I'm gonna climb out on a limb here and posit that I'm the only member of Team Barrelhouse who's watched every single episode so far of Nashville Star, the American Idol of country music, which is as bad as the rest of you might expect, yet it's interestingly bad, rather than just boring-bad, like most of what's on TV, especially over the summer.
For one thing, there's so much middle-America pandering on Nashville Star that the show seems to almost be about the pandering, or as if the show is knowingly pushing the pander-meter so high as to move beyond annoying and into surreal -- kind of like the price of a Coke at the movies, which I for one tend to pay precisely because it's so ridiculous as to be laughable. If a Coke at the movies cost $2.00, I'd tell Regal Cinemas to go fuck themselves, but when it's $4.50, it's so absurd as to be beyond complaint.
So, the pandering: such as when the producers take a break from the regular come-to-a-particular-city-and-sing style of auditioning to actually land aboard a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier in search of a member of the U.S. military to compete on the show, which then allows the producers to trot out a uniformed man on stage each week -- and of course there's no reason for him to wear the uniform on stage except as yet another opportunity for pandering -- which then allows the judges to all praise his service, and, in the larger sense, the service of "all our brave men and women in uniform," and the people in the audience can wave tiny American flags and the people at home may not themselves be facing combat in Iraq, and maybe their sons and daughters aren't facing combat in Iraq either, but at least they called in to vote for the goshdamned sailor who is facing combat in Iraq, or at least near Iraq, or, well, at least he was, until the Navy for some reason gave him a leave of absence to compete on a reality singing show.
Or: one of the leading contestants can sing a song about a woman whose car's about to veer off the road, until she lets go off the wheel and implores Jesus to steer the car, and then the judges can make comments about how "brave" it is to sing that particular song, and how maybe it'll offend certain people -- the implication of course being certain people like queers and Atheists and those Obama lovers of New York City -- but goshdamnit a lot of people in this fine, fine country of ours just unapologetically love them some freakin' Lord.
Or: one of the leading contestants can sing "God Bless America," which leads to yet another round of certain-people-won't-like-this-but-goshdamnit-this-is-America talk from the judges, and everyone waves their tiny flags some more and of course no one's gonna vote her off because she's a big fat mother of small children who loves her husband and loves her own plus-sized body and, goshdamnit, she loves this beautiful land of ours even if loving this beautiful land of ours isn't popular or "cool" except of course on this show it's totally popular and totally "cool" and all of it's so calculated as to be sort of amazing.
Also: there is exactly one black contestant, who dances around the stage with a big shit-eatin' grin on his face in a way that some would say suggests a certain kind of cartoonish racist caricature, and as if that weren't enough his name is Coffey, which is pronounced cof-FAY, and how the hell can you be a black man dancing like an imbecile for an all-white audience and as your adopted stage name call yourself FUCKING COFFEE?
The other interestingly bad thing about the show is that the three judges all know, even if they won't ever quite articulate it, that country music -- good country music, real country music -- is all about authenticity, and longing, and pain, and actual felt emotion, none of which can be manufactured, or prepackaged, which is why the very idea of a reality competition to crown the Best Country Singer In All The Land is absurd from the word go, way more absurd than American Idol, since becoming a pop sensation is pretty much all about manufacturedness, and prepackagedness, and pandering, whereas being a country music singer -- a good country music singer, a real country music singer -- is all about being able to sing about trains, and women, and heartsickness, and dying dogs, and being able to mean every last word of it.
George Jones would not do well on Nashville Star.
All of this longing-for-authenticity mostly remains unspoken, expressed only in weird, oblique ways, like when the judges keep saying they don't quite "buy" Coffey as a country singer, and what they surely mean is that they don't buy -- as no one viewing at home could possibly buy -- Coffey's manufactured accent, or his "sure I live in L.A. but I'm really from the country" shtick, or his performance during Original Song Week, in which he fake-twanged about how he loves dirt and trucks and picnics, especially picnics which take place in the dirt next to a truck, or his cloyingly lame performance the next week of "Sweet Home Alabama," in which he -- no kidding -- sang all that stuff about Governor Wallace without even a hint of irony, which is itself pretty amazing, isn't it?, a black man whose stage-name is COFFEE dancing around like Mr. Fucking Bojangles and singing "in Birmingham they love the governor" and "a southern man don't need [Neil Young] around anyhow."
Somewhere, deep down, Coffey has to feel like an asshole, right?
All this authenticity business is doubly interesting since one of the judges is Jewell, who, if you didn't know, is apparently now a country singer. She even talks with a country accent, for some reason, even though she's from Alaska and somehow managed thirty-some years of her life without any discernible accent until, of course, she couldn't sell records on mainstream radio anymore and decided to cut a "country" album.
One of the previous year's judges, incidentally, was a pre-Rock of Love Bret Michaels, though at least he's from West Virginia.
The second judge, John Rich, seems like a pretty decent guy, surprisingly, and a pretty honest critic, surprisingly, a guy who more than the other two judges is willing to say things like "When NBC told us we had to do a 'pop goes country' week I thought it sounded pretty damn stupid," though then the show features all three judges singing corny medleys of their own music and you remember that he's that guy who sang "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy," which manages to be offensive in about four thousand different ways at once.
The third judge is some dude named Jeffrey Steele, who I know almost nothing about except that he has tattoos on his fingers and seems like he might be a fun guy to have a few beers and eight packs of cigarettes with.
Meanwhile, I'm rooting for the one girl who has about zero chance of actually winning, this girl from a tiny town in Iowa, who left her boyfriend to come to Nashville and bartend while trying to make it as a musician and songwriter, who the judges keep admonishing for being "uneven," as well as for her tendency to cry about nearly everything, though frankly she's the one contestant who can sing about drinking and cussing and missing her boyfriend and all of it seems genuine, and legitimate. Plus, in one of the early weeks, she sang a George Jones song, which to my mind should have just clinched up the whole thing, yet more than likely the fat Jesus-and-country-lovin' lady will probably win, or this nice but bland dude from Texas, who sings well enough but sounds like just about any early-90s radio-friendly country star (i.e., George Strait, Toby Keith, et al).
But if nothing else, at least Coffey finally got voted off.