nick ut/associated press


American Idol judge Simon Cowell.

AMERICAN EVIL: It’s a good thing that a healthy number of Idol viewers are in junior high or high school, because they’ll be familiar with the dynamic at work on last week’s controversial Seattle episode. A story in Friday’s New York Times reported that Idol had reached “a new low ... when (Idol judge Simon) Cowell likened one contestant to a jungle creature, evoking hysterical laughter from his fellow judges Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson. Mr. Cowell also poked fun at the physical appearance of a contestant who appeared to be mentally handicapped.”

The Times is referring to Kenneth Briggs and Jonathan Jayne, who met waiting in line to audition for the show in Seattle, and contributed to what is considered a highlight – or lowlight, depending on your perspective – of the season so far. It’s undeniable that the Seattle auditions were a painful experience for all involved, and if you were feeling generous, you might excuse Cowell’s mean-spirited treatment of two of the most dismal hopefuls as a cry for help from a man at the end of his moral and emotional tether.

You could also view it as enforcement of standards, from someone tasked with the job of gatekeeper in a closed society with its own rules and rituals – much like the position of bullies in high school. Like the hopeless nerds and misfits in high school, Briggs was obviously desperate for an upgrade in status and – blind to his own shortcomings – saw Idol as his way up.

In a high school environment, he’d suffer regular smackdowns from the unofficial gatekeepers – i.e. bullies, teachers, almost any girl – as part of a harrowing process that would eventually reveal whatever real talent he actually had. Over the horizon, college beckons, with its promises of a new start, a chance to acquire real qualifications, and even revenge. A decade or so after high school, someone like Mr. Briggs could be a millionaire entrepreneur, a politician, or a hopeless mediocrity.

Sadly, high school is probably over for Mr. Briggs, and he’ll probably always be known as “the Bush Baby guy from Idol” – a consequence of a decision he made, as an adult, with consequences to be assumed as an adult. Unfortunately, the Times reported that Jonathan Jayne seems to actually be mentally handicapped, as an “online biography from a private school in Seattle where Mr. Jayne graduated in 2004 notes that his hobbies include participating in the Special Olympics in several sports.”

Which makes Simon Cowell look like the sort of high school bully who never gets dates, because girls won’t go to the prom with a jerk who waits for the short bus to pull up so he can call the kids with branded lunchboxes “’tards.” Which puts the New York Times in the position of the principal, who calls bullies like Cowell into the office to tell them that their behaviour is unacceptable, and to insist that they apologize to Mr. Jayne. Which he’d do, while planning to plant a dog turd in Mr. Jayne’s lunchbox. In the real world, Cowell has to continue sitting on Idol judges’ dais – not punishment enough, at least for this writer, but punishment notwithstanding.

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