Sweet, cute "American Idol" contestant Kellie Pickler had the opportunity of a lifetime a few weeks ago: getting a singing lesson with Rod Stewart. She would be crooning "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" as part of the schlocky "Great American Songbook" night, and Rod was giving her a few pointers. Most helpful, perhaps, was when he gently yet playfully clarified for her that "words" and "lyrics" mean the same thing. She didn't know this, you see.
"My bad!" she trilled, looking down at the music and smiling.
I smiled too. Friendly, unflappable Kellie. Then, I heard Ryan Seacrest's and the audience's patronizing laughter. Sweet, simple Kellie. I got off the couch in anger -- of all the things that get me off the couch, anger is typically not one of them. I realized that it was time for Kellie to go. My skin crawled when I realized that the show encouraged her ditzy blonde behavior, and that she indulged her audience. I didn't know who was at fault for this but I didn't care. I was officially anti-Kellie, not for her lack of singing talent but for her lack of smarts.
For some reason, I could take the dumb blonde act with Jessica Simpson. Maybe it was because she seemed so innocuous. Who cared enough about her to really try to emulate her?
Meanwhile, Paris Hilton's ditziness seemed so calculated and so aggressive that it seemed pointless to use one's energies to decry it.
But something about Kellie Pickler struck a nerve with me. While "American Idol" is not a show known for showcasing smarts, cleverness, or even true talent, it positions itself as a family show. The contestants are squeaky clean and vanish from the face of showbiz earth if the slightest bit of scandal rises around them. They're all being primed to be the -- your -- Amerian Idol. Kellie wasn't just too weak a singer to be the next Idol -- she was too weak-minded as well.
Now, typically, whenever a young woman rises to fame and is somewhat noted for her dimwittedness, those self-anointed people in the know say, "Well, of course, she's actually very smart, probably smarter than most people." ) This may be true but I always had a feeling that that particular breed of smartness dealt with analyzing what she wants, what people want of her, and how to make moves that suited her career. Which is great for women in showbusiness, but not for the average girl -- the average girl who watches "American Idol."
So sweet little Kellie, who is the perfect amount of "pretty but not so pretty she's inaccessible," might not be dumb after all. But she did a good enough job convincing me.
I'm reluctant to recall some of her dumber highlights for fear that they become popular as catchphrases the way some of Jessica Simpson's (or George Bush's) did. However, for those of you who didn't watch the show, some highlights include ignorance of the definition of the word "minx" ("Ah'm a mink?") and the mispronunciation of the words "salmon" and "calamari" on cue from Ryan Seacrest, like she was a cute, trained, fluffy silly dog.
Thus, it's really not all Kellie's fault that we know her for being ditzy. Why did "American Idol" choose to highlight her simpler assets? In the beginning of the show, when we first met her, she was bubbly, charming, overly honest. She was already completely likeable before Seacrest had to mention Kellie's lack of smarts in mini-conversations before each performance. Then, it became part of her so-called personality. Everybody on the show has a so-called personality. We know that Chris is a 'serious rocker,' that Paris has spunk and sings like a weary woman, and that Taylor...well Taylor is something, I'm just not sure what. "American Idol" didn't need to highlight Kellie's simplicity as an attribute.
I don't remember "dumb" being a trend until now. I grew up with the Eighties Power Woman and the Nineties Waif (or Janeane Garofalo, depending on who I was hanging out with.) But now, I'm watching an awful lot of women washing cars in high heels. Brains never was a prerequisite for being a celebrity, but it seems like we've reached a new level of cute girls being rewarded for being dense.
We can buy that Jessica Simpson or Paris Hilton or Britney Spears are at least performers playing dumb blondes. However, this is "American Idol." Yes, I know so many things on that show are fake, but after all these seasons I still like to think that the people are real, or at least more real than most people you see on T.V. That means that people called in to support Kellie because they really like her--a happy, chirpy Southern blonde who is too busy singin' to get much smarts. I may be wrong but it seemed the show packaged Kellie's dumbness as part of her likeability factor, a reason why people did call in for her.
Maybe I wouldn't care so much Kellie were "The Bachelor" or "Survivor," but we all know exactly how popular "American Idol" is with the younger kids. They're the ones the show is marketed to, who call for the contestants. They're the ones to whom Kellie Pickler is being sold to and who she will be sold to in the endless publicity loop following "Idol" as she takes her place on celebrity's b-roll. Chicken of the Sea became a touchstone for Jessica Simpson, and I fear that cahl-uh-mah-ree will be for Kellie.
I really do like Kellie. And I don't think that everybody on T.V. needs to be a bastion of intelligence, that you need to have a college degree to be on television (although it sure didn't hurt Conan O'Brien.) None of the other contestants on "Idol" seem like Nobel Prize winners themselves. But any relative lack of intelligence isn't being promoted as one of their charming assets.
Sorry, Kellie. I do hope you have success in life, but I can't help being glad it will be somewhere other than "Idol." I'm sure Paris Hilton can give you the name of good representation, although you might want to think twice about signing on. I know you can do it.