Wednesday, April 9, 2008

i would sway for jason castro

So one blessing in disguise of the horrible writer's strike and subsequent lack of new, scripted television has been my re-devotion to reality television. Now I hear the naysayers, reality television is soulless, soul destroying, blah blah blah. And well some of it is (cough any VH1 "love/dating" show featuring an aging pop/rap/who knows star cough). But some reality television is just plain old good and entertaining. I scoffed at the Real Housewives of Orange County, frankly turned my nose up at it. But I watched about five minutes of the Real Housewives of NYC and fell in love. These women are alternately crazy, pretentious, snobby, and ridiculous but they are for whatever reason also compelling. My favorites are Alex and her English(?) hubby and american born and raised sons named Francois and I think, Johan. I mean you could not script such pretentiousness. But none of these people seem particularly nasty or mean spirited or cruel, none of which are aspects that are engaging to me. They're just really fun to watch. And another show that former picky television Liz wouldn't give the time of day and now loves - Top Chef. I would not even entertain the idea of watching this show, despite many, many people telling me I should. I just couldn't see what could be fun about watching a competition about cooking. I thought it would make me first hungry, then angry because I would be hungry and unable to taste the food being made. And who wants to watch something that makes then hungry and angry? But I gave it a chance (again because at least for another week or so there's freaking nothing new on), and again realized I am a dumb ass who should never again form opinions about something without first checking it out. It's great, all of these crazy creative types running around screaming about shallots and reductions and truffle oil like they're wartime medics with lives on the line. Obviously cooking and fashion are very different things, but it reminds me of Project Runway just because these are obviously talented people who are on a reality show because of a separate career they already have pursued, not on a reality show to start a career. And again, their competitiveness makes for absolutely awesome television because you're suddenly on the edge of your seat, finding yourself caring deeply about how a beignet is going to turn out. And isn't that what any art is supposed to do (and yes, I count television as an art form, go ahead and laugh), make you care deeply about something that has absolutely nothing to do with you or your life?
So the other reality show that I've become addicted to (although to be fair I was addicted to this show's earlier seasons) is American Idol. I've kind of strayed away since the Fantasia season, but again without anything else to watch I've become an addict again. And the great thing about American Idol is that, despite its overwhelming corporate tie ins (Coke we get it, you give this show massive amounts of money, now can you please stop beating us over the head with it?) it's at its core a talent show. It's big and expensive and shiny, but strip all of the other stuff away and there are these kids who honestly believe that they might be fulfilling their dreams. And that's such a corny way of phrasing it, but the best part of American Idol is that it's an inherently corny premise. But I'm perfectly okay with corny when it's sincere and earnest. And you watch these performances, and see how desperately some of these people want this, and it's absolutely touching, in a way no show hosted by Ryan Seacrest and featuring Paula Abdul should be touching. I just think you have to be a really cynical person to not be at least in a small way affected by watching these kids compete for something that they honestly (and with good reason) believe will change their lives. And I really like all of the remaining contestants (except for you Kristy Lee Cook, I'm sorry, the second you picked "I'm Proud to be an American", the schmaltziest and most manipulative of patriotic songs, you were dead to me). But I think I've finally decided my favorite is Jason Castro. It happened last night when he sang "Somewhere Over the Rainbow", the ukulele, Hawaiian-ish version. And while he might not be this power house vocalist, I can actually see myself going to a Jason Castro concert. Because the way he sings, it reminds me of why I love live music. And there are a thousand reasons why I do. But the best reason I can articulate is that live music is this unique process where an artist is putting their whole selves out there, taking something deeply personal and private, and displaying it for public consumption. And it's true of all live music, but sometimes it gets hidden behind pyrotechnics and stage dancing and crazy lights. But every one and a while you go to a concert, usually at a tiny venue, and there's just some guy or gal alone on stage with a guitar and an imperfect, beautiful voice. And that's the purest form of live music there is. It's at these shows that I find myself tearing up for no reason at a random moment or verse, just because of the sheer improbability of it all, the way normal human restraint and politeness are thrown aside for a little while and people connect with each other in this perfect, impossible little way. And it's the same when I watch Jason Castro. There's a vulnerability and honesty in the way he sings. American Idol is by no means a small stage, and a lot of the singers this year are great and really use the stage as a big, coliseum like platform. But when Jason Castro sings, he could be in a coffee house or at the corner of a noisy dive bar. And it's not musical perfection or the loudest, biggest show you could see. But it gets to the essence of why I would go to any lengths to see live music. Because when it's good and when it's pure, live music is a gesture, a connection, a rare moment of human honesty between a room of complete strangers.

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