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© St. Petersburg Times, published June 16, 2002
I frequently have lunch with a young colleague in an atmosphere that fosters conversations about a wide variety of subjects.
"I'm almost ashamed to tell you," she said quietly Thursday, adding a little defiantly, "but I don't care if you make fun of me."
Making fun is part of the allowable lunch conversation, and, given our 35-year age gap, each of us finds plenty to make fun of in the other's life, including the fact that she has to insult me in a really loud voice so I can hear her.
So I waited with bated breath to see to exactly what guilty pleasure she was about to 'fess up.
"I was watching American Idol last night . . ." she began tentatively.
I looked somberly down at the remains of my burger as if shocked, "and I was sort of ashamed to see that . . . I . . . er . . ."
The time had arrived to let her off the hook. "I really liked the brassy 16-year-old who had such a great stage presence," I admitted.
"You!?" she gasped.
With all fairness, I could have placed the blame squarely on my wife and 21-year-old stepson who insisted on watching the show instead of a Cheers rerun that I had my eyes on.
With full intention of scoffing, I watched to get enough of an idea of what was going on so I could scoff wittily.
And then I heard things like, "She can't possibly believe she has a chance," coming out of my mouth.
Fox television, with its so-far near perfect assessment of the ability of Americans to stare hungrily at a train wreck, apparently has another hit on the continuing industrywide list of success stories of reality television which, for some reason, fascinates us while sparing networks costs of such things as scriptwriters, makeup, set designers and expensive talent.
I used to confine all my remarks on reality TV to criticism, until I got hooked on the gateway drug, Survivor.
Next thing I knew I was experimenting with The Osbournes, and I guess I was just too vulnerable to resist American Idol.
Like any other junkie, however, I still take some pride in having set and observed limits. I still don't watch Real World or Road Rules, the crack cocaine of the reality television pharmacopoeia.
There are depths to which even I won't sink.
For those of you not yet hooked, American Idol is about taking a whole slew of young entertainment hopefuls (quite a few of them more in the hopeless category) and, through a series of auditions by three professional judges and, now, the public, whittling them down to a single person designated to be the next great American idol.
There is no category for newspaper columnists, and the age limit is somewhere around 24, so I feel I can write objectively about the show and the genre from which it springs. My one brief foray into recording resulted in a great color photograph of me in the studio on which folk singer Mary Ann DiNella, an old friend who was on the same project, inscribed, "Don't give up your day job."
It is obvious that the show is rigged to be deliberately cruel in some parts, but then again, so is the music business.
The hopefuls appear in front of the judges -- entertainer Paula Abdul, acid-tongued British record executive Simon Cowell and music industry veteran Randy Jackson -- and are submitted to open criticism of their performances, the most brutal of them by Cowell, who suggested one contestant find a lawyer and sue her voice teacher.
There is sobbing and screeching and general hysteria, all of which -- don't ask me why -- becomes entrancing after awhile.
My young colleague and I both decided not to share it with our other office mates, but I couldn't resist, on a whim, asking one if he had seen the show.
He surprised us both by agreeing that Justin Guarioni of Doylestown, Pa., has a probable lock on winning the overall competition.
Remember, you heard it here first.
Just, please, don't tell anybody.