Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Old AMERICAN IDOL: Asian Stereotype?

It's big TV entertainment news today.  AMERICAN IDOL is returning to TV. On a different channel.  The glitzy talent search for young, new pop singers will come back and relocate to ABC.
ABC is now the new home, or one of the homes, of the multi-employed Ryan Seacrest.  He's now the new official co-host of the ABC/Disney morning show with Kelly Ripa.  I wonder if he'll once again host AMERICAN IDOL.
I watch THE VOICE on NBC.  I've seen Fox's SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE a couple of times.  Jennifer Lopez's WORLD OF DANCE premieres the end of this month, I believe, on NBC.  All this reminds me of the line that theater critic Addison DeWitt says in ALL ABOUT EVE to his talent-challenged gal pal after she fails a stage tryout.  She asks him if there are auditions for television.  He replies:  "That's all television is, my dear.  Nothing but auditions."

Look at the winners on that hit show. AMERICAN IDOL gave us singer Kelly Clarkson, Adam Lambert and Carrie Underwood as winners.  It also gave us Taylor Hicks as a winner.
But Jennifer Hudson was a loser.  AMERICAN IDOL judge Simon Cowell basically told the contestant she didn't have star quality.
Well...Hollywood felt differently and gave Jennifer a role in the film version of DREAMGIRLS -- a role and, later, a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her work.
 Jennifer Hudson has since gone on to Broadway stardom.  And where is Taylor Hicks?

Now...this might be a case of me being too sensitive.  But hear me out.  I hated the whole William Hung business in the early days of AMERICAN IDOL.  I hated it for the same reason that the Long Duk Dong character worked my last good nerve in the John Hughes teen comedy, SIXTEEN CANDLES (1984). His movies took place in and around the Chicago area.  I know that area.  I worked and lived in Milwaukee for a decade.  I went to Chicago a lot for work and entertainment.  Nationally, we spent time in Chicago every week thanks to Oprah Winfrey's daytime talk show.  When John Hughes movies were new and I was an entertainment reporter for Milwaukee's ABC TV affiliate, I mentioned the lack of racial diversity in his casts of teen lead and supporting characters. From BREAKFAST CLUB to FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF.  No Black kids.  The racial diversity we saw in Oprah's Chicago audiences was never reflected in the John Hughes teen comedies.  When we did finally see an ethnic teen, it was a high school geek named Long Duk Dong.  I hated that name.  It played into the stereotype that Asian males are not well-endowed, brainy but not romantically desirable, and not hip.  Long Duk Dong is the only ethnic teen character I can recall in a John Hughes high school comedy.  Dong was played by a very good Asian-American actor named Gedde Watanabe.
Cut to AMERICAN IDOL.  A geeky Asian contestant, not handsome and devoid of singing talent, auditions for the show.  His name -- William Hung.  So...when that geeky Asian guy says, "Hello, I'm Will Hung," that's a cue for you to snicker.  Will Hung. Well Hung.  Will Hung.  Well Hung.
He was the punchline.  No Asian guy, especially one who looked like that, could be "well hung."  Get it?

If Disney was casting singers for a Radio City Music Hall spectacular in New York City and an agent submitted "William Hung," a person who clearly could not sing, his agent would have been visibly charred by the heat emitted from the angry casting director's voice through the phone when he or she called to chew that agent out for wasting valuable time in a casting session.

He was the punchline.  And AMERICAN IDOL had him sing "She Bangs."  William Hung, to me, was a racial stereotype-inspired novelty act.
 I've often wondered what his real name is.  I've long had that feeling that it's not William Hung.  Also, I've heard that he parlayed Fox exposure into paid personal appearances.  At least he got some money for it.  The way he was presented made me squirm.  Were there any Asian-Americans on the AMERICAN IDOL staff of top producers who booked him as talent?  Were there any Asian-American judges on the panel when he was a contestant?  Would there have been a "Will Hung" if there had been an Asian-American co-host with Ryan Seacrest in those early days?  I wonder.

I went to see Russell Simmons' DEF POETRY JAM on Broadway twice.  If some TV executives and screenwriters think that Asian-American males aren't hip, can't dance, can't rap, and can't excite a crowd by throwing down some serious slam poetry, they are wrong.  And, as someone who had a YMCA gym membership in New York City for years and always used the locker room facilities, if they think that Asian-American dudes aren't packin'....they are wrong again.

As far as AMERICAN IDOL returning -- um, well, why?  It's not like it's been off the air for at least a decade or more.  Hell, I've been off the air longer than AMERICAN IDOL and my last TV appearance was in early 2015.

Addison DeWitt was right.

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