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Gwen Davis

Gwen Davis

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Dr. Strangeidol, or How I Learned to Stop Thinking and Love the Bomb

Posted: 05/14/11 02:34 PM ET

For many years I held in my heart the idea that I am a serious human being, concerned with higher issues, especially those involving my country. Thus it was that I avoided watching American Idol. But because I have a beloved friend who is hooked on it, I made the mistake this season of tuning in so I would have something to talk to her about besides how dispiriting everything is. When what to my wondering eyes should appear but as big a young talent as I have ever seen, in the clunky, funky form of a rocker named James Durbin, whose energy and palpable sweetness actually made it bearable to listen to Heavy Metal. In addition, his back story was so incredibly moving: born with Turrets syndrome and Asperger's disorder, a father who'd O.D.ed on heroin when he was a boy, I started to root with a ferocity I haven't felt since I was a teenager myself.

It was so clear that he was above and beyond anyone who was on the show, in addition to being such a loving, lively presence -- weeping when a friend was voted off, jumping with joy when he connected with the audience -- that I was convinced his victory would be not just for himself, but for all who suffer from autism, of which Asperger's is a form. I could visualize America being educated through a young artist to open its mind and understand a puzzling and off-putting malady, and see where this seemingly mindless show could become an educational tool. In addition to that, when he sang from a real place, and took on actual songs, it was as fine a young voice as I had heard.

I was wary, though, as the program showed his love for his girl and their young child, that the airheads who are the usual audience might not vote for him, as he was ineligible as a fantasy crush. Still, I was sure that the obvious brilliance of his performances, which 'slayed' Randy, and 'killed' Stephen, and made the often plastic Jennifer Lopez into a deeply feeling woman, would overcome the doltish attitudes of young Americans.

But as H.L. Mencken observed, 'nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.' James, as everybody knows by now, was voted off the show. Well, I, too, am voted off. In a land where some people actually take seriously a blowhard like Donald Trump (excuse me, Donald J., as he profitably licenses his imprimatur,) I suppose it should not come as a surprise when a magnificent talent is ignored by electronic roadies. But the gods weep, along with Jennifer, and me.

 
 
 

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