Posted by Danielle Berrin
Unlike most Hollywood writers, Jenji Kohan got her creative education at the family dinner table, where there was a subtle, but largely predetermined, genetic imperative to write. On any given night, those present included her Emmy-winning writer father, her acclaimed novelist mother and her quick-witted older twin brothers, each ready to one-up the last funny line spoken. In the Kohan household, peer pressure at school was a cinch; making the parents laugh was the more daunting challenge.
“Our dinner table was a really rough room,” said Kohan, the writer-creator of Showtime’s hit television series “Weeds.” “I have a really distinct memory of my brother telling fart jokes at the table, and my parents turning to him and saying, ‘Honey, fart jokes are funny, but it’s an easy laugh, and you can do better.’ We had to be more complex in our language.”
With the sacred family table an intellectual battleground and such a high premium placed on erudition, it’s no wonder Kohan wanted to rebel. Her earliest fantasy was to be a famous actress-singer named Rainbow Star. But she couldn’t act. Or sing. Years later, after some time working in television, Kohan considered rabbinical school. But none of those whims proved as powerful as her (very Jewish) birthright, which has catapulted Kohan to many a writer’s highest aspiration, helming her own TV show.
“None of us were supposed to go into the business. We were supposed to go to law school; we were supposed to go to med school. I was supposed to sit on a bench at Cal Tech and meet a nice guy — my mother told me one day: I should go sit on a bench.”
Isn’t it apropos then, that Kohan, herself now an Emmy-winning writer, created the darkly comic satire “Weeds,” a show about the peculiar nature of American domesticity? Originally set in the fictional suburb of Agrestic (later Majestic), the show follows the widowed, single mom Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker), who becomes her community’s dope dealer in order to support her bourgeois lifestyle. Armed with louche connections and iced lattes, she raises her two sons, Silas and Shane, with limited assistance from her cute-but-useless brother-in-law, Andy, a kind of surrogate father whose maturity leveled off at 13.
The show’s fifth season, which starts up on June 8, is rumored to include a Levirate-style love story between Nancy and her brother-in-law/pot-dealing partner (in the Bible, duty demands a man marry his brother’s widow, only here Andy it seems might really enjoy the obligation). The Botwins have relocated now, having fled the suburbs at the end of season three, when Nancy’s operation imploded and she was forced to torch her own home in the midst of a wildfire. Their new neighborhood is Ren Mar, a beachy town near Mexico (really Manhattan Beach), where Nancy gets roped into an operation that smuggles drugs, guns and human beings across the border.
Neither “Weeds” nor Kohan fit any classic stereotype. In Kohan’s suburbia, the seduction of drugs, political corruption, adultery and Oedipal issues far overshadow the grim realities of PTA meetings and carpools. There is underworld glamour to family life in “Weeds,” where the most perverse practices seem almost normal (a son follows his mother into the drug trade, wanton sex is openly discussed and nearly all the men at home lust one way or another for Mom). That “Weeds” also has some of the most original Jewish themes and characters on television today is a testament to Kohan’s dynamic approach to Judaism. If the most subversive mother ever imagined can be the show’s hero, then a Jewish character could be virtually anything.
“There are no boundaries,” Kohan said of her portrayal of Jewish characters. I interviewed her recently in front of an audience of women in entertainment assembled by Hadassah’s MorningStar Commission. “I think it’s actually a little patronizing to lump all Jews or Jewish characters and have them represent everybody.”
Kohan could be the Jewish girl next door. But there is edginess to her — her hair perpetually tousled, and she always wears those signature eyeglasses with the art-deco glamour. Kohan was born and raised in cushiony Beverly Hills before graduating into the West Hollywood “s—- box,” as she describes it, where she lived prior to her success. Her father, Buz Kohan, a frequent writer for the Academy Awards, among other gigs, is the recipient of 11 Emmys in a career that spans five decades. Her mother, Rhea Kohan, is a novelist, and her eldest brother, David, is a creator of the NBC sitcom “Will & Grace.” Kohan worked for her brother on “Will & Grace” during her leaner years, but decided his humor was too tame. “David took the big, commercial, funny route; I was always a little darker personally,” she explained, “and not terrific within the system. I had to make my own way.”
It makes sense that an irreverent, unorthodox mind like Kohan’s could conjure the quirky palette of Jewish characters that populate “Weeds.” They include Nancy’s deceased husband, Judah (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a hunky heartthrob who appears in dreams and home videos, as well as his brother, Andy (Justin Kirk), a slacker who cuts a fine figure (and posthumously competes with his dead brother’s sexual legacy) and has a ferocious wit. Andy’s shining Jewish moment came in season two, when he enrolled in rabbinical school in order to dodge military service in Iraq. At the yeshiva, he takes up with Yael, a pretty Israeli who works in admissions and with whom he engages in a sex act lewd enough for Showtime to intervene.
Kohan also admits that the rabbinical school subplot, in which a clever but completely ill-intentioned Andy sets down Judaism’s most sacred study path, “came out of a little sour grapes” on her own part. “I had just looked down the path of rabbinical school — like, what else could I do instead of this? — and was told I was ineligible because of my husband [who is not Jewish], and that pissed me off.”
Kohan isn’t big on conventions. “When people have these sacred cows, my urge is to tip them,” she said. Indeed, “Weeds” routinely deals with many of the most provocative, controversial themes on television. Any given season has its share of lawlessness, illicit relationships and an astonishing Freudian subtext (in one episode, Nancy catches her youngest son masturbating to a nude photograph of her). But, in fact, Kohan’s own life seems to conform to far more traditional standards: She is happily married to freelance journalist Christopher Noxon, with whom she has three children. And although Noxon isn’t Jewish, and doesn’t plan to convert, the couple made the choice to raise their children Jewish. Yet, Kohan says her conventional domestic life often propels her into the darker corners of storytelling. She’s attracted to seedier material because, as she puts it, “This is my rebellion, this is my fun.”
Just don’t expect her to care about what it all means. She is, above all, an entertainer. She hates the thought of using her work to impose her values on other people. And she’s equally irked at the notion that, as a Jew, she bears some special responsibility for dispensing polite and polished Jewish characters. “Why should a Jew be portrayed in some special light, as opposed to anyone else?” she grumbled. “I don’t look to improve the image, I look to creating complicated, complex, interesting characters with flaws, warts and all. I don’t necessarily concern myself so much with, ‘Is it good for women? Is it good for the Jews?’ — these big macro concepts. I’m much more interested in the humanness of the people I’m creating.”
Season four introduced Nancy’s Jewish relatives. The Botwins flee the smoldering burbs and hide at “Bubbe’s house” where, upon arrival, they discover 95-year-old Bubbe Botwin, comatose and hooked up to a ventilator. The only person looking after Bubbe is her son, Lenny (Nancy’s former father-in-law, played by Albert Brooks), a reckless gambling addict who feels the need to remind his grandkids that they are, genetically, spoiled gentiles. In addition to hating all non-Jews everywhere, Lenny is money obsessed and self-interested in all the worst ways — after he gives the green light to kill Bubbe, he plays the concentration camp numbers tattooed on her arm in the lotto, enlisting Nancy’s top client Doug (Kevin Nealon) to buy the ticket as a “shiva goy.”
Lenny is “religious,” but morally deficient. He’s a character most Jews wouldn’t want to know, let alone be associated with. Some have argued that Lenny is the most despicable character in “Weeds,” because his offensiveness seems specific to his Jewishness, funny on the show, but not at all flattering. He doesn’t defy stereotypes, so much as panders to them. It’s a kind of Jewish-centric worldview that is not spiritually engaged.
Talking to his grandson Shane about genocide, Lenny urges, “Genocide can happen again if we’re not vigilant.” Shane tells him that it has happened again — in Rwanda, Cambodia and Bosnia. Lenny scoffs, “No, no. It must never happen again to Jews. What do I give a s—- about the other places?”
For her own part, Jenji Kohan’s refusal to limit herself in her show’s creative content has made moral ambiguity a “Weeds” trademark. No topic is too grim, no character too depraved, “No one is allowed to be politically correct,” she said. Even some Jews have a place growing among the weeds.
“I think everything is available for laughs, no matter how tragic,” Kohan said about pushing the limits of entertainment.
Probe for questions, mine for humor and go deeper. It’s exactly how she likes her Judaism.
“For me, the essence of my Judaism is to ask questions — ask why, ask more. And in a way, the show allows me to follow that path of Judaism,” she said.
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May 19, 2009 | 4:50 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
The relationship between Blacks and Jews had a foundational impact on the civil rights movement. So it makes sense that when Martin Luther King Jr.‘s family finally decided to hand over intellectual property rights to Hollywood, Tinseltown’s most high-minded Jew would helm the transfer.
After a long lobby, Steven Spielberg and longtime associate Stacey Snider, CEO of DreamWorks have acquired “life rights” to the Martin Luther King Jr. estate. The acquisition makes available all of King’s intellectual property, including writings and speeches he famously copyrighted, and then left to the charge of his family who squabbled over them. The transaction will mark the first time Hollywood has had legal rights to use the 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech on the silver screen.
Now, more than four decades after King uttered his most famous words, the underpinnings of the Black-Jewish relationship re-emerge to tell his story. Spielberg will partner with Suzanne de Passe, a seasoned guru in Black entertainment and Madison Jones, to produce the first Hollywood biopic of one of the most influential men in American history.
A King film has been a longtime dream for Spielberg and DreamWorks CEO and co-chairman Stacey Snider, who has been working feverishly on acquiring the rights since exiting Paramount Pictures and setting up a solo enterprise.
King’s son Dexter, who is chairman and CEO of the King Estate, has been embroiled in a legal tussle with his siblings Bernice King and Martin Luther King III over who controls the personal papers of their late mother, Coretta Scott King, among other things.
“In trying to tackle such an ambitious project, the question we had to ask ourselves is, ‘Why now?’�” Snider said. “The answer lies in MLK’s own words: ‘All progress is precarious.’ With every step forward, new obstacles emerge and we must never forget that his life and his teachings continue to challenge us every day to stand up to hatred and inequality.”
May 18, 2009 | 4:14 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Even his talent is working against him: Last Tuesday after Adam Lambert, the edgy rock singer from San Diego turned in yet another shattering performance on “American Idol,” Simon Cowell issued a caveat to the show’s 25 million viewers.
“It’s very easy to assume that you’re going to sail through to the final next week,” Cowell warned. “And I want everyone not to assume you’re going to be there, but to vote for you based on talent.”
Cowell’s comment, which sounded eerily like a premonition, followed Lambert’s rendition of Aerosmith’s “Cryin’”. Clad in his trademark cool, with a black leather jacket and a glittering ACDC shirt, Lambert unleashed his rock-opera trill upon a mystified crowd. By the judges’ accounts, the performance was almost too good: “You’re one of the best that we’ve ever had on this stage,” Randy Jackson gushed; “How do you hit those notes and still talk the next day?” asked Kara DioGuardi; a virtually speechless Paula Adbul added, “As I said from the beginning, we’ll be seeing you next week [at the finals] and many years after that.” Prompted by the other judges’ drippy fawning, Cowell felt the need to put the brakes on.
But Cowell’s warning had a complicated subtext he dare not speak. Could the snarky judge of the nation’s most watched TV show take on the political underpinnings of an American popularity contest? (For those who don’t know, “American Idol” tallies more individual votes than a U.S. Presidential election.) And anyone who follows American politics knows that there exists in this country a large and powerful conservative culture that doesn’t have a lot in common with Adam Lambert, the avant-garde Hollywood groupie who wears eyeliner and kisses men. When photos of Lambert dressed in drag and lip-locked with the same-sex surfaced on the Internet a few months ago, Lambert was unapologetic: “I have nothing to hide. I am who I am,” he said.
Though some have speculated that Lambert could become the first gay or bisexual “American Idol” (let alone the first Jewish ‘Idol’) the final contest which begins tomorrow night, comes during a week in which anti-abortion protesters attempted to disrupt President Obama’s abortion-themed commencement address at the Roman Catholic college, Notre Dame. In the current climate, it’s plausible that Lambert is at a disadvantage when facing Kris Allen, an anodyne 23-year-old from Conway, Arkansas. What’s uncomfortable about Lambert’s edge is that he can be interesting and provocative while entirely self-assured. And unlike most Hollywood types, he’s comfortable in his unusual skin. He’s comfortable—as DioGuardi put it—being “shocking.”
“My mouth drops open every time you perform,” DioGuardi told Lambert after he performed “Feelin’ Good” on Rat Pack night. “It’s like, ‘Is he really doing that?’ Shocking! You’re shocking! In a good way…confusing and shocking and sleazy and superb and way over-the-top.”
To everyone else’s shock, after that performance, when Oscar-winner/recording star Jamie Foxx told Lambert he could “sing with the best of ‘em,” Lambert was voted into the bottom three, up for possible elimination.
Even when it’s obvious that Lambert’s raw talent completely outclasses the other contestants, his winning is uncertain. And his future in Hollywood, while almost assured, has little to do with whether he wins “Idol” or not. As Richard Rushfield pointed out in the L.A. Times, “American Idol” represents a rags-to-riches dream opportunity for its contestants and its audience. And at a time when the country is in the midst of the worst economic recession since the 1930s, and in desperate need of upward-mobility promise, the question is who they’ll vote into that dream projection—the one with all the talent or the one with their same values?
May 17, 2009 | 10:59 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Don’t you just love it when vengeful ex-boyfriends bitter about getting dumped decide to soil a woman’s virtue? It’s so high school. No, it’s so Hollywood.
But unless you’re Barbara Streisand and your angry ex has signed a $700,000 book deal designed to smear you in the tabloids, than it’s hard to understand how perilous it is to be famous. And respected. And beloved. Who cares that Babs, with her awe-inspiring vocal instrument and bazillion-dollar fortune is a bit of a diva (she practically invented it), she deserves at least a modicum of privacy, no? Just a touch of loyalty?
Turns out, not so much.
Bitter boyfriend Jon Peters, producer of “Batman” and “Superman Returns” has sold a book to Harper-Collins in which he bares details about Babs’ personal life, stuff a gentleman would never reveal. In his proposal to the publisher, Peters promises juicy details about Streisand’s on-set love affairs and a so-called sexual abuse scandal putting Babs at the behest of a lascivious movie mogul. The loathsome lothario also claims he bedded starlets Kim Basinger, Pamela Anderson, Nicollette Sheridan, Salma Hayek and Catherine Zeta-Jones. According to the NY Post, he brags that he “became a Hollywood legend for seduction as much as production.”
Can anyone say “UGH”? I mean, who does he think he is? Brett Ratner?
More from the NY Post here:
In the proposal for his memoir, “Studio Head,” which was sold last month to Harper- Collins for $700,000, Peters writes he “wanted to kill” Ray Stark, producer of “Funny Girl” and “The Way We Were,” when he learned that “Stark, an ogre of male chauvinistic casting-couch sexual entitlement, had molested both Lesley Ann [Warren] and Barbra when they were auditioning for him, and neither had ever really gotten over it.” Streisand’s publicist, Ken Sunshine, did not return repeated calls, nor did a rep for Warren.
Peters writes that “Barbra may have had her neuroses and insecurities, but getting men, the men every woman wanted, was not one of them.” He claims she confided in him that she’d had “life-imitates-art affairs with Robert Redford on ‘The Way We Were’ and Ryan O’Neal on ‘What’s Up, Doc?’ and had just ended another with Kris Kristofferson, then at his hunkiest” in “A Star Is Born.” Reps for Redford and O’Neal didn’t return our calls, and Kristofferson’s rep had no comment.
May 15, 2009 | 1:16 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Trapped in a sexless marriage? Hang on one more television season—Rabbi Shmueley Boteach is coming to your rescue.
HollywoodJew has learned that the “Kosher Sex” author is in the midst of filming a new reality series in which he helps three couples per episode deal with the fact that their marital bed has turned into a Frigidaire.
The TLC Channel has yet to make a formal announcement, buit HollywoodJew has learned the series has begun shooting in Los Angeles, and will air beginning in September.
So far, no word on a title, though we’re told the network, which aired the rabbi’s popular “Shalom in the Home” series for three seasons, is leaning towards, “Sexual Healing.” Hey, comes with its own theme song.
The bearded, energetic clergyman will help sex-starved couples of all races, religions and creeds deal with, among other problems, porn addiction, adultery, molestation and the inability to reach orgasm. Think “Real Sex” meets “The Frisco Kid.” Okay, kidding aside, while his detractors dismiss the best-selling Boteach as a publicity seeking showman, we find him impressive. The Los Angeles born rabbi is on a mission to bring Jewish ideas and values into the wider world (hey, kind of like jewishjournal.com), and he is fearless in exploring the issues and opportunities that help him do so.
In the new show, he’ll guide three couples per episode as they attempt to regain intimacy and save their marriage.
Here’s some info we gathered on the couples particular problems:
1. Husband has lost sexual interest in his wife. He loves her, but barely touches her. They share the same bed. There is intimacy in the marriage. They share a loving commitment. But he claims to have no libido, neither for his wife nor for other women. His wife tries to kiss him, caress him, and stimulate him. But he cannot be aroused. I have counseled many couples in this tragic situation . The pain a wife experiences when lying nightly naked next to her husbands and not having him demonstrate any desire to even hold her is positively excruciating. We will focus on the causes of this loss of libido. Often it is depression. Still other times it is the boredom of routine and the loss of erotic desire. The husband may also be preempting feelings of rejection by refusing to touch his wife because he does not feel that he is desirable to her. The cause may even be hormonal. Whatever it is, it reflects a loss of romantic passion between the couple that must be addressed and remedied.
2. A wife who is sexually closed to her husband or who engages in sex mechanically. This could be due to a number of issues as well. One out of three American women have been sexually molested leaving deep sexual scars and a feeling that sex is dirty and unromantic. Other causes involve a feeling on the part of a wife that her husband is only interested in her, as one wife put it to me recently, ‘five minutes before sex and not one minute after sex.’ At other times it is due a wife’s feeling that her husband is not making love to her so much as using her body to have an orgasm, almost as a form of masturbation. Still other women, and I have seen this often, have been raised by their parents with religious views about sex as being only for procreation. They feel that sex is something dirty and is to be engaged in not for pleasure but as a means to an end. A great deal of sexual guilt prevents them from letting go in the bedroom. We will deal with all these issues with real life case studies and remedies.
3. The husband who is a porn addict, which statistics say affects about a quarter of all married men in America. An addict is defined as a man who spends at least one hour per day downloading pornography. Porn pulls husbands away from their wives. Masturbating to many women becomes more exciting than making love to the same woman. It addicts husbands to variety, making monogamy feel like monotony. It also gives husbands unrealistic ideas about what a (airbrushed) woman ought to look like. I have counseled many wives who discovered that their husbands were addicted to porn. In many ways it was more shocking and unnerving that discovering that they were having an affair. At least with an affair the wife, however devastated, could make sense of it. Her husband was drawn to someone else, and that’s unbelievably painful. But with a porn addiction they saw their husbands as sick.
4. The couple who are attracted to each other and were having a healthy sex life before the birth of a child upended their physical intimacy. A Harvard study showed that marital sex decreases on average by about 75% after the birth of a baby. Sometimes the reasons are simply practical. The baby needs to be nursed, Mom is unavailable. The kids sleep in the parents bed. The couple, after looking after the kids, are too tired to have sex. At other times the husband’s erotic attraction is diminished mentally by seeing his wife as ‘the mother of his children.’ Still other times husbands complain that their wives ‘let themselves go’ after having a baby, pack on the pounds, and are no longer as attractive. Conversely, many wives no longer feel as sexually desirable after childbirth.
5. The wife who cannot climax when making love to her husband, or who enjoys masturbation more than sex. Studies show that the ratio of male to female orgasm in marriage is eight to one. Many women prefer self-stimulation to sex with their husbands because often men don’t take the time to really ask a woman what pleasures her or study the female anatomy.
6. Sex after adultery. Marital sex is devastated by an act of infidelity and sometimes never recovers, even if the marriage does. I counseled one couple where the husband had a yearlong affair. The wife agreed to resume having sex with her husband only once he described, in the most intimate detail, every sexual encounter he had with the other woman, down to the intricacies of her sexual response. But once the husband complied, the wife was so sickened, and so afraid that she would not measure up, that she refuses to till this day to be intimate with her husband.
7. Husbands and wives who have had many sexual partners before marrying and cannot help but compare their spouse to the ghosts of lovers past, thereby filling the marriage both with unnatural disappointment as well as inhibition.
Boteach’s last series was filmed back east (he now lives in New Jersey, with his wife and 9 children— insert your own quip about his not-so-sexless marriage here). But “Sexual Healing” will be shot entirely in LA.
By the way, the rabbi was just in LA, where he debated Millionaire Matchmaker Patti Stanger on the correct approach to dating. You can read all about it and see a video of the debate here.
May 11, 2009 | 5:44 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Paula Abdul’s addiction confession to Ladies Home Journal was about as anticlimactic at “Star Trek” topping the box office this past weekend. There has long been speculation about Abdul’s potential drug abuse, because her primary role on “American Idol,” with its 25 million viewers, has meant that just about anyone who watches television has been privy to her symptoms. There was the on-camera speech slurring, the heavy eyes, the air of sluggishness and general “weirdo” behavior that led many to wonder what was ailing Idol’s most charitable critic.
But along with conjecture that Abdul depends on prescription pills to get through the day, there has been a series of confessions and denials that complicate the picture. So when LHJ reported last week that Abdul said, “I could have killed myself…. Withdrawal—it’s the worst thing…I was freezing cold, then sweating hot, then chattering and in so much pain, it was excruciating,” many assumed she was finally admitting her addiction. But Abdul immediately recanted, telling a Detroit radio station that she checked into La Costa Resort and Spa not for rehab, but because she “just wanted to chill out and get massages.”
Abdul wouldn’t be the first Jewish girl to appreciate a good pampering. And one thing Abdul does want her public to know is that she’s a good Jewish girl. According to Wikipedia, her father is a Sephardic Jew, born in Syria and raised in Brazil, and her mother is a Canadian-born Jew originally from Manitoba. There are countless websites devoted to analyzing Abdul’s Jewishness, including a youtube video of her discussing her roots with a Chabad rabbi.
Abdul has also been candid about her history sustaining multiple severe injuries for which heavy medication was necessary. Despite this, she told People magazine in 2005 that she was “not addicted to pills of any kind,” though according to MSNBC, she also said, “If people only knew what I’ve gone through with pain and pills. I’m dancing for joy at the fact that not even a year ago I was in so much pain I could barely get up.” MSNBC also notes that in November 2004, Abdul was diagnosed with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, a chronic neurological disorder that causes severe pain, for which Abdul admitted to self-treating with a once a week injection of an anti-inflammatory drug.
The back and forth doesn’t necessary indicate Abdul’s private denial, though that may be the case. It does however reveal her reluctance to confront her demons in public. Most people who battle addiction are forced to come clean with their family and friends either before they check into rehab or just after—what they certainly don’t have to do is confirm it with the American media who will spin, speculate and prognosticate about possible outcomes. We live in a society that tends to humiliate its victims, that finds some secret pleasure in the misfortunes of others, especially when they’re rich, famous or (heaven help them) both. Sometimes the social stigma that goes along with illnesses like addiction or depression, force those suffering from them to go into hiding, to withdraw from the world. (Daphne Merkin’s essay on depression published in yesterdays New York Times Sunday Magazine illustrates this well.) Or like Abdul, they continuously deny that there is a problem, surely anticipating the firestorm of public discourse that would descend on a most personal and intimate struggle.
How can we blame her?
Abdul on her Judaism:
Abdul’s nightmare dissected by CNN pundits here.
May 11, 2009 | 4:56 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
There is a young, blonde Paparazzo with spiky hair sitting next to me at The Coffee Bean and I want to yank his computer plug out of the outlet. He’s writing something about Marcia Cross, star of “Desperate Housewives”, whom he photographed with her infant child as they threw pennies into a fountain. Apparently he overheard them making a wish on behalf of the child’s father, who has cancer. And I feel ill over this, this insane invasion of privacy, this ugly obsession with celebrity, which decimates the idea of a personal life.
The scruffy blond keeps looking over his shoulder, like he knows I’m watching, because that’s what he does, what we all do, and maybe he feels a little guilty, or has an awareness that he’s doing something morally ambiguous.
But then I wonder how different we are. He’s sitting at Coffee Bean, sipping an icy drink, trying to make a living, and so am I.
He’s on to Russell Brand, and I’m blogging about Paula Abdul.
I realize how many people depend on the storied world of Hollywood to make their livings and yet, how hard it is for the people we’re writing about to have a normal life.
May 6, 2009 | 3:44 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
“Adam’s got pipes, you know?” mused the former Guns-n-Roses lead guitarist, Slash, on tonight’s American Idol.
Still every bit the rock star, with long curly hair and dark aviators, you get the feeling Slash is hard to please. “He’s got so much range and it comes so easy—it’s like effortless,” he gushed about Lambert.
Slash’s assessment is part of a growing chorus of Lambert fanatics who believe that the 26-year-old singing sensation is on the path to becoming a huge star.
Moments before he was to perform in this week’s American Idol rock-themed show, Lambert said, “This is by far my favorite of all the theme weeks and I want to go out there and kill it!”
Tackling one of the most legendary rock-and-roll songs of all time, Lambert claimed Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” as his own, bursting with gravelly notes that peaked and soared and mystified Idol’s judges. All four of them.
“You’re a rock god!” bawled Kara DioGuardi who used the opportunity to suggest Lambert cut a record of either 70s classic rock or 80s glam rock. (No pressure, though.)
“How can you improve a Zeppelin song?” Paula Abdul wondered. “I say you were a ‘whole lotta perfect.’”
Even Simon Cowell, whose cartoonish disparagements are both beloved and reviled by Idol’s audience, had no ill critique for Lambert.
“I thought the performance was a little understated,” Cowell joked. “The only problem is, nobody can top that now.”
When Lambert sang, his eyes squinted with that rock-star faux sexual cunning, his expression recalled a talent worthy of Streisand.
But some say, Lambert doesn’t represent the rags-to-riches dream that makes an Idol winner so compelling.
Richard Rushfield writes in today’s L.A. Times:
One friend, TR, put the Lambert question like this: Forget about the personal-life talk or the edgy style. “American Idol” always has been about the dream of lifting a person from humble origins – a waitress, a bar singer – and bestowing upon him or her the greatest mantle in our civilization: fame and stardom.
Whatever you say about Adam, he clearly is not from humble, out-of-the-limelight origins. Lambert gives the impression of having gravitated toward the lights of Hollywood since before he could walk. As far as this blog is concerned, that is fine. We have long advocated letting professionals, semipros, rock legends, whomever in to try their luck at earning the “Idol” crown – knowing that if they fell short they lost all. But the question remains, will America be willing to let go of that rags-to-riches narrative? All previous Idols have in their way paid homage to that legend. Can Adam Lambert break through the bias against Hollywood?
It’s worthy speculation but whenever politics get in way, I think of what Simon Cowell always says, “‘American Idol’ is a singing competition.” May the best singer win.