I first learned the meaning of the word “maudlin” thanks to the old sketch comedy program, "SCTV." Sammy Maudlin was a recurring character on the show, a satirical talk show host who favored '70s-era Vegas glitz. True to his name, Mr. Maudlin was given to sloppy displays of emotion while fawning over his showbiz pals.
I first learned the meaning of the word “maudlin” thanks to the old sketch comedy program, "SCTV."
Sammy Maudlin was a recurring character on the show, a satirical talk show host who favored '70s-era Vegas glitz. True to his name, Mr. Maudlin was given to sloppy displays of emotion while fawning over his showbiz pals.
Sammy was a piece of work all right, but his schmaltz was downright stoic compared to the sloppy feelings-fest that is “American Idol.” If “maudlin” weren’t already in the dictionary, “American Idol” would have necessitated its derivation. While the show portrays itself as a showcase for vocalists, its true impact on popular culture has been the introduction of shameless acts of gushing sentimentality as a substitute for talent.
Unfortunately, my wife and kids are among the show’s 19 million fans, so try as I might, I still find myself being exposed to it. It’s more than I can take.
Just last week, one of the contestants, upon learning that he had survived to sing another round, reacted as if he had been shot in the gut from a Colt .45. Like a bad guy in a spaghetti western, he stood momentarily frozen, before doubling over in dramatic fashion and hitting the floor. Unlike a mortally wounded cowboy, he then dramatically rose to his feet, wiped tears of joy from his eyes and hugged Ryan Seacrest. The Man with No Name would have had little patience for such histrionics.
Not five minutes later, another contestant, not wanting to be one-upped, pulled the same stunt. His fellow hopefuls helped him back to his feet, but there was no rescuing his dignity.
Sure, there are some talented singers on “American Idol,” but it seems having a good voice is secondary to bearing one’s soul in hopes of earning the approval of Steven Tyler. Tyler, as locals may recall, took a well-publicized fall himself once while playing a show in Springfield with his band, Areosmith. He plunged completely off the stage. To Tyler’s credit, however, he wasn’t pandering to the audience with overwrought emotionalism. He had simply taken too many drugs.
I realize that it’s all part of the show. Reality shows depend on over-the-top personalities who inspire either love or hatred in the audience. So contestants on “American Idol” must ramp up as much drama as possible to give the producers a reason to keep them hanging around for another week. They certainly aren’t advancing because of their vocal performances.
I do have “American Idol” to thank for teaching me the meaning of another somewhat obscure word: “melisma.” The word itself sounds like a nasty medical condition, and in the wrong hands, it can induce severe discomfort. And although it doesn’t directly result in hearing loss, it does greatly increase the desire to stick sharp objects in your eardrums.
Melisma, if you don’t know, is the practice of taking a single word or syllable from a song’s lyric and extending it over a long run of notes. Think of the end of Mariah Carey’s song, “Vision of Love.” Then curse her for introducing melisma to thousands of attention-starved singers.
Used sparingly, melisma can inject passion into a song. Unfortunately, “American Idol” contestants wield it wildly and without discretion, in a desperate attempt to seem soulful. The result sounds as if they’re stuck on the agitator cycle and I keep wishing Seacrest would give them a swift kick to get them back on melody.
My kids think I’m a jerk for mocking these brave young people as they chase after their dream on live TV. I was recently kicked out of the room when my ridicule interfered with the kids’ enjoyment of the show.
The rejection stung, but I quietly walked away. I could have used a consolatory hug from JLo right then, but at least my dignity was intact.
Dan Naumovich is a freelance writer and business copywriter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.