8 Asians

I haven’t really cared about American Idol since my homegirl Kelly Clarkson won in the show’s debut season. This season is no different. The contestants were talented, but lacking in charisma. Essentially they are singing robots ready to be programmed by the A.I. machine to represent the show that was once exciting.

Nonetheless, last night marked the finale of season 11. The two finalists were Phillip Phillips, a Dave Matthews clone in training and Jessica Sanchez, a young micro diva who has obviously trained in the timeless art of the Beyonce growl. In the end, Phillip Phillips won the whole ordeal, leaving us on stand-by for the next mediocre season of Idol.

An 8Asians reader by the name of Anne wrote to us saying, “I really think that racism may have played a role in the outcome.” I must commend Anne because 1) she is not of Asian descent and 2) she makes a very bold statement by using the “R” word.

Do I agree with Anne? Not really. Do I agree with the results of the show? I really didn’t care, but if someone held a gun to my head and forced me to choose a winner, I would choose Jessica — not because she’s is 1/2 Filipino, but because she is genuinely talented. Throughout the season, she was consistent with her performances. I mean, any girl who can tackle ANY Whitney song is good in my book. She even held her own in a duet with Jennifer Holliday as they sang “And I Am Telling You,” a song that Holliday made famous while originating the role of Effie in Dreamgirls on Broadway. The two of them had a stank face, howling diva battle which will be one for the record books — but why did she not win? There’s the obvious answer in that not enough people voted for her, but I do have a couple of other theories.

For one, she is young — too young to have magnetic charisma. She may be talented, but she needs that layer of star-quality personality to make her a bonafide idol. That comes with experience. Right now, she would do well on her own Disney show, but as a chart-topping contemporary artist on the level of Carrie Underwood? Not so much. Secondly, her brand image as a mini-diva is so common that it is a little tired. The same goes for Phillip. His image as the dreamy singer-songwriter-type has gone beyond the confines of John Mayer-ville and has become widespread. The difference is, Phillip has that extra layer of personality that Jessica has yet to develop. He cracks jokes. He is endearing. He is your buddy. Although he is fairly young, he has some life experience and it shows. He’s the whole package! And he happens to be white!

Asian Americans are making decent waves in TV and film, but music is a different story. We don’t see that many Asian pop stars or rappers and when they do come to the forefront, they fade into the background with a quickness. It’s not that they aren’t talented, they just didn’t have the cultural traction to remain in the spotlight. Charice Pempengco is an example. She was all the rage for a hot minute, now the nation has shrugged her off. Jin the MC is an even better example. He knocked down barriers as a very prolific Asian American MC, but he didn’t get noticed enough.

I honestly don’t think race has a lot to do with the winner of these shows — not intentionally. It’s not like all of America said, “I’m not going to vote for that Jessica girl because she’s brown!” I don’t think America is THAT racist. Surprisingly, a lot of America likes to stick with what’s familiar — and what is familiar is Phillip, a crooning white boy. This goes with the argument of “You can’t sell Asian.” America is at this bizarre cultural crossroads where they know that talented Asian Americans exist, but they don’t know what to do with them or how to sell them to the rest of the country — and I am not saying that in the context of prostitution.

Back to our faithful reader Anne, she also said:

The outcome of this competition seems like a slap in the face of every non-white person in America (not just the Asians and Hispanics). Apparently, many people in America (including the people at American Idol) still do not want to see an Asian/non-white Hispanic/etc. person winning over a white person.

Hmmmmm. That is kind of an extreme statement. Again, I don’t think America intentionally makes the white man win. It just happens. They just go with the familiar. It’s not that the majority of America doesn’t want an Asian/non-white Hispanic/etc. person to win Idol, it’s just that they aren’t ready for that kind of awesomeness. They aren’t racist; they are just not as progressive as people like Anne or me.

Idol has given us non-white winners like Fantasia and Ruben Studdard. They have even cranked out Adam Lambert. Even though he didn’t win his season of Idol, he became the first openly gay man to top Billboard charts. That said, I am sure Jessica will find some sort of success in the industry.

Ultimately, it is quite an accomplishment that Jessica made it to the top two. If you remember, she was voted off earlier in the season, but the judges decided to use their one save on her. That should be testimony in how much of an impact she is making. And let’s not forget Heejun Han, another Asian who made it to the top 13. Sure, Jessica may have not won, but she has blazed a trail that will make Asian Americans easier to “sell” to America. Also, she is more tolerable than Charice.

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