Nov 272009

Although it’s Saturday, not Friday, the recent passing of Philadelphia singing and tv legend Al Alberts necessitates revisiting the following topic.

This post initially appeared 3/25/07.

True confession time: I envy the contestants on American Idol. For that reason alone I cannot stand to watch the show. That doesn’t mean I don’t secretly respect the show and all the good it puts forth.

Few of you know this, but I was a child talent show contestant.

Performing under the stage name James Meara III, I appeared on the legendary Philadelphia talent show Al Alberts Showcase. That was me, all right, Contestant #22. That day, on the air, I told Mr. Alberts I wanted to be a doctor, but that’s what my parents wanted to hear. In fact, there was nothing more I wanted to be than an entertainer: a singer, a dancer, a drummer, the works.

Mr. Alberts was so encouraging. He told me after the show that he thought I “had it.” Within weeks of that performance, however, I was kicked off the set of another children’s show, Romper Room. I can remember it like it was yesterday: I was sitting behind the set with a few other kids during a commercial break. One of the boys took my red, plastic stegasaurus and wouldn’t give it back to me as soon as I asked for it. In response, I did what I often did when confronted with such situations: I turned over the table, threw my chair at the boy, and then hit him with a left hook. When Romper Room came back from the commercial break, I was mysteriously missing from the cast, having been quickly escorted with my mother out of the studio.

Suffice to say I would not be making a return appearance on Romper Room. More damaging to my budding career as an entertainer, however, Mr. Alberts would never call again. I tried to enter some neighborhood talent shows – church basement fundraisers and carnivals – but word was out on the street. I was difficult, high risk, a head case.

So, as I sit high and mighty, proclaiming that continued seasons of American Idol and all those damn “reality shows” will eventually drive me to leave the country, don’t think I don’t harbor the dashed dreams of performing my version of “Send in the Clowns” for that neckless Brit-twit producer of Teletubbies, a former Lakers’ dancer and MC Scat Kat collaborator, and the only black man in America to willingly play bass for Journey. I’ve tried to walk away from it all, but I’m sure you all know what it’s like to have that one dream that won’t die.

By the way, at the risk of embarrassing my oldest friend, but my musical partner in crime, Townsman Andyr, was also a veteran of children’s television shows and talent shows. Here’s a clip of him performing on Romper Room.

Let us end with Rock Town Hall’s Official Eulogy…


  18 Responses to “In Defense of American Idol, Too”

  1. BigSteve

    Jim, I didn’t see your performance, but you deserved higher than 4th place for the perfect Brian Jones as a non-blonde haircut alone.

    And thanks for the Clowns clip. Van always looks uncomfortable when he sings, but it’s funny to watch him snap his fingers trying to get some kind of rhythm going. I assume the trumpet player who looks like a skeleton is Chet Baker…? I think Van changing the last line is some kind of wry comment on this weird gig he’s gotten himself into.

  2. Mr. Moderator

    That was Chet Baker.

  3. Jim – Did you ever get a chance to be a “Teenybopper” and ask ‘Uncle’ Al a riddle?

  4. Mr. Moderator

    I vaguely remember asking him a riddle, but I can’t for the life of me remember what it was. I think they fed me something – the producer didn’t let me use my own material.

  5. saturnismine

    dude, you were that little in ’84? wow!!! you were a little teenager, then. ringer! how come you only finished 4th?

  6. sammymaudlin

    Mr. Moderator talked me into saying something here. I was a development exec at FOX and worked across the hall from the polite and cordial gentleman who developed American Idol. I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt, that if there is evil on this planet (and I don’t believe there is) then evil is behind this show. There isn’t a positive vibe within miles of this program or any FOX program (with a few exceptions.)

    It is, in fact, one of the most egregious examples of human exploitation that exists on television. They should seriously be ashamed of themselves and those who view it are only serving to quicken the inevitable de-evolution.

    I only wish I were joking.

  7. Mr. Moderator

    Thank you, Sammy, for stepping forth with this brave post! I understand you, too, know a bit about childhood entertainment aspirations. And sessions.

  8. hrrundivbakshi

    Samulah, I appreciate your brave post, and understand why it’s likely impossible to share any detail. But I must tell you, I’m downright desperate for a specific rebuttal of my assertion that The Kidz on that show are blameless — that we can at least enjoy their best efforts without guilt. Can you confirm or deny this, my core pro-AI argument?

    Yours sincerely,

    Terrified Of Disillusionment

  9. sammymaudlin

    Early testing on this show proved that although the audience wouldn’t verbally, perhaps even consciously, admit it, the core attraction to the show was Simon’s cruelty. The producer’s build each contestant up behind the scenes to believe that they are clearly going to be the winner so that when Simon cuts them down we get “great TV”.

    So yes The Kidz are innocent like lambs to a slaughter. Although I wonder who would put themselves thru something like this? There is some sort of ugly desperation here that far outweighs aspiration.

    As I heard it explained once- “Everyone likes to see someone else’s dream crash and burn. It makes them feel better about their own failed dreams.” This from a man who sincerely uses the term “flyover country”

    So I’m afraid I can’t speak to your core argument as I can’t get past the immense cynicism, exploitation and cruelty that this program represents.

  10. I am very proud of you, Mr Mod. I know how hard it has been for you all these years since your 4th place finish. I think RTH is a caring enough forum where you can share your feelings as to what you were not willing to do to get higher than 4th.

    You may have only gotten 4th place, but you left with your dignity – James Meara III

  11. I am very proud of you, Mr Mod. I know how hard it has been for you all these years since your 4th place finish.

    Well, clearly it has aged him very quickly …

  12. I will admit to watching the first season of Idol. I will even admit that the reason I was initially drawn to it WAS Simon’s cruelty. Their early promos for the show was geared to showcase his put downs more than it being an actual talent show. “Watch the Brit put down the terrible singers…It’s comedy gold on Fox!” I knew Fox was playing me and I knew it was ridiculous. I knew that the contestants were extreme (either really bad or great). The fact that I knew I was being manipulated possibly helped justify me watching what I knew to be “bad TV.” Then I developed a crush on Kelly Clarkson and became invested in the show from week to week.

    I did the same thing with the first season of Survivor. Before the “mania.”

    The second seasons (and subsequent ones), I just didn’t bother. I haven’t cared since.


  13. jeangray

    There are various different aspects of AI that appeal to me, but I don’ really get off on Simon’s preceived cruelty to the contestants. I guess I see it as more of a “tough love” kind of thing.

    Being a singer myself, one of my main thrills from watching the show, is fantasizing in my own ego deluded way, about how much better I would be at performing any given song than most of the contestants are. Ohh, why wasn’t this show on when I was in my 20’s and could have auditioned???

    So, yah maybe the cruelty thing isn’t that far off. Why do I continue to watch a show where I think that the majority of the contestants aren’t all that great????

  14. hrrundivbakshi

    For me, AI is great teevee during the middle of the story arc — from “Hollywood Week” until, say, the final four are selected. Before that, and it’s just exploitive freak show mean-ness; after that, it’s almost always down to the contestants I thought sucked the most. Adam lambert was an exception — I could never decide if he was the absolute best, or absolute worst, that the show ever produced.

    I actually do watch it to root, root, root for the singers I think deserve to win. It allows me to be a pretend mega-producer, anointing the chosen ones, then swelling with pride as they make it through each week — or hurling my shoe at the teevee when America votes them out.

  15. jeangray

    Yes, I gots to give it up for Adam Lambert. He is without doubt the best thing that AI has produced so far. If you are into that whole Jeff Buckley/Freddie Mercury mash-up thang that he does, that is.

    Several reviews that I’ve read so far echo that sentiment. It will be interesting to see if he moves any units. I’m having a hard time imagining how AI is going to top him (gay pun unintended).

  16. I’m not going to be impressed until one of you posts footage of yourself on “Dancin’ On Air.”

    My parents were on Al Alberts a few times, I’m not kidding. They are (were) into “International Folk Dancing,” which, I guess, was a college campus fad in the early 60’s. (That’s how they met, in fact.) They and their friends danced on the show a few times, even though they thought the show was dumb.

    But allow me to post this link again. Take some time and read this site, this is the site of a man who has been deluded for many years – and is apparently the official “historian” for Al Alberts:

  17. I suppose the funniest aspect of AI is the fact that Fox has made a multi-billion dollar industry from what is basically a karoake contest.


  18. […] your equipment, one’s maturity is also taking a hit. This is a rock and roll stage not Romper Room. The video below featuring the long and forgotten brothers Tom and David Farmer (yes Farmer) of the […]

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