Bitten by the "American Idol" bug

Never thought it would happen, but it did.

Ayla and GedeonI came to "American Idol" through politics, a subject of much greater interest to me. A few weeks ago, the trajectories of one of the show's contestants ran eerily parallel to that of her father - the talented 17-year-old singer from Wrentham, Ayla Brown (shown at right with another contestant, the buoyant Gedeon McKinney), and her father, State Senator Scott Brown.

Contrary to my expectations, Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey did not pick Brown as her running mate, and Ayla was eliminated from contention on the show that same week.

It was through the Browns that I decided to give this television phenomenon the benefit of a doubt and find out what all the excitement is about. For the most part, I like what I see.

First of all, anyone reaching this stage on "American Idol" - there are only 11 singers left out of tens of thousands initially vying to get on the show - must be talented. Those who survive each week do so only through an occasionally brutal winnowing process involving three judges - Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell.

Watched the judges over the last few weeks, they strike me as well-cast in their roles. Abdul and Cowell occupy opposite ends of the spectrum - she's unwilling to say anything harsh, Cowell is all too willing and sometimes over the top and Jackson falls between.

That the show is broadcast live gives it the same sense of immediacy held by "Saturday Night Live" in its heyday, the expectation of never knowing what might happen or who might show up. It also raises the stakes for the performers who know they won't get a second chance once they take the stage.

Another thing I like is that not all of the performers look like they could grace the cover of Cosmo or GQ. More often than not, they resemble the kids in your neighborhood, the ones carrying a musical instrument when they get off the bus, dutifully walking home to practice in solitude.

In an age when irony remains the rage, it is so refreshing to see young people willing to break from the mold, to reject the rigid tenets of cool that have dictated aloof disdain for decades. Caring about something, especially a young person's tentative sense of his or her talent, carries enormous risk. The potential for heartbreak and humiliation hovers constantly, yet these kids say, the hell with that - I'm doing it anyway. It is a leap many people never make, regardless of their distance from adolescence.

The show is not without its disappointments, such as the night Ayla Brown didn't make the cut only one day after her father learned he would not be Healey's running mate. The camera panned in for a close-up of this 17-year-old girl whose dreams had just been shattered on live TV, and as the father of daughter about to turn 5, I felt a stab of revulsion.  

It also stung the night  Gedeon McKinney was voted off, because he was the other reason I became interested in the show. My wife was watching on an earlier night while I was working on the laptop and I heard what could only be the angelic voice of  Sam Cooke. Only it wasn't Cooke, it was this 17-year-old kid who picked up where Cooke left off, before a jealous husband with a gun caught up with him in a motel room. I'm also the father of a boy who's nearly 7, and watching Gedeon gamely accept his loss made me think of my son.

Even when it disappoints, "American Idol" conveys a timeless lesson to the brave performers taking part, and those of us watching from home. Better to learn at 17 than 27, or later, what life can dish out. And to give it your best shot, regardless. welcomes thoughtful comments and the varied opinions of our readers. We are in no way obligated to post or allow comments that our moderators deem inappropriate. We reserve the right to delete comments we perceive as profane, vulgar, threatening, offensive, racially-biased, homophobic, slanderous, hateful or just plain rude. Commenters may not attack or insult other commenters, readers or writers. Commenters who persist in posting inappropriate comments will be banned from commenting on