Thursday, August 17, 2006

Of Idols, Idol worship & Network Reality Shows

I haven't been posting lately as I had a frustrating problem with my wireless signal flickering intermittently. But its a blessing in disguise as it has given me time to cook this very interesting (I hope) post.
Singapore has been in the grip of Idol fever for the past few months now. Yes, we're talking about Singapore Idol, our local offshoot of the hit reality singing contest American Idol, of which season 5 ended earlier this year with the crowning of southern crooner Taylor Hicks. This looks to get worse as we near the denouement - the finals.
The local free-to-air channels have their dose (overdose?) of reality shows, spurred by the success of such hits as The Amazing Race, So You Think You Can Dance?, America's Next Top Model (ANTM), Project Runway (PjR), Diva On A Dime and Survivor. American Idol spawned a whole slew of nauseating Asian clones like Project Superstar, Campus Superstar and, possibly the worst of them all, Star Host. And all conducted in affected Mandarin. More on our local language foibles in a later post.
A reality show's formula is simple - narrow the field from hundreds of thousands of hopefuls to a handful of finalists. These then compete, week after week; and each week one unlucky contestant is booted out until one finally prevails. That's probably why shows like ANTM and PjR are so successful. They are competitions in the real sense of the word.
ANTM is a modelling contest like no other, the brainchild of supermodel Tyra Banks. Each week the aspiring models are given a challenge to conquer and a photoshoot. They are then judged on these by a panel of celebrity judges and each week, one girl is sent home. PjR is a designing contest on a different level. Each week on PjR, the finalist designers must design outfits in response to a theme or an inspirational idea. They are given money to purchase fabric and are given a time frame to execute and complete their designs - usually two days, sometimes less. Professional models of their choice then parade these creations down a catwalk (hence the show's name) and celebrity designer judges rate them and vote one designer out every week.
Which is why the Idol shows are at once amusing and frustrating.
Idol is the only network reality show of its kind where the judges' remarks are incidental. Its the fans who decide who stays and who goes by casting their votes - the idol wannabe with the least votes is the one who goes home that week. Singapore is the only country in the Idol franchise where we are bombarded every week in the run-up to the performances (called "spectaculars") to (a) vote for your favourite Idol and (b) its a singing contest.
This is where it gets so funny it borders on the ludicrous. The two points (a) and (b) are at cross-purposes with the fans. From what I can see, Singapore Idol is emphatically NOT a singing contest, but one of popularity, evinced by the fans' piercing shrieks and screams which punctuate every performance as one of the judges, Ken Lim, was quick to point out.
Still the Idol franchise has been rife with shockers and has-beens. In season two of the American series, hot favourite Clay Aiken was pipped to the title by 1 vote! Reuben Stoddard won season 2 but where is he now? Similarly in American Idol 3, soul singer Fantasia Barrino edged out powerhouse Diana De Garmo, although fans were later heard to complain that away from the hysteria of competition her voice sounded like a cross between a duck and a sheep in pain. Neither singer has had much airtime since. Now season 5 and Chris Daughtrey who was chucked out 1 performance short of being in the top 3 because fans got over-confident and he lost out on votes.
Our local Idols have fared much worse. In Singapore, fame is a fad akin to fashion. As Heidi Klum of PjR says so aptly, "one day you're in, and the next, you're out!" Singapore Idol 2 was two years in the making as, according to the organizers, "we wanted the 1 Idols to develop their careers". Huh? What careers? Taufik, the original winner, was wildly popular for about 5 months after he won. All that remains of him today are his advertisements promoting 7-11 stores. Similarly Olinda Cho, second runner-up whose svelte figure graces the adverts for Royal Bodyline. Yes, but what of her singing? Where now are Sylvester Sim, Maia Lee and a host of other Idol wannabes who are mouldering in the annals of history? The answer = nada.
There is a sinister undercurrent here. As I watch the shows, it seems that the talented ones, the ones who should win, don't and are shown the door long before they deserve to be. Witness the exit of Nick Verreos. One of the best designers on PjR2 was denied a spot in the top three. His nemesis, Santino Rice, had an outfit that was glued together and was falling apart even as it came down the runway, yet Rice made it to the top 3. The only consolation was that Rice was given the cut at the very end, leaving Vietnamese-American Chloe Dao to win season 2.
Now SI2 and we're one performance short of the top 3. Four local Idols remain and Matilda d'Silva has departed, the most controversial casualty of the Idol voting system. I was sorry to see her go because amidst the farce that is Singapore Idol, she had the one thing the other Idol hopefuls did not - a voice. She, above all else, qualified that this is a SINGING competition. Yet homeward bound she has gone for the fans have decided that a teeny-bopping monkey and a St. Bernard lookalike are better Idol material than she. C'est la vie.
So Singapore Idol has degenerated, in spades, into a popularity contest. Never mind that you can't sing the song, I don't care if you sing flat or off-key, so long as I find that the way your hair hangs in your eyes is cute, or that I think you're a teenaged hunk/boy stud (I don't by the way) you stay on. A close friend of mind once said that Singapore Idol was "good for a laugh any day" but I think from now on I'll pass and take a leaf out of Heidi Klum's book - "they may be in but I'm out!" (say with thick German accent for effect.)

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Patriotism?? ... NOT!! -Part 2

I read with total disgust bordering on revulsion at Mah Bow Tan's response to Mr. Chiam's request for assistance with the street light conditions in his ward, Pong Pasir.
It can be summed up trenchantly in two phrases: "You don't vote for me ... so I don't help you lah! Too bad but tit for tat!" (pardon my Singlish - a blot on my otherwise scrupulously phrased blogs. But it was a necessary evil ... and once only, I promise!).
To think that we have such childish responses from one who is a Minister for National Development is abhorrent. What ever happened to the PAP's call for "transparency", or has it all become pap and washed out with the drainwater?
I would go one step further and say this is egotistical sore losing of the highest order, the sort of kiasuism (apologies again for that horrible word) the ruling party often proselytises against but are not averse to practicing themselves when it suits them or the situation: A "hypocrisy is not OK in others but I can practice it myself because I'm the MP" if you will! Therefore, if the ruling party sees a decline in their popularity, as evinced by the results of the last election, then they have only themselves to blame. But alas, even though its as plain as the proverbial pikestaff to all but the beknighted Sassenach who is our Prime Minister, what more can I say, or should say?
I'm thankful I don't live in Potong Pasir, though kudos to Mr. Chiam's are in order for winning the seat for the sixth straight term that neither bribes nor threats could shake. We need more people like him in the corridors of power to ensure that egotism, nepotism and despotism don't get an upper hold. The PP residents certainly agree, preferring the shabby grandeur of their estate to a slick, mall-infested colony that the "other" wards have become. I, certainly, for one, would not like an estate headed by a sore loser, no matter how city-slick its upgrading promises.
Be thankful for people like Mr Chiam who refuse a steady diet of pap, no matter how much and how often it has been forced down your throat. And if the popularity of Eleanor Wong's recent play is any benchmark, that sentiment is growing.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Patriotism? ... NOT!!!

Ironic that it has to be on the eve of National Day that one has a brush with Bitchville.
The bitch in question was one fat, saggy specimen who was probably way past her "sell by date". This sorry creature pushed and elbowed her way through the queue in 7-11 before mock-sincerely asking, and in Mandarin no less! if you were queuing as well. And had the temerity to be offended when I gave her a disdainful look, exclaiming loudly to all and sundry 'how rude I was' (!!!). In such cases, sarcasm is totally wasted such a low-brow. And the only real answer is - which was what I dealt her - to mutter about how obliviously rude she is in return and to walk out. Not only did I deal this coup but it was delivered in English, to her horror!
I've noticed that the local women seem to think they have carte blanche when it comes to doing things their way; one too many episodes of Desperate Housewives I think - thank God the current season is over! I should blame this too on the media and local men pandering to their already bloated egos. I'm all in favour of the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) but it must be accompanied by the ECA (Equal Convictions Amendment) - hear hear! Certainly if this state of affairs is allowed to continue and 'blame the man even if it is my stupid bloody mistake in the first place', then God (oops! goddess ...) defend the nation!
Anyway, not all is lost and there are a few exceptions to the case, and of course exceptions to the exceptions. A few of my closest friends have remarked that I 'look different' - must be the year away from teaching the Civil Service. The attached photo shows me in Malacca with my buddy Mark and the pic was taken with his camera. We were tired of walking Jonker Street and had sat down in a quaint coffeeshop for a 'cuppa'. It was extremely amusing to find that we are so weaned on Singaporeanisms that wallets were whipped out when the coffee came, to be met with quizzical looks. Then it dawned on us that in Malacca the old ways were held - you paid on your way out!
That was a recent photo and should give all you guys a better idea of what I look like now!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Today was a thoroughly frustrating day because I couldn't get online! I'm piggy-backing on my neighbour's wireless connection and even though the signal is low, I can usually get online. And when he doesn't turn his modem on - such as when it's being maintained, I can usually pick up one of the signals floating around. Not today though. The entire day was wasted fiddling around with my laptop thinking I had contracted malicious spyware somewhere. I ran a total of 7 different anti-spyware programs. Yes you read that rightly - 7 different programs, including one specifically designed to rid PCs of the sort brought on by Kazaa. I use Limewire so I thought better be safe than sorry!

The removers did turn up peculiar bots deeply sited and passed over by Ad-Aware, but at the end of all that rigmarole, I still couldn't connect!

So I began the tedious process of "trial by elimination" and concluded that since the laptop worked perfectly the night before, what was causing it to fail NOW? I went over everything that had happened whilst I was online the night before and recalled that the Java Runtime Environment had been updated. Bingo! Remove that, and the Google Bar and say bye-bye to my problems. So I did that and the blessed thing still refused to connect!

By now it was early evening and I was about to kick the wall in frustration. Kick I did and very nearly missed my moggie who gave me a "what did I do wrong?" injured look before scurrying off. I retired to cook dinner and whilst I was eating, the phone rang. It was a colleague/friend whom I hadn't spoken to in a while. Jim asked me why I sounded so edgy and I ended up unloading the whole sorry story at him. His solution was simple - take the laptop outside to where the signal is stronger. And do you know, he was right!

I learned something today: sometimes the solution is right there in front of you but we belabour it with unnecessary postulations. I had suspected early on that the signal was too weak as I noticed that the connection was sending packets but not receiving any. But I chose to ignore it and paid the price.

Anyway, even if it was a wasted day, I still have the cleanest, spyware-free laptop around! And that had better count for something!

Saturday, August 05, 2006

This is my second post for the day even though its now after midnight here in Singapore. But like the city of Angels, the Net never sleeps so I should get my post in before I hit the sack and it vanishes like a dream in the night.

The thing that spurred me to post is how people can become obsessed with dogma and it colours their entire perception. Then again, perceptual versus visual has been the subject of heated debates over the centuries and the 21st is no exception. No, what got me hot under the collar is Ian Irvine's excellent opener to his tetralogy "The Well of Echoes" and its entitled "Geomancer".

Now why would I be getting so het up if, by my own admission the book is "excellent". I'm an avowed fan of Sci-Fi/Fantasy and this is the sort of book that really gets my juices going. Sci-Fi and Fantasy are excellent tools for extending the imagination. I certainly don't believe in geomancy (fung-shui) and being Christian do not want anything to have to do with it!

My mistake was bringing it to Music Practice at Church, hoping to finish the book whilst on the bus, and leaving it on the console counter. A Pastor, who happens also to be my boss at work and the wife of the Senior Pastor saw the dust jacket and all hell broke loose. Never mind that its science fiction, that it deals with a war and machines powered by mined quartz crystals, etc. She pounced on the title and loudly denounced geomancy the art, fung-shui that is. Somehow, demonic possession and what have you all got thrown into the melting pot and the result stank to high heaven, to say the least. She forced an article on me about the perils of fung-shui practitioners (and God only knows where she got that!) which was so skewed it was laughable, but decided against lecturing me, or counselling in her parlance, after she saw my face.

In retrospect, I begin to find the entire incident hilarious. The poor beknighted Sassenach cannot distinguish fact from fiction. To her, to even read a book entitled
Geomancer is to imperil your soul! Alas, what would happen if she learnt that I also play "Dungeons & Dragons", have played it for the last 20 years, am a Dungeon Master and are there any of the demonic manifestations said to evidence such a player's life? I don't think so. Well not in me anyway although she may argue otherwise. In situations like this, When the boss is wrong, apply rule 1.

So, dogma nothwithstanding, I'm left with a piqued curiosity - where does perception start and visual end for her? Is her life an entire merry-go-round of "you done/read/said [whatever] and now you're condemned to hell!". That being the case, the lake of brimstone and fire had better be large enough! The peculiar thing is that she's as human as the rest of us. Hypocrisy ranks very close after the 7 Deadly Sins. Enough said.

Mind you, I'm not letting this incident rattle me. I'd be a fool if I did, and the enemy would have won. I can't/won't despise either, for it doesn't fall into the "despicable" category. So I will pity instead. Pity that a Pastor, a leader of the church in spiritual authority can, like the common man, go askew but can't/won't admit it. I should remember too that a knife in itself is neither good nor bad. It is the wielder of the knife that imparts the associated morals.

As of today...

Hi Web!

As of today, I've decided to join the masses and blog! Yes you read that right! This old man is going to be a blogger!! Well, as they say "if you can't beat 'em, join'em!"!

I suppose it's inevitable that I blog - keeping a written journal is passé and I just can't face the thought of writing in it every day. Besides I type better (and faster) than I write! Also, maintaining a forum/discussion board is too much work, so blog! - blogoramus cogito sum (corrupt Latin but what the hell? for "I blog therefore I am".)

I'm 39 years old, male, mixed Chinese (that's me in the photo but I have a mustache now and don't have a recent snap yet); and live and work in Steamy Singapore. Actually its not **that** bad, just hot, and I for one cannot support the heat. People have joked I should be living in the Arctic Ice, sort of a Pablo the Penguin in reverse -hah!
I'm a trainer in IT, multimedia to be precise, and I do adult classroom stand-up training - no snotty-nosed brats for me! Currently I'm in limbo, developing a Diploma programme that will ultimately be taught in NUS Extension (I hope!).

More of me in a later post - for now, this is enough to get started. I'll be back soon!