'Idol' is burnished, but still tarnished

It's the summer's big hit. It's handsomely produced and slick as lip gloss. The concept, though borrowed (sorry, "Star Search"), works well.

But I have to confess that I found the first few weeks of "American Idol" intolerable. All those kids; all that nastiness from the judges. The judges all started out equally harsh, but after a while, singer Paula Abdul and recording executive Randy Jackson distanced themselves from English recording producer Simon Cowell – who assumed the role of the villain.

Singer Natalie Cole was asked what she thought of "American Idol" in Pasadena, Calif., a couple of weeks ago, and she told TV critics that the real music business is much worse. Anybody entering the biz should realize just how it feels.

True enough, perhaps. Meanwhile, the show gets better as the contestants thin out and you realize who of them is prepared for the spotlight.

The appeal of the show is obvious: beautiful young people on an even playing field – each succeeding by his or her own merits. Each week, they perform a song from a different era, from Big Band to '80s music. Their fans, friends, and family in the audience cheer them on, and viewers at home can call in and vote for their favorite singer.

One fly remains in the ointment – the camera. It zooms in on those tearful faces, it captures in close detail every nuance of humiliation. And the audience participates in it. I don't like being made a voyeur. There's something immoral in the whole exploitation of the "losers" and "winners" ethic. TV continues to foster the culture of incivility.

Nevertheless, Go Kelly. Go Tamyra. Big Band is harder than it sounds, and these ladies nailed it Tuesday night.

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