New Harvest, $25.00, ISBN 978-0-547-94207-0
Contemporary Fiction, 2013
How timely that Elimination Night is released just as the twelfth season of American Idol starts, because this one doesn’t even try to mask the fact that it is a… well, I guess we can call it a satire of the tenth season of that show. But unless one is a very optimistic fan of the show, devoid of any cynicism whatsoever, chances are, most of the outrageous stuff here has crossed the head of the American Idol fan one time or the other.
When the story opens, the thirteenth season of Project Icon has just started, and everything is in shambles. The famous mean judge, Nigel Crowther, quit at the end of the previous season to start his own competing talent show The Talent Machine, and his departure was the culmination of a war of attrition between Crowther and the show producer Len Braithwaite, a former dancer and all-time asshole. Crowther sabotaged the previous season by deliberately rousing the audience to crown a tone-deaf loser the winner, causing the winner to flop like nobody’s business and turning the show into a laughingstock.
For the thirteenth season, the celebrity chef and the unlikable singer that make up two of the four judges had been fired. Former session guitarist JD Coolz is the only one retained as a judge, only because he’s an idiot who is so grateful to be on the show that he’d be happy to accept a pay cut. The sociopath host Wayne Shoreline stays too, as he’s the only one who can break the dreams of the contestants on the show with a smile on his face. The show wants to bring on two celebrity judges: Joey Lovecraft, the aging lead vocalist of the rock group Honeyload who needs this gig to show his band mates (who hate his guts) that the people love him and they can’t replace him with Billy Ray Cyrus, and Bibi Marquez, the fading Latina and R&B pop star-cum-actress who needs something – anything – to rejuvenate her career.
Of course, Bibi and Joey refuse to be upstaged by each other even as they turn the set into a playground for their petty egos to run wild. Joey doesn’t know the meaning of “professionalism” or “sexual harassment” – he photographs pictures of his bulging undies and sends them to the often underage female contestants that catch his fancy. Bibi is… well, Bibi.
Caught in the whole mess is our protagonist, Sasha King, the assistant of the assistant producer who finds herself promoted to his post when her boss ends up in the ICU. Sasha wants to make enough money to move to Honolulu to be with her boyfriend Brock. There, he’d be the surf champion, she will write the next great American novel, and life will be amazing as only an emo college grad can envision. Unfortunately, this show has a way of screwing up the aspirations of not only the contestants but also the hapless lowly staff members…
Elimination Night capitalizes on the reader’s familiarity with American Idol, so if you are not into the show at all, this book may not be of much interest to you. It’s a pretty hilarious story, but its appeal lies mostly in the premise that the author is somehow giving out the “truth” behind the conspiracy theories the show tends to generate among the more rabid fans of the show. You know, the tin hat theories about how the producers decide the order of elimination, how some contestants are favored over others, and how contestants are often advanced solely because they are crazy or have a sad story to attract viewers into tuning in. Some of these theories make perfect sense to the cynical viewer of American Idol, as there have been countless incidences of talented contestants cut by the judges over freak shows and comedy acts. Also, there are many accounts of audience manipulation and obfuscation here that tally with accounts from disgruntled eliminated contestants and ex-show staff members, so this book is a tinfoil hat wearer’s dream come true. The downside to this is that these fans may have heard or even came up with these theories themselves, so there isn’t anything here that will surprise anyone who is more than a casual fan.
Still, discounting the pandering to the fan base, this one does have some merits of its own. It’s funny, of course, and the authors manage to keep a tight lid on the whole story in the process. While none of the characters here is remotely likable, except perhaps Sasha but even that is up for debate, they are endearing in a “let’s watch and laugh at these clowns” way.
However, when the story moves into its second half, the author abandons the more overt satirical elements for a “Who is sabotaging the show from the inside? Who is the mole?” plot that is, unfortunately, nowhere as interesting as the blatant middle fingers jabbed at American Idol. Even more confusingly, the tone of this part of the book is different from the early half. While the early half is a free for all, with middle fingers for everyone, this later half tries to humanize the key players of the story (Sasha, Joey, and to a lesser extent, Bibi). Okay, fine, but in the last two chapters of this book, the author abruptly switches back to the tone of the early half, not only negating the bulk of the character development in the previous chapters but also giving what seems like a middle finger to every reader that reads this book.
As a result, this book has a bipolar feel to it, as if the author isn’t entirely sure what this story is supposed to be. The humor works, and the whole thing is pretty fun, but I never feel that Elimination Night succeeds in being anything more than a charming novelty read.