‘Mad, Mad, the World’s Gone Mad’ – Wagner’s ‘Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg’ as ‘American Idol’ Song Contest (Part Three)
Act Two: “The Street Riot”
The setting for the second act takes place on the Sunset Strip. On one side of the street is Randy Jackson’s Imported Shoe Emporium, run by failed contestant William Hung and his team of illegal aliens (“apprentices” in disguise), among them assorted Koreans, Vietnamese and Mexican immigrants.
The shoe shop doubles as a makeshift bachelor pad for Randy; on the opposite side of the street is a high-rise apartment complex, where Paula Abdul lives with Kelly Clarkson. They are both under the watchful eyes of their guardian, Clive Davis.
After a brief prelude, the curtain rises to show the various establishments closing up shop for the night. Tomorrow is St. John’s Day, a major holiday on the Strip, to which all are looking forward to time off. Hung is humming about Kelly when she happens to pass by with a bag of Taco Bell treats. She asks how Clay did in the song contest. “He blew it,” Hung answers sharply. Kelly snatches the goody bag from William’s hands and dashes off into the complex. “Hey, what gives?” wonders the jealous Hung, who suspects that Kelly Clarkson may be having strong feelings for Mr. Aiken.
As the apprentice shoemakers make fun of Hung’s situation, Randy now appears, ordering them to pipe down and “Go to bed!” On the other side of the street, Clive Davis is seen leading Paula Abdul by the hand through the swarm of apprentices and passersby. Clive is deep in thought, debating to himself whether he should have a chat with Randy about the day’s disastrous song trial. “Better not,” Paula advises. “He’s in no mood for talking, at least not tonight.”
Admiring the beautiful evening, Clive inquires whether Paula is looking forward to the upcoming song contest. “Do I have to go? And do I have to choose an American Idol winner for a husband?” “Is there any other kind that I’m not aware of?” cries the old man, before he retires to his apartment.
In the meantime, Kelly resurfaces and informs Paula that a persistent Simon Cowell has sent her a text message, wanting to know if he can come around later that evening. “Oh, the hell with that creep,” mutters Paula to herself. They depart, just as Randy comes down to the shop to make sure that William has opened the display window so the other apprentices can get in a little practice session. With that in mind, Randy decides to have a go at shoe-making again, something he hasn’t done in quite a while, “Just to take my mind off my troubles.”
The fragrance of the night air and the allure of the summer flowers force Randy to wax nostalgic about his former days as a young jazz player on the go. “I miss the gigs we used to have,” he sighs loudly, “and the cool music we used to play.” He remembers Clay’s song as unique and reflects upon its loveliness, how the melody attracted him, how it played over and over again in his head. “If it made those old farts squirm,” he reckons, “then let’s hear more of it!”
Paula slowly but assuredly leaves her apartment and comes over to flirt with Randy, where he has assembled his workbench. Their long and cautious conversation covers a multitude of topics: from Paula’s stylish shoes to the forthcoming American Idol contest the next afternoon. After much back and forth dialogue and thinly-veiled verbal exchanges — including a fairly blatant pass by Paula at Randy’s ego, in addition to her not-so-subtle insinuation that he’d make a decent catch himself — Randy blurts out that he’s had nothing but headaches from marriage (three at last count) and is still paying a boat-load of back alimony. This is why he’s forced to take up shoe-making again.
She remains unconvinced by his arguments, and continues to press him about Clay’s chances. “He’s too full of himself,” complains Randy. “Besides, he needs to loosen up.” But Randy is his friend, is he not? “Friend?” questions Randy. “That dude needs to get himself a new band of brothers in some faraway suburb, such as Ensenada.” Incensed at his poor excuse for advice, Paula storms off in protest, cursing a blue streak, and swearing up and down that Mr. Jackson needs to soak his big bald head in a vat of ice water to cool his hot temper. Randy smiles broadly at the girl. “Gotcha, you little schemer!” he snaps back at her. “You’re the one who’s got the ‘hots’ for Mr. Aiken!”
Turning her back to Randy, Paula runs smack dab into Kelly Clarkson, who tells her that Simon Cowell is undoubtedly on his way to serenade her on his terribly expensive Fender Stratocaster. “That’s all I need to hear!” The girls hatch a plot to switch clothes, thereby fooling Simon into thinking that Paula is listening to his aimless guitar playing, while in reality she’s planning to meet up with Clay, who is at that moment coming up the block. The two lovers throw their arms around each other in a passionate embrace. What will they do now that he, Clay, has flunked the song trial? “We’ll elope!” Clay shouts in exultation.
A loud bullhorn sounds in the distance, thus interrupting the lovers’ reverie. “Chill out,” Paula admonishes. “We have the rest of our lives to live out our dream.” Withdrawing for the time being, Clay and Paula retreat into the shadows. At that, the figure of a Night Watchman emerges. A neighborhood vigilante type, who wears a red Guardian Angels beret and is armed with a huge Billy club, he sings an “all’s well” type of number. “Be cool, y’all” he voices. “Ain’t no time for messin’ aroun’, ya hear?” He toots his bullhorn again, and finally goes off in another direction, away from the action.
It’s at this point that trouble and mayhem follow, as Simon Cowell — dressed to kill in his custom-grade T-shirt and skintight dress jeans — enters the picture to serenade the unsuspecting Paula (in reality, Kelly Clarkson in disguise). All hell breaks loose as Randy Jackson clears his throat and starts up with a boisterous and thoroughly ear-shattering song, all the while pummeling away on his workbench with a heavy mallet and a pair of unfinished shoes.
“What’s up?” demands Simon. “What’s with the ruckus?” Randy boldly answers that he just plain forgot to fix Cowell’s shoes; that they’ve been sitting in his shop untouched for weeks. Therefore, he needs to get his act together right this minute, or they’ll be hell to pay tomorrow morning. “What in the name of all that’s sacred are you talking about?” cries Simon. Doesn’t he know that it’s nighttime, and that the noise will wake up the neighbors? Not at all, Randy reassures him. He’s done this kind of work before, and no one has yet to file a complaint. “Well, I’m filing a complaint!” Simon says. “I’m calling the cops.” Nothing of the kind!
After much give and take, wherein Randy sings another of his churlish tunes (to the point of even using Paula’s name in his questionable lyrics), he strikes a bargain with the by-now totally flustered Mr. Cowell. “Tell you what: you come over here and play me that love song of yours, and I’ll tell you when you make a mistake. Is that a deal?” Not wanting to attract a crowd, but desiring at all costs to let Paula know how he feels about her, Simon agrees to Randy’s terms — albeit reluctantly.
With Paula and Clay trying to make each other as inconspicuous as possible (highly improbable given the circumstances above), and Kelly nearing the end of her rope with Simon’s beastly singing, the two men haggle and quarrel over tone, meter, rhyme, and stress for God knows how many minutes. At last, Randy Jackson holds up the finished pair of shoes and declares the task done. “But I haven’t finished my song yet!” Simon insists. “Then do it over breakfast, ‘cause I’m calling it a night!”
That did it! Having been awakened by the commotion and the constant pounding of Randy’s mallet, William Hung peers out of the window display to catch sight of Simon still attempting to win over what to him looks like the figure of his pretty little girlfriend, Kelly. In an uncontrollable rage, Hung flies out of the shop and attacks the unsuspecting Simon. He beats the living daylights out of Mr. Cowell, who tries to avoid the blows by putting his Fender Stratocaster between them.
In that same instant, neighbors open their windows to see what all the fuss is about. Others congregate near the apartment building’s entrance, while still others rush over to the doorman who goes out into the street to fetch the Night Watchman. Just as abruptly, the apprentices are aroused from their slumber and begin to pour out of Randy’s Imported Shoe Emporium. Armed with shoes, mallets, soles, and anything else they can get their hands on, they stage a veritable free-for-all. Joining them are the Mastersingers, all dressed in their night clothes and florid pajamas!
At the height of the riot, the doorman reappears, this time accompanied by the entire L.A.P.D. crime force, who try to put down the escalating mess: police cars, police sirens, ambulances, SWAT teams in full regalia, guns and rifles drawn, etc., come out of nowhere in a hopeless attempt to bring order to the crowd. The press and paparazzi are out in force as well, snapping photographs of people getting beat up — including one of an African American victim, who looks suspiciously like Rodney King getting kicked and clubbed.
The bullhorn’s sound slices through the night air again, as the Night Watchman finally shows up to patrol his beat, along with his partner. The partner also carries a bullhorn, from which the Night Watchman makes his “all’s well” pronouncement. Only this time, he’s wearing a bulletproof vest and anti-riot gear, just in case of trouble.
Amidst the mounting hubbub, Randy grabs Clay in the nick of time and thrusts him bodily into his shoe shop. Clive Davis reaches out and pulls “Paula” into the apartment, followed by Randy pushing the real Paula into Clive’s arms. At the same time, Randy rescues the battered and beaten Simon Cowell by kicking Hung’s backside into his shop. With not a second to lose, he slams the door shut, leaving Simon to lick his wounds and scuttle off to one side. The tumult eventually dies down to a low rumble.
After the riot is over, one of the policemen on the scene finds a black glove on the ground and immediately pockets it. All of a sudden, a photo of O.J. Simpson’s mug shot is displayed in front of the scrim. The City of Angels never sleeps — nor does its citizens, many of who continue to commit crimes, even with the entire police force present.
(End of Act Two)
To be continued…
Copyright © 2014 by Josmar F. Lopes