‘Mad, Mad, the World’s Gone Mad’ — Wagner’s ‘Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg’ as ‘American Idol’ Song Contest (Part Four)
Act Three: “The Dr. Phil Show”
First Scene of Act Three: The setting is inside Randy Jackson’s mansion which doubles as Randy’s Imported Shoe Emporium. William Hung is trying to tidy up the mess from the night before and get things ready for this day’s events, i.e., the St. John’s Day celebration that includes the notorious song contest. This scene opens on a revolving set, which changes with the mood and tone of the situation.
As the curtain rises on a mournful prelude, the theme of which will recur later on in the famous “Wahn” (or “Madness”) monologue, Randy is showing a group of police detectives to the door. He gives the policemen back their photographs — mug shots, to be exact — of the alleged perpetrators of the previous night’s shenanigans.
Having had little to no comfort from the disturbance, Randy wearily makes his way to the sofa and plops down on it. In the meantime, William reenters in his Sunday best and blurts out some lame excuse for his poor conduct (although he snickers to himself that he sure got the best of Simon Cowell, all right).
After much ado about nothing, Randy, who has been trying without success to catch a few winks, slams his feet down onto the floor and startles the stammering Hung. Begging his pardon for the ruckus, Hung reminds the boss that today is an extra special day. “Yeah, indeed it is,” whispers Randy absent-mindedly to himself. “OK, let’s hear it,” he demands, meaning for Hung to go into his little ditty about John the Baptist and the startling coincidence that Jackson’s real name is John — uh, before he changed it to the more euphemistic-sounding “Randy.” “John, John! Why, it’s your day, too, boss man!” shouts a clueless Hung.
Realizing that his employee and would-be apprentice is not the sharpest tool in the shed, Randy tells him to go about his business and get the shop ship-shape for the crowd of onlookers and festival-goers. Hung runs off to the workshop, relieved to be free of his boss’s foul mood swings. Alone, Randy turns on his 50-inch, widescreen plasma TV set to look at a tape on CNN of the Rodney King beating, along with the O.J. Simpson murder case. He comments to no one in particular, “Mad, mad, this whole city has gone mad.” (Wonder why?). He launches into a tirade about Los Angeles, the City of Angels (or “Devils,” as he puts it), along with the police troubles he and his fellow citizens have been dealing with of late. “Damn, what a mess we’ve made outta this place!”
Randy rails on about the state of the world at large and the pop music scene in particular. Finally, exhausted and tuckered out, he sits back in his couch and muses on the day to come. “If we let the madness get completely outta hand, then we’re all to blame,” the wise Mr. Jackson mutters aloud. “We got to get a hold of ourselves and let the magic flow.” His monologue comes to an end just as Clay Aiken emerges from one of the inner rooms, rubbing his eyes and yawning like there’s no tomorrow.
“So, how’s it going?” questions Randy. “Still tired but okay,” Aiken replies. “What’s doing with you?” Randy wants to know if he’s up for the song contest today. “Song contest? You’re shitting me, right?” No, he is not. Randy wants him to be present at the festivities, to show up the old guard, to challenge them with fresh ideas about the music business; in his words, to make “those old farts” pass gas in the wind, so they can see the folly of their ways — that is, their wrongheaded decision to ban what’s new so as to keep only the old.
Clay slowly but firmly tells Randy of a beautiful vision he had last night. “I had a dream,” he goes on, which will remind listeners of MLK’s speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial: “Where young men and old men, black, brown and white, joined hands in song.” “And what song is that?,” Randy inquires. “My ‘Morning Song,’ the one I dreamt about.”
Randy asks Aiken to hum a few bars. “Let’s hear it, dude. From the top!” he demands, and Clay dutifully complies. He launches into his “Morning Song,” which Randy corrects from time to time, challenging him to alter the pace, the mood, the tone, and such, to suit his whims; but also, to follow certain “rules” of structure and stricture.
“What, more rules?” Clay snaps back in rage. “It’s not what you think,” Randy admonishes. “Rules are made so they can be broken. The rules that hinder you as an artist can also help you. They are nothing more than road signs, like the ones on the LA Turnpike: they’re there to keep you from jumping off the railing. No one can stop you from going 90 miles an hour,” Randy acknowledges. “But if you do go 90, make sure your brakes are in working order!” By that, he means that if you’re going to plunge headlong into showbiz and the popular song route, at least make sure you’ve got the winning number.
With that bit of encouragement, Clay digs into various stanzas of his “Morning Song,” while Randy makes note of the lyrics on his iPad — the same iPad he had used at the end of Act One, but which he later retrieved in order to keep tabs on the Masters, along with their comings and goings. Deeply humbled by Clay’s catchy tune and its meaningful yet relevant lyrics, Randy proposes they get tidied up for the afternoon song fest. “Perk up, dude! You never know what life has in store.” With those parting shots, the two men exit the room.
No sooner have they left, when a battered and bruised Simon Cowell hobbles in. He carries with him his nearly destroyed Fender Stratocaster in the seemingly hopeless task of convincing Randy to restore it. In an elaborate bit of silent pantomime, Cowell reenacts the previous night’s doings until he is stopped in his tracks by the beeping of Randy’s iPad. Making sure there is no one else around, he surreptitiously touches the iPad’s keyboard and notices the lyrics to a song — a song he’s never noticed before. “Now I gotcha, you swindler!” By this strategic piece of evidence, Simon concludes that Randy’s aim is to win Paula Abdul for himself. “He won’t get away with it, no sirree!” he grumbles.
Not wasting another second, Cowell whips out his iPhone and, in retaliation, snaps a series of furtive photographs of the song, just as Randy emerges from the side. “So,” Randy inquires, “how’s your Stratocaster today?” Startled, Simon nearly falls off the coffee table. Not amused by his callous allusion to last night’s orgy of violence, Simon shows him what’s left of his beloved instrument. “See for yourself! This is all your doing, you bastard!” Now, now, temper, temper, Mr. Cowell! Randy does his best to fix the electric guitar, tightening a bolt here, a screw there, while re-stringing the stringless guitar to Simon’s rising consternation.
“How’s that?” asks Randy. He gives the guitar back to its owner. “As good as new!” “Oh, no, you don’t! Don’t even go there,” Simon rants. He accuses Randy of being in cahoots with the crowd, i.e., the very instigator of last night’s riot, and doing it for his own “nefarious purpose”: in other words, for wanting to dispose of a rival while simultaneously taking part in the song contest. Surprised but not offended, Randy feigns innocence, insisting that Simon’s off his rocker. “Bullshit! I have proof!” Wherein Simon promptly produces the photos he took of Randy’s “Wooing Song,” as he labels it.
“What’ve you been sniffing, Simple Simon?” Offended by that remark, Cowell wags his bony finger at Randy. “Don’t change the subject,” he goes on, “it’s clear to me what your intentions are.” Randy plays along with the curmudgeonly county clerk, saying that if he wants to use the song, he is more than welcome to do so. Simon is puzzled at first, but is also secretly ecstatic over the prospect of possessing something of Jackson’s. After all, in addition to being a fine musician and all-around bass player, Randy has a more than decent track record as far as picking hit songs go.
Still, the cantankerous public servant remains skeptical. “What’s the catch?” he poses. “No catch, man, it’s yours to keep. Use it in good health, with my blessing.” Simon cannot believe his good fortune: a song by Randy is worth its weight in Big Macs. Elated, Simon fingers his favorite guitar in nervous anticipation of winning the song contest. “Not so fast, Simon,” warns Randy. “It ain’t that simple!” No problem for a master songsmith such as him. Why, Simon will even nominate Randy for next year’s Marker. And off he goes, sauntering out the door in the jolliest of moods. “That cat’s the baddest badass I ever met,” Randy comments after him.
All of a sudden, Randy gets a visit from Paula Abdul, who steps into his shop through the V.I.P. entrance. She, too, is dressed to kill. Paula is there to complain about her high heel shoes, to which Randy gives some attention. But he knows intuitively that she’s come to catch a glimpse of Mr. Aiken, who at that moment emerges from the bedroom to confront the gorgeously bedecked Ms. Abdul. Clay is wearing a fabulous white suit, which Randy makes no bones about praising. While he pretends to fix Paula’s shoe, he urges Clay to help pass the time by singing his “Morning Song.” Clay dutifully obliges.
After a few stanzas are warbled, Randy interjects by saying, “Darlin’, now that’s what I call a number one hit!” When the song has ended, the three of them embrace each other in a group hug. Feeling a bit embarrassed, Randy lets go and moves over to one side of the living room, grumbling about his three wives and his alimony payments, and the ungrateful life of a record producer and shoe store owner.
On and on Randy babbles, until finally Paula, in a burst of pent up emotion, let’s out with “Oh, Randy, my friend,” the highpoint of the scene. She can’t thank him enough for all he has done to make her life a happy one. If it wasn’t for Clay, she’d have chosen Randy as a husband in a heartbeat. “No, my child,” Randy softly mumbles. “Let’s have none of that. This ain’t no May-December romance. We don’t want what happened to Anna Nicole Smith, now, do we?” His allusion is to the sad former Playboy model and reality TV star that died penniless even after she had married a rich old millionaire.
Randy’s seriousness lightens up considerably when William Hung enters hand-in-hand with Kelly Clarkson, all dolled up in their most elegant attire. A jubilant Mr. Jackson announces to one and all the birth of a new member of their group: a Number One Song! But, in order to give it a proper baptism, the song must be witnessed by a journeyman. Since Randy is presiding over the mock ceremony, he charges William with the honor.
Asking Hung to crouch down “real low like,” Randy gives the apprentice a sharp smack to the side of his head. “That’s so you’ll remember your place at the table!” he jokingly barks. Hung rises as he rubs his sore ear; Kelly attends to his needs, while the others line up for the hit number of the act, the so-called Quintet.
But before the Quintet takes off, Dr. Phil enters from the side and forms a makeshift, roundtable discussion group by bringing out bar stools from the kitchen. He’s assisted by his lovely wife, Mrs. Phil. The “discussion” takes the form of Dr. Phil guiding first Paula, then Clay, followed by William, Kelly and, last but not least, Randy along in expressing their innermost thoughts and desires, much as he would do on his TV show. When the Quintet has ended, Dr. Phil gets up and walks away with his wife, again just like on his program.
“All right, let’s wrap it up, William!” Randy declares, as the Quintet’s participants prepare to split up to meet at the Baptist Church in Los Angeles. Paula is instructed to stay with her guardian, Clive Davis, until the proper time. William and Kelly leave together, while Randy escorts Mr. Aiken to the front door.
The curtain falls on the action, which will resume momentarily as the scene is changed.
(To be continued…)
Copyright © 2015 by Josmar F. Lopes