Judging the judges

The following was my column yesterday at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today. I was so busy the whole day I forgot to post the column in this blog. But then again, the column was actually a rewrite of my post last Sunday regarding Philippine Idol. So those of you who read this blog regularly didn't really miss that much.

Last Sunday, I ranted in my Web log about the disservice being done by the judges of “Philippine Idol” to Filipino audiences and to the contestants of that singing contest. I am told that that particular post has been going around as an e-mail. So it seems that there is a sizable number of Filipinos out there who share my rage at the way the local franchise of the global phenomenon is being staged. I can understand why.

If there is something that we crow about more often than anything else, it is our supposed singing talent as a people. And indeed, we do have many great singers. Many of them have dominated international singing competitions, have played roles in Broadway musicals, are members of world-famous bands, etc. There are just too many singing success stories being bandied about that it is now difficult to separate fact from fiction. There are those who claim that any five-star hotel (anywhere in the world) worth its name cannot afford not to have Filipino musicians on board. There are even rumors about this and that singing celebrity having Filipino blood, as if genes are the best indicator of singing talent.

It is no cause for wonder then than we are a country obsessed with singing competitions. And speaking of singing competitions, the “Idol” franchise is probably the most popular in the world today. Thus, the expectations for Philippine Idol were quite high. We expected the show to be a showcase of the best of the Philippines.

Unfortunately, Philippine Idol is turning out to be such a huge disappointment. It is such a shame because the problems of the show have nothing to do with the quality of the contestants—some of the best Filipino singers I have ever seen are in that show. The disappointment has to do with the way the contest is being staged.

A number of people have already ranted about the awful quality of the technical aspects of the show. The lighting is bad, the audio is terrible, the stage design looks very cramped and many of the performers end up performing with the audience, etc. The emceeing is spotty and Ryan Agoncillo ends up saying the same things over and over again (to be fair, he is making an effort and is showing some improvement).

But the one aspect of the show that really irks me is something that is totally within human control—the judging. Ryan Cayabyab, Pilita Corrales, and Francis Magalona were supposedly handpicked to make critical judgments on the contestants’ musical performance. Their comments are supposed to guide viewers out there in terms of who to vote for. It seems however that the judges are more interested in trying to be witty or in trying to be popular than in making analytical observations on the various performances.

In the semifinals for the male contestants held the other week, only one contestant out of the judges’ top four picks were voted in by the audience. The divergence in taste seemed to have riled Ryan Cayabyab, who made snide comments last Saturday about the supposed “incorrect choices” of Filipino voters. The comments were uncalled for because, as they kept on insisting to the contestants, the top 12 already represent the best among the crop, anyone among them can become the first Philippine Idol. But more importantly, how can Filipino voters make enlightened choices if the judges do not make sensible comments to begin with? The judges are supposed to help the audience make enlightened choices, but their comments last Saturday were simply neither here nor there. So rather than blame Filipinos, they can and should actually teach Filipinos.

As I maintained in my blog, Ryan Cayabyab did try to act like a real judge. He did try to be objective and to make intelligent and sensible comments on the singing and the overall performance of the performers. Unfortunately, even the great maestro could not sustain it.
I actually took note in my blog of the specific and individual comments made by the judges last Saturday. But due to space constraints, I will just pick on some of the more interesting comments so that you can see for yourself just how analytical and “helpful” the judges of Philippine Idol are.

I do not question Francis Magalona’s musical talent. I truly believe that he is a gifted musician. However, it seems like making analytical or intelligent comments is not one of his strongest suits. First of all, this guy is forgetting that he is not on “Eat Bulaga” where irreverence is the norm. He actually made a number of truly outrageous comments. For example, he picked on the gender of one of the semifinalists asking when she would wear a skirt. (The actual comment was more embarrassing because he began by accusing the performer of being manloloko—of putting one over them).

Later on the show, he commented on the performance of the semifinalist from Australia: I think in spite of the fact that you are from Australia, you did good! I do not know how Australians feel about that comment; but I hope he does not get banned from entering that country. And then there were the vague comments such as “Basta OPM, okay sa akin [As long as it is original Filipino music, it gets my vote].” “Kinareer nya” [she sang it in earnest].” “Nasakyan ko [I was able to get it].”

Pilita Corrales is known as Asia’s Queen of Songs, which should be more than enough validation of her qualification to sit as judge. Unfortunately, she seems more interested in trying to lighten up the show with her funny antics than in making sensible comments.

“You look like a contestant in the Miss Universe pageant” was meant to be a positive comment, believe it or not. “Iba talaga ang Bisaya [the Visayans truly have the edge].” “You are sexy and I like you.” “I like you because you are taller than Ryan Agoncillo.” There are just some of Pilita’s comments. As you can see, they added nothing to the show except airtime filler. And of course, she did more of the old stuff that she used to do with the late Bert “Tawa” Marcelo in “Ang Bagong Kampeon”—she flirted shamelessly with Ryan Agoncillo! And it worked, the audience was in stitches while the two kept at it. It could have been a good thing if only Pilita was there not as a judge but as comic relief.

Being the last judge, it was then left to Ryan Cayabyab to dish the sensible comments. And he tried. But I guess there are limits to what one man can do, even if the man is a genius. The problem with Ryan Cayabyab is that he is makes terse and pithy remarks. He does not elaborate. He does not explain.

“The song ate you.” “Not enough.” “You have class.” “Nothing new.” “Good enough, nothing spectacular.” “Very solid performance.” Were some of his comments.

And yet these judges blame the Filipino audience for not making the enlightened choices.

The author blogs at http://bongaustero.blogspot.com


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