It recently was suggested to me that if I'm going to write about television, then part of my job is to watch one of its most popular programs -- even if I deeply dislike it.
At first, I dismissed the idea with the same sort of look that used to prompt my mother to warn my face would freeze that way if I wasn't careful.
Then I had to go and ponder the notion. Really, if all journalists avoided covering what they found offensive, irritating or just plain dull, that pretty much would wipe out news altogether.
Sadly, he had a point, even if it was made mainly to end my incessant complaining so he could watch one of his favorite television shows in peace.
Yes, folks, THIS is "American Idol."
It's no secret that this show irks me to no end. It signifies so much that's wrong with our culture. It's a plastic-wrapped, peel-and-stick mockery of music that practically oozes Cheez Whiz. It mangles some of rock's best songs. It's made a star out of Ryan Seacrest and gives Paula Abdul a weekly forum to display her crazy.
And America eats it up.
A co-worker and I had a conversation last week about this whole "American Idol" thing. He agrees that it's an abomination. He also lives with someone who watches it with twice-weekly fascination and, hence, is forced to endure it.
Yes, yes, we could retire with a good book while "Idol" blathers on in another room. But we don't. We watch. We groan. We make retching sounds when Paula's face meets camera.
Why? Because when there's a train wreck in your family room, you stop. You look. You survey the damage.
You hold your head in your hands and ask "why, why why?"
I managed for several seasons to avoid this show while nearly everyone I know watched it. I rolled my eyes as they chattered on about this or that competitor, whether they were good the night before or would be voted off, and bemoaned the staying power of some kid with bad hair.
But this season, the remote has been wrested from my sole control. That alone was scarring enough, but the unpleasant fact that "American Idol" was suddenly must-see was particularly shocking.
"American Idol" is, as aforementioned co-worker pointed out, a reaffirmation of the worst aspect of high school: a humiliating popularity contest in the guise of something socially significant.
Really, the talent part of this competition falls way behind the "she's-hot/he's-adorable-
How else to explain why that tone-deaf blond girl with legs up to there is still allowed to pick up the microphone every week?
Talent is so not the draw. It's seeing who will be prom queen -- or king -- this semester.
Mercifully, we fast-forward through all but the first four seconds of nearly every song and stop only for the judges' comments. Except Paula -- she's simply unwatchable in her ongoing state of whatever-induced stupor.
On elimination night, I just want to go directly to the end to see who's crying.
It truly amazes me the hold this show has on some people and how seriously it's taken. Case in point: those freaks in the audience who wave their arms in the air during performances -- good, bad or horrific -- like they're at a Styx concert, circa 1978. Talk about a "Grand Illusion." What mental hospital let that group slip out?
And here is where I write the sentence that will get me blasted, the sentence that will tag me unfeeling, heartless, bitter and cruel:
That David Archuleta kid kind of bugs me.
Sorry, sorry, sorry. I know he's this season's little darling and I'm sure he's a really good boy with a big heart who loves puppies, his mom and the American flag.
Seriously, I'm sure he's a great kid. But I can't help it. He's too young to be singing some of those songs, and his overwrought emoting makes me cringe. It didn't help reading that his dad allegedly is a crazy stage father who controls his every move. That's not the kid's fault and it actually does make me feel sorry for him. But it doesn't erase the bug factor.
Clearly, if I can't even connect with the one contestant almost universally beloved on this show, I am never going to get its "It" factor. The only thing to do is sit back, perfect my retching sounds and wait for the train wreck carnage to clear.
Scene editor Pat Clark can be reached at email@example.com.