The Changing Face of the Reality Singing Competition.

american idol judging panel jlo steven tyler randy jackson

There was a time, ten or so years ago, when American, and then Australian Idol, hit our screens and was judged by washed-up middle-aged music industry big wigs, like Simon Cowell, Mark Holden, Ian “Dicko” Dickson and the token female on the panel, Marcia Hines and Paula Abdul. These judges were mostly respected, if unfamiliar to Idol’s target demographic. Apart from Abdul’s “Opposites Attract”, I wouldn’t have known any of them from a bar of soap.

Not only was this before Britney, J.Lo, Mariah et al. demanded millions to sit in the judging chair, but it was also prior to the influx of talent shows; reality shows in general, really. Now we have a myriad of Got Talent’s, The Voice, The X-Factor and the truckload of former and current stars it brings with it.

x factor australia judges

For every Britney and Christina, whose careers have been languishing in the pop wasteland for the last few years and could be helped by a judging role, there’s a Nicki Minaj, whose choice to judge the latest season of American Idol in the prime of her career baffles me. And we can’t forget Jennifer Lopez, who was the epitome of irrelevance prior to taking on the gig, and is now once again one of the highest earning performers in the industry (thanks, in no small part, to her franchise of perfumes), deservedly so, as I saw her in concert last year and she is the consummate performer. Closer to home, Guy Sebastian, a reality singing competition winner himself, had a sprinkling of top ten and number one hits in the last few years, but really hit the big time with the Eve and Lupe Fiasco collaborations, “Who’s That Girl?” and “Battle Scars”, respectively, released after his turn as a judge on The X Factor.

x factor judging panel britney spears demi lovato simon cowell

So the “expert” record industry execs have pretty much gone the way of Dicko, albeit with the mainstays Cowell (The X Factor in the U.S.), L.A. Reid (ditto) and Randy Jackson from the original series of Idol, to make way for younger, sexier and more relevant, sometimes with an overhaul in between each season. And then there’s just the question marks that were obviously hired ’cause everyone else turned them down: Demi Lovato, Khloe Kardashian (tenuous) and, arguably, Nicki Minaj.

I think the new season of Idol’s focus on the feud between Mariah Carey and Minaj hinders not only the show (it’s about the TALENT), but also Nicki’s career in the long run. 2012 was perhaps Minaj’s strongest year to date, with “Superbass” being certified platinum, and “Starships” dominating the airways. While she’s never had a number one hit on the U.S. Billboard charts, Minaj was infiltrating pop culture at warp speed, so to her it might have seemed logical to dominate reality television as well. But, to me, singing competition judging panels are the domain of has-beens; people who’ve been down a similar road and can offer advice on the highs and lows of stardom. Who knows? Maybe Minaj will be the one to change that.

What do you think? Do you long for the no-frills early days of Idol, or are you all for big names on the judging panel overshadowing the talent?

Images via People, Wikipedia, Digital Spy.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

Julia Gillard is anti-marriage, period:

“After reading all of Gillard’s statements on this issue and after speaking to those who have talked to her about it, I am convinced she doesn’t believe in marriage at all, for anyone.” [ABC Unleashed]

The “Born This Way” versus choice debate continues:

“But I think the most serious problem with this argument is that it reinforces the idea that we need an excuse to be queer. As a result, using this line subtly supports the idea that being queer requires excusing in some way. Don’t use it. Don’t allow straight people to generate an understanding of queer sexuality that sounds like: ‘Well, of course Bob wouldn’t wish to be queer, but he was born this way. I guess we better give him equal rights—poor Bob, he just can’t help it. We shouldn’t punish him for something he didn’t choose!’

“Meanwhile the real reason that you shouldn’t punish Bob for queerness is because there’s nothing wrong with it!” [Social Justice League]

If you’re unfamiliar with the personhood debate, or just unclear on what it all means, this article by Jill Filipovic is a must-read. [Guardian]

Here’s another great article on Personhood and what it means for abortion laws:

“… As the Personhood message penetrates, then society will understand why women need to be punished just as surely as they understand why there can be no exceptions for rape/incest [bolded text mine].” [Salon]

Why Kyle Sandilands is a dickhead. [The Punch]

“Rethinking the Strong Female Character.” [Canonball]

Kelly Osbourne repents for her past “tranny” wrongs. [HuffPo]

And Warren Beatty and Annette Benning’s transgender son thinks Chaz Bono is a misogynist. [Super-Mattachine]

“27 & Unmarried? In China, You’re One of the ‘Leftover Women’.” Gah, only three years left for me! [Jezebel, Ms. Magazine]

What White Ribbon Day means for men. [MamaMia]

The double standards of talking about what goes on down there. [Owning Pink]

Knowing all the evils facing women in our society, would you want to bring a baby girl into the world? [Jezebel]

My, what lovely lady lumps Kristen Wiig has. All the better to be named GQ’s “Bro of the Year” with, my dear. [Jezebel]

“Eve as Literary Hero”. [Imagine Today]

Ms. Piggy as feminist and Kermit as douchefrog. [Jezebel]

Meshel Laurie on the Matthew Newton saga. [MamaMia]

On being single. [Girls Are Made from Pepsi]

Gah! “Pro-Life Feminism is the Future”. [Washington Post]

Images via Jezebel, Lara Croft Tomb Raider Costume Resource.

Event: Cherchez la Femme Fatale, Take 2.

Geelong may seem like a world away for city slickers. At first, I was going to let its distance prevent me from attending the city’s latest exhibition, Femme Fatale: The Female Criminal, at the National Wool Museum. But if you take some friends and a good book (though not both at the same time. Take it from me; you’ll be stuck on the same page for the duration of the trip!), the hour’s train commute is worth it.

The exhibition juxtaposes “glamorous depictions of female felons in literature” with “the grim reality experienced by real women criminals”, such as Janet Wright, who was prosecuted for performing an abortion on a teenager who, after becoming ill, reported her, in 1928. Or “Sydney’s most beautiful prostitute”, Dulcie Markham, who probably got her fake name from Alfred Hitchcock’s Murder!, and whose real identity was never revealed. Or Louisa Collins, who poisoned—“poison was considered a particularly feminine murder weapon”—her husband in order to marry a boarder in their home just two months later, in 1887. She was sentenced to hang on 8th January, 1889, but the execution was botched by the hangman, “who was unable to open the trapdoor”. The execution was eventually carried out.

These were just some of the individuals profiled in the exhibition, which dealt with the supposed “empowered, cunning, unemotional woman who commits crime and uses her sexual allure to persuade men to sin on her behalf”—the quintessential “femme fatale”—and today’s understanding “that a wide range of factors may influence criminality including difficult childhood environments, mental illness and drug addiction.”

But back in the day, it was believed that “women lack moral fortitude and are easily tempted”, which allegedly stemmed from Sigmund Freud’s “penis envy” theory.

In 1893, Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso wrote La Donna Delinquente (The Criminal Woman), in which he contended that masculine features, such as a “mannish jawline”, noticed in his photographical portraits of female criminals, were the “stigmata of degeneration”. Factors such as the menstrual cycle and the fables of Eve in the Garden of Eden, Medusa, and the Biblical Delilah, of Samson fame, were also taken into account when women “sinned”.

As was written in relation to the Salem witch trials in the early 1690s, “the fear of wicked women, whether real or imagined, can have horrific consequences.”

In Australia, though, in recent years “the number of female offenders incarcerated… has risen dramatically”. In the early days of female incarceration in Australia, psychological punishments such as head shaving were preferred to physical punishment. But at the State Reformatory for Women in Long Bay, Sydney, which opened in 1909, “the women were encouraged to reconnect with their ‘femininity’ and to adopt more refined, ‘ladylike’ behaviour.”

The abortion section, which I briefly mentioned above in relation to Janet Wright, was quite affecting but, as my friend Eddie pointed out, perhaps seemed out of place in the exhibition. Sure, abortion was (and still is in some parts of the country) illegal for a long time, but it kind of felt like a certain agenda was being pushed via its inclusion. Still, it is “one of the few crimes that always involves a woman”.

My favourite part of the exhibition, by far, was the genre of “femme fatale” paperbacks and films, which lured me to it in the first place. There was a highlight reel of some of the silver screen’s greatest female villains, such as Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, next to this Italian proverb: “woman is rarely wicked, but when she is, she is worse than a man.” Another quote, from Raymond Chandler in Farewell My Lovely, which really resonated with me and my love for femme fatales, and which I posted last week: “I like smooth shiny girls, hardboiled and loaded with sin.”

But as much as the femme fatale is lauded, in her heyday the American Production Code stated that “ ‘the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime’. Censorship led to many implausible endings and a high level of mortality among femmes fatales.”

The exhibition finished up with crime memorabilia, which has reached fever pitch in recent years, with action figures, calendars, trading cards and true crime publications. (I, myself, have a penchant for true crime. Dominick Dunne, anyone?) This is a far cry from the assertion that “most people find it repellant that an individual can become a celebrity simply for being very good at being bad.” Reminds me of a certain Rihanna song

Overall, while each individual aspect of the exhibition was fascinating in its own right, Femme Fatale: The Female Criminal as a whole was a bit clunky and disjointed. I would still recommend seeing it, if “evil” women are your thing. But get in quick! It finishes next Monday.

[City of Greater Geelong] Femme Fatale: The Female Criminal.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Cherchez la Femme (Fatale).

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Raymond Chandler on the Femme Fatale.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] The “Evil” Woman.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Another City, Not My Own by Dominick Dunne Review.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Minus Two & a Half Men.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] “S&M”: Is It Really So Much Worse Than Rihanna’s Other Stuff?

Image via Art Geelong.