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Sometimes it's a cabaret, old chum, and that's fine, too

Image of Syesha Mercado from TV Guide online.

My husband and I are invariably behind on watching American Idol. First, our time is pretty tight, and we prefer to watch together. Second, and maybe more importantly, our heart's just not in it that much, any more. The singers we began really excited about---the ones we thought would be really good and who somehow captured our interest---never really delivered the goods and were slowly picked off, one by one, leaving two singers we don't really like, and one who we think is very talented, but a really iffy proposition in this showcase.

Nevertheless, we watched the show last night, only one day late (we don't know the results, so please, no spoilers).

When Syesha Mercado came on to do her second number---the song she picked for herself---a few things finally clicked in my mind.

"What is that?" my husband asked, after her interview, "That super Southern voice, and all that arm waving and clicking? Who is this girl?"

"Well she is from the South," I said.

"I've never heard the deep South in her voice before," he said.

"She's in character, that's what she does---characters. She's an actress, remember. I think she's not very comfortable being herself up on the stage. I don't think Syesha is who she wants to portray for people while on the stage. So tonight she's got a slightly sassy Southern Belle persona."

"Ah ha," he said.

"Well, I mean, I'm not saying she isn't any of those things, necessarily, or that she's faking, I just mean she's, you know, playing up one aspect, like a caricature, a little," I said, feeling very annoyed I couldn't find a way to say what I wanted to, or couldn't say it without sounding judgmental, which gave me pause as to the worthiness of the words in the first place. In truth, I felt more than a little hypocritical, too.

My husband wisely kept quiet.

"I don't really dislike her or her singing," I said.

"Really? I thought you didn't like her. You've been rooting for her to get the boot since the beginning," my husband said.

"I know, but that was unfair of me. She's got talent, just not per se the talent this show wants. So I keep looking for that in her and it's not there. She's not a pop singer. She's too much of a mimic for that."

"What is she then?"

"You know...a Broadway performer."

"Yeah, that Broadway week really clicked it all in for her."

"But then she stayed in Broadway mode and they hate that."

My words proved true. The judges were lukewarm on what was otherwise a really enjoyable performance.

"We don't know who you are," Paula said, "We need more Syesha."

"It was good," Simon said, dismissively, "But just good cabaret."

That's when it clicked for me. I clicked pause on the Tivo.

"I hate that," I said.

"What?" he asked.

"Okay first, that's what she is and why Syesha has managed to stay in the show. She's a performer, a presentational singer. She's all about the performance. She just asks that you enjoy the show. She's giving you the performance, and just wants accolades in return. There's no deeper exchange. A lot of people like that; they just want to be entertained, not have to work or do anything deeper than that. Just enjoy. I mean who doesn't want that sometimes? We all do. So...Syesha is still in because she entertains."

"What other kind of singer is there?" my husband asked.

"Representational. Emotional exchange. That singer loves the music, the lyrics, the emotion, wants you to have the same experience. It's a deeper exchange. It's about the emotion; the singer is trying to give you a sort of mind and heart trip. Sometimes it's more work, but it's also catharsis, and who doesn't want that sometimes? We all do. That's why David Cook is still in."

"He's talented," he said.

"I agree, but it doesn't mean he's better, just a different kind of singer, and all right, maybe better for this venue, this show. That's the part that bothers me, actually."

"Which part?"

"The cabaret comment. Simon called Syesha a cabaret singer, and he said it scathingly as if there's something wrong with being a cabaret singer. I like cabaret singers. I like singers in musicals, too. It might be a performance, but I bet she'd do great getting the audience to relate to her character, feel the story, enjoy it. That's the point there. And nothing wrong with being a cabaret singer. I wish Simon would quit say "singing on a cruise ship," "wedding singer," and "cabaret singer" as if they were insults. That's what some people are, and that's fine."

"I agree, excepting some cruise ship singers and wedding singers. Some are really, really bad," he said.

"I know, but the good ones can be great at what they do. And we all like and want those types of singers---the good ones," I said, anticipating his caveat, "Why do we have to hold up 'modern pop singer' as the standard for excellence and achievement? It's got a lot of superstars who earn big bucks and fame, but why is that the only point worth appreciation and respect? Not many people get there. The others, even the cabaret singers, are worthy, too, valuable too."

My husband agreed, and we both sat quietly for a minute. Then I turned the show back on, and we watched to the end.

"What do you think?" my husband asked.

"I don't know, not sure I care," I said, sort of weary of the competition, overall. The three remaining singers are so different it's not even apples to oranges; it's potatoes to oranges to blancmange (and fans know which one I mean with this one).

"It's just down to arbitrary now," he agreed.

Even our fanhood of David Cook has cooled. We tried to figure out why; maybe it's us. Maybe we're just tired of seeing too much around us that's a competition to the last man standing. Maybe we're just tired of it seeming like, no matter what they go on to do, those cut are done. Maybe we're tired of thinking that those cut aren't good enough or aren't the best, and only the best are worthy. Maybe right now we're both in competitions, professionally, and---having lived through tight times like the current ones---we both know all too well the struggle to stay in the competition, and what it means to get cut. Maybe it's just not fun, anymore, to watch this type of thing.

"I'm just tired," I said, as an excuse, "But I'm also tired of such a narrow definition of what's valuable coming at me from every media source. I think it's like when you say the same thing over and over and it becomes meaningless, but ingrained."


Sometimes it's a cabaret, where you find your spot, and that's the kind of singer you are.

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
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Devra said…
I agree with you. Somehow it's fine to be a "rocker" or a "crooner" but not a "cabareter"? (I made up my own word. So what. Simon can suck it.) I'd love to hear Liza and Joel's opinion. Life is a cabaret, isn't it?
Rob said…
I do like that, through the course of this season, Syesha has had the opportunity to really define the direction she can be most successful with. She definitely belongs on Broadway. I was disappointed that she held back on "Fever." She could've really cut loose on the chorus and never did.

In spite of the fact that AI is supposed to be a show about singing, performance does matter. David Archuleta is a prime example of how having almost no stage presence can affect the overall value of the song. I can't for the life of me, understand why they gush all over that kid. He really doesn't have that much vocal range and the scope of his abilities is kinda limited too. He really is suited to being one part of a 4 or 5 member boy band.

I wish that Michael Johns & Carly Smithson could've stayed longer. They were both underrated.

I'm hopeful that David Cook will wrap this thing up next week, but I suspect that all of the puppy-lovestruck prepubescent girls will speed-dial Archuleta into the winning position. Once he wins, maybe he'll be able to afford some Claritan or some other allergy symptom med - he always looks like he's in the midst of a nasty bout of hay fever...
Christine said…
i love musicals. and cabaret.

and you, jul.
thailandchani said…
I have also grown rather weary of TV shows that emphasize competition - always a winner and a loser.

AS for AI, I like hearing the singing.. but that's really it.
Florinda said…
One of the frustrating things about AI is the way the judges want the contestants to take risks, on the one hand, but on the other, want them to stay "true to who they are" - as their niche in the competition has been defined, that is.

I agree that Syesha did finally seem to get to a place where she was using her strengths, but they're not strengths that AI values. (Although considering how many AI alums have gone on to Broadway, maybe they should...).

I haven't found anyone over the age of 13 (and that includes my 13-year-old) who gets the appeal of David Archuleta. Good voice, but just BORING. Rob is right on about his lack of stage presence.

I wasn't a David Cook fan right away, but I am now - but I'm really not sure it will be the best thing for his career if he actually wins this next week. All the same, everyone in my house will be voting for him next Tuesday night :-).
flutter said…
I think the problem is that she never lets you see her.

When someone is a musician I like to see "them" if that makes sense
Anonymous said…
I love musicals. I love people who can become a character and sing him/her to life. That's not a gift to be so lightly dismissed.
Aliki2006 said…
Blogger ate my earlier comment. Grrrr...

What I TRIED to say earlier was that Scott and I used to watch AI pretty diligently, but we just have no interest. Everyone is just blah, and those who weren't were voted off.
Emily said…
Wow. Those are some pretty deep thoughts for a talent show!

I can't stomach AI anymore. I haven't watched in a couple of seasons.

I'm going to post that last sentence on my fridge. It's a good moto for those rainy days.
Robert said…
I think you've made a very valid point: we shouldn't look to ANY media to help us determine what we value. If you like something, like it. If you don't, then don't. It doesn't matter what Simon, Paula, or even Wolf Blitzer want you to like. You should like what you want to like. Media outlets primarily copy whatever worked last year or the year before in the hopes that the former success can act like a photocopy - not exactly the same, but close enough to satisfy for most people. A good example: American Idol season 39.
Robert said…
I think that we think that because the media is, the media actually knows what it's talking about. They have their own agenda and that agenda is about making money for themselves. It's not usually about trying to help society. So Syesha's a cabaret singer. GREAT for her. She needs to be greatful for that and use that ability to help herself shine.

I'm sorry that I missed the hump day about fairness, but I haven't gotten to the computer much in the last little while. I posted today about fairness, and if you have time, please comment.
Robert said…
Sorry Julie, that last comment was from Ellie. Look at her blog. This one's ellie too, but I'm still logged in as Robert for some reason
Liv said…
i can truly say that not watching tv is bettering my life.

"But I'm also tired of such a narrow definition of what's valuable coming at me from every media source."

Truer words were never spoken.

We just recently got cable (12 channels) after going broadcast tv-less for years. I love me some tv, but yes, having "this is worth watching, this information is worth knowing" being implied by every program that can garner commercials and ergo cash, is tiring. It's so limiting.

There is so much more out there. So many more facets to "worth".
Gwen said…
Oh, good, more David Cook for me, me, me! And I hope to god that he doesn't win, for his own sake.

Wait, was that your point? >grin<
There's a place for everyone with talent in the competition. Maybe there's just not a place in it for everyone to win it. I often think that the winners end up the losers, pigeonholed as American Idol winners only...those who lose seem to have more creative control over what they put out. Either way, they're getting the exposure they wouldn't otherwise get and I can only hope that it doesn't HURT when Simon is so glib.
Karen Jensen said…
I wasn't a Syesha fan until Broadway week. I rather like a caberet.

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