Thursday, August 14, 2003

Fans and Fanatics

There's a version of "American Idol" in Lebanon called "Superstar." Same concept, with one singer eliminated in each show, until the final superstar is chosen. The difference is the intense reaction of the viewers, particularly the fans of one Melhem Zein.

In the US version, when a singer doesn't get enough votes, the fans get a little upset. Clay Aiken's fans were so sure that their guy had been robbed when Ruben Studdard won, that they wrote letters to the FCC demanding a recount and an investigation. This made no sense, since the FCC couldn't care less who is or isn't named "American Idol." It made even less sense that thousands of North Carolinians went to an arena to watch the final episode on a big screen -- when the same show was being broadcast into their nice comfortable homes for free. These people had no connection to Clay Aiken other than coincidental geography, yet they were going nuts for a guy they knew only from a TV show.

We're used to a fanatical "American Idol" audience carrying signs with slogans like, "We love you, Ruben!" or "You rock, Clay!" or "I don't care who wins, I just want to be on TV!!" It's a little different in the Arab world, where "fanatical" takes on a whole new meaning.

When Zein lost in the "Superstar" semi-final, 150 of his fans were so enraged that they gathered outside the television studio and chanted, "With our blood and souls, we sacrifice for you Melhem!!"

Ahem. Right there are three words you do not want to hear chanted in Beirut: blood, souls, and sacrifice. Individually, they don't fill the air with a joyous feeling. Together, they send a shiver down your spine that makes you feel seconds away from death. That happened to be the reaction of the two women who were left as the finalists -- they fainted and had to be taken to the hospital.

If that's me, if I'm a finalist, and the supporters of the guy who just lost are shouting epithets involving blood, souls, and sacrifice, well, I'm outta there. That's it, thank you very much, I'll be fine without the prize, can you give me a lift to the airport, I won't have a forwarding address, forget you knew me, so long!

All for a TV show and a pop singer. A singer who none of these people were related to. A singer whose career, if he's very lucky, will last about as long as Justin Guarini's did. Then it'll be back to his old job as head busboy at the Hummus Hut.

Disclaimer: if you're an overzealous fan of Melhem Zein and happen to find this column online, please refer all correspondence (e.g. hate mail and death threats) to Ms. Paula Abdul, c/o "American Idol." My family thanks you.