in all of New York City who does.
Or at least the only person who will admit to it. I’m not really the only person watching—American Idol is not only the No. 1–rated show in America, but Nielsen numbers reveal it to be the No. 1 show in the New York area as well. A recent episode of Idol captured a 27 percent share of the local market (that’s the percentage of households who have their TVs on and are watching the show), which translates into at least 1.35 million New Yorkers.
Yet you wouldn’t know it from talking to people—trust me, I’ve tried. The Sopranos? Definitely. 24? For sure. Everyone’s happy to jabber on about those TV obsessions. But where are my American Idol cronies, those with whom I can dish with about Melinda’s incredible voice control, or LaKisha’s mind-boggling cleavage, or Phil’s frightening eyebrows? Not at the parties I attend, nor the bars at which I drink. How many times have I filled a conversational pause with “Hey, catch Idol last night?” only to be met by a withering, what-red-state-are-you-from stare? What, is everyone watching Charlie Rose or Planet Earth?
Of course, it’s not surprising that a cheesy televised singing competition is a hard sell in New York. This is a show on which a parade of southern and midwestern and Californian contestants belt out pop ballads and country standards while wearing obviously outdated fashions and rotely dedicating their performances to “the troops.” This is a show that recently made an international star out of Sanjaya, a scrawny kid with a bad voice and weird hair. This is a show on which there are large plasma screens behind the singers that change colors according to song choice; for example, “Latino Night” featured flashing picante red. So it’s no surprise that American Idol isn’t a show that a sophisticated, culturally plugged-in New Yorker would own up to stashing on her TiVo. (Well, except for lap-steel guitarist Megan Hickey—to read more click here)
But it’s time for all those local American Idol watchers—all 1.35 million of them—to come out from behind the couch. New York is a city that’s comfortable with promotion, showmanship, and self-confidence to the point of self-delusion—all trademarks of Idol’s best contestants. These singers, regardless of natural talent, wholeheartedly believe that if they work hard enough, they can achieve fame and fortune, or at least temporary notoriety. Isn’t that the collective New York dream? And—believe it or not—some of them can actually sing.
Recently, I brought a new boyfriend up to my apartment, forgetting I’d left out a half-finished Empire State Building Erector set on the floor. When he spotted it, I explained, embarrassed, that I work on it while watching American Idol.
“You actually watch American Idol?” he said.
“Yes, and I’m not above voting if I love a contestant,” I said.
Boyfriend: “You vote for American Idol?!”
Me: “But I also have an Empire State Building Erector set—isn’t that more embarrassing?”
And yet, after much wrangling, I managed to persuade my boyfriend to watch an episode. Just one, he warned. After silently, sullenly sitting through the hour, he turned to me. “Vote for the one with the eyebrows,” he said. Then he added, like a typical New Yorker: “Don’t tell anyone I said that.”