I like slam dunk contests. This should go without saying, given that dunk contests are generally epic displays of supreme, rare athleticism. Now, since these events are technically “contests” they have to be judged. Herein lies the greatest dunk contest problem: the judges. You see, the judges are given scoring cards, numbered one through ten (ten being the highest). This is not Figure Skating; decimals are not allowed. Historically, any number under four is not utilized, a score of 4 only given to missed dunks. So, really, it's a seven number scale on which to judge. But, when looking deeper, you see that completed dunks are never judged lower than a 7, regardless of how unoriginal or easy they may be.
Paula Abdul would feel right at home judging a dunk contest.
Dunk contests suffer from over-judging, in that pretty good dunks can receive eights or nines. There's no room for the difference between good/great/spectacular dunks. The results are muddled, because the judges are too polite. American Idol
often suffers from this politeness.
Fortunately, there is one man willing to scrap politeness in the best interest of truth, and that man is Simon Cowell. Mr. Cowell has countless detractors, people who squirm when he ruthlessly tears to shreds a bright-eyed singer who hasn't performed up to his standards. I understand those who are put off by such verbal abuse. It's not easy to hear. However, it's something we could all use a lot more of.
There's a method to Simon's cruelty (and it's something that should be utilized in dunk contests). By being a total hard-ass most of the time, he keeps his scale manageable. He allows himself room to give praise and have it actually mean something. With Paula out there giving eights and nines to nearly every singer who walks on stage, what recourse does she have when a singer gives a truly great performance? Paula's constant praise has diluted her words to the point where they've become relatively meaningless.
It's hard to blame someone like Paula, however. The human inclination is to massage the egos of those you're judging. Being mean is difficult for any reasonable adult. But this doesn't excuse the fact that brutal truth is ultimately more desirable false praise. One of the first things you have to learn as a writer is accept (often brutal) criticism without retreating into a chasm of self-pity. It's not easy, but it is completely necessary.
I'm sure someone like Sanjaya Malakar
, at this point, has been built up by everyone around him for years. He's been told how great he is, he's been told that he should win American Idol, and I'M SURE he's been told that Simon's criticisms are borne out of a origin-less personal vendetta rather than basic honesty. Obviously, this is a problem.
Whether a contestant takes Simon's words to heart or not, it's still necessary he says them. Otherwise, he would not be able to dole out praise to the people who truly deserve it. Just because you can't control how contestants, or viewers, take your judgment doesn't mean you should sugar coat it for better digestion. People want to believe what they want to believe. It's very easy to convince yourself, if you're a twelve year old girl whose MySpace page is peppered with adulatory pictures of Sanjaya, that Sanjaya is a great singer. But, those people are (hopefully) the extreme. Simon needs to judo chop singers with reality in the hope that they'll listen and attempt to better themselves.
And, just to be clear, Simon Cowell is not mean. Honesty, in general, can be used for cruel purposes. If you walk up to an obese person on the street and belittle them about their weight, then you are a bad person. Simon, however, IS PAID TO JUDGE. That is his vocation. What are people expecting from him?
It takes courage to go up in front of millions of viewers and rip good people apart. Maybe Simon kicks every dog he walks past and pushes old ladies into puddles on the street, but that doesn't seem to be the case. He's doing his job out there, and he's doing it better than anyone else. Every word that comes out of his mouth is what he truly believes. It may be exaggerated, but it comes from honesty.
That is why, when he can look Jordin Sparks
in the eye (as he did last night) and tell her that she could win American Idol, the moment has an undeniable weight. It actually means something. At, at that moment, all the verbal abuse, the arguments with Seacrest, the wading through the horrid auditions, it's all worth it.
-Oscar Dahl, BuddyTV Senior Writer