Topic: Sports & Entertainment

American Idol Ethics: Free Sanjaya!

Many of us have had the uncomfortable experience of having our hosts drag their mortified children in front of us under orders to sing a song, play an instrument, or recite a poem. Nearly everyone is embarrassed: the captive audience, the semi-talented kids, and often one of the parents, while the instigator stands beaming and tone-deaf. This is common cruelty, but for most children blessedly short-lived. Less fortunate are the offspring of clueless stage or sports-obsessed parents, who force their untalented children into auditions, competitions, athletic teams and shows until they become insufferable, neurotic, or homicidal. But none of this approaches the living hell being forced on American Idol finalist Sanjaya Malakar. He is playing the role of the desperately over-exposed and untalented child, with several million musically-ignorant Americans taking the part of the pushy and inconsiderate parents. And his humiliation is not taking place in front of a few bored dinner guests or a horrified community theater audience, but on national television.

This is abuse. Not since the days of the Roman gladiators has the process of voting been used for such an unethical purpose. Malakar auditioned for American Idol with his older sister, who mercifully was bad enough that she never made the cut to the next stage. He, however, displayed a puppyish naiveté to go with a passable Michael Jackson/Stevie Wonder-ish voice, and made it to the next level, where it became increasingly apparent that he was in way, way over his head. He has no range as a performer, negligible stage presence, zero originality, and not enough basic skills to get him the lead in the average college musical. But once the judges made the initial error of passing him on to the live portion of the contest, Sanjaya has managed to attract enough votes from teeny-boppers, the incipient deaf and fans of male hula-dancers to keep him around while far superior performers were sent packing. Though this strange set of events is in no way his fault, Sanjaya is now the object of vicious attacks in the media, on the web, and even among the judges, who have pretty much expressed their belief that he is the skunk at their picnic.

Sanjaya is wounded by this, as anyone who saw the reaction shot of the young man’s pained expression listening to Idol judge Randy Jackson declaring that his election to the show’s hallowed “Final Twelve” was a travesty. And he must know the criticism and anger directed his way will only get worse each time he slips past a superior performer…and are all superior to him to him now. The much maligned Antonella Barba, who was finally and mercifully terminated, has the panache of Bette Midler compared to Sanjaya. The horror of it all is that there is nothing Sanjaya can do to end his ordeal except to wait for voters to have pity on him. Singing badly, amateurishly and boringly got him where he is; even if he wanted to “take a dive,” how would he do it? Nor can he ethically quit: he entered the competition, and awful as his journey has become, he is now part of the American Idol soap opera. This was his bargain. The show gave him what he wanted…fame, exposure, a chance, a trip to Hollywood and perks…and he now has a duty not to abandon the show before his ordeal ends. Will he become the first contestant ever to provoke the infuriatingly mealy-mouthed Paula Abdul to actually render a critical kiss-off? Stay tuned! No, it would be wrong and cowardly for Sanyaya to quit. He is trapped.

How much of his plight is contributed to by the efforts of the mean-spirited vandals at is anybody’s guess. The Scoreboard made this den of juveniles its “Unethical Website of the Month” two years ago, and it is equally despicable now, organizing similar-minded spoil-sports to distort the voting for American Idol by voting for the “worst” performer rather than the best. It is quite possible that the site has no impact at all, though its operators take credit every time the final tallies favor an inferior talent. But the case of Sanjaya illustrates just how unethical the site is, for it seeks not only to foil the career advancement of deserving singers, but to subject the less talented singers to ridicule and derision. Sanjaya Malakar is no William Hung, the deluded non-singer whose awful audition earned him bookings across the country as sort of a performing freak. Malakar realizes that he is now looking foolish in front of millions, and the Votefortheworst crowd actually thinks that’s funny. Perhaps we should be grateful for the website; without it, these creeps might be torturing kittens.

American Idol is the entertainment business, and setting someone up to fail is one of the most irresponsible and unkind forms of management misconduct. The American public are the managers now, and their only ethical course is to stop voting for the nice young man with the luxurious hair before he is emotionally damaged beyond repair.

Free Sanjaya!

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