Herein, the third in a semi-regular series chronicling the ninth season of American Idol. You can read the first instalment here and the second instalment here.
Wednesday night’s episode of American Idol, covering auditions in Los Angeles, was largely unremarkable, save for what might’ve been the most profound moment in Avril Lavigne’s public life to date.
In the lead-up to Ellen DeGeneres’ arrival as Idol‘s fourth judge (replacing the famously incoherent Paula Abdul), the early episodes of this season have featured a series of celebrity guest jurors. Wednesday night’s duties were split between Katy Perry’s cleavage and Lavigne. Perry’s cleavage proved a fair and constructive critic, but it was Lavigne who managed to introduce to the Idol paradigm an entirely original meditation on the precedence and value of the family unit in Western civilization.
We were first introduced to Jim Ranger, a hairy, bearded worship pastor and family man with three young children. He proceeded to sing, not badly, a song he had written himself. Randy asked Simon for his opinion. Simon deemed Ranger’s voice to be “authentic.” Randy asked Lavigne. She was apparently conflicted.
“You know, you have three children and you’re a pastor,” she observed. “To become a pop star, you know, you have to travel and you have to leave everything. It’s difficult out there on the road. But I do think that you have a good voice.”
When asked for her verdict, Lavigne responded in the negative. “I’m sorry I think I have to say no,” she said.
Kara, apparently seeing something in Lavigne’s argument, expressed some trepidation, but ultimately said yes, joining Randy and Simon to advance Ranger to the next round. Mr. Ranger celebrated excitedly.
There are perhaps two ways to look at this.
1. Avril Lavigne, a girl from a small town in eastern Ontario who sang in the church, who signed a record deal at 16, became a global pop star by the age of 18, was on the cover of Rolling Stone before she could legally consume alcohol in Canada, married her rock star boyfriend before her 22nd birthday, had divorced her rock star husband by the age of 25, at some point befriended Paris Hilton and showed up for the taping of this episode, at the age of 26, wearing a hooded sweatshirt with devil horns, is nearly the last person on earth who should be deciding who is and is not capable of maintaining a normal life while pursuing pop stardom.
2. Avril Lavigne, a girl from a small town in eastern Ontario who sang in the church, who signed a record deal at 16, became a global pop star by the age of 18, was on the cover of Rolling Stone before she could legally consume alcohol in Canada, married her rock star boyfriend before her 22nd birthday, had divorced her rock star husband by the age of 25, at some point befriended Paris Hilton and showed up for the taping of this episode, at the age of 26, wearing a hooded sweatshirt with devil horns, is precisely the person to be warning others about the potential perils of pop stardom.
The first option is possibly more ripe for mockery, but also, somehow, less plausible. However emotionally stunted Lavigne may otherwise be as a result of her early accomplishment in the entertainment industry—even by generous standards, the devil-horned hooded-sweatshirt should probably not be worn by anyone over the age of 21 who wishes to be taken seriously as a human being—she seemed genuinely concerned by Jim Ranger’s situation. Or at least the concern seemed too odd to be contrived. And while a deluded pop star might not have noticed the irony of her concern, a truly deluded pop star probably wouldn’t have cared enough in the first place to say so.
So maybe the second option makes more sense. Maybe she meant it. And maybe she knew of what she spoke. And maybe she is one of those few who can know what that life is actually like to live.
Unfortunately, if all that is true then the unavoidable conclusion would seem to be that Avril Lavigne is sort of sad. Or at least that she hasn’t always been all that happy, that she has struggled with her life as we’ve known it. This is maybe not all that surprising. In fact, it’s impossible to believe she hasn’t struggled. But it is still sort of heartbreaking to see it vaguely implied on national television under the guise of warning another human being against pursuing her line of work, lest he somehow damage what she perhaps sees as an already rewarding, or at least important, life. It is entirely possible, in this scenario, that Avril Lavigne sort of envies Jim Ranger.
Granted, it is possible to over-think this. But if one of the defining pop stars of the last decade has just conceded that stardom should not necessarily be the ultimate and all-consuming goal in the life of the vocally talented, then this truly is the end of American Idol.