Okay, tonight I bit the proverbial bullet and tuned into American Idol at 7:00. With pencil and pad in hand, I was ready to take copious notes and attempt to write a semi-humorous blog. But, what do I get? A mere shell of American Idol! No Simon Cowell. No Paula Abdul. Sure, Ryan Seacrest and Randy Jackson were still there, but Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler? Puh-leeze!
The last time I watched the show was in 2005 when Carrie Underwood, Constantine Maroulis and Bo Bice were battling it out for musical supremacy. Although I was never an American Idol geek, this just didn’t feel right. Something was definitely lacking.
After five or ten minutes it became crystal clear that this wasn’t worth watching. I know, I know; everyone watches the wacky auditions that they show the first couple of shows. Sorry, I wasn’t falling for it.
There is no Simon or Paula, so why would there be a Renaldo Lapuz doing “You Are My Brother”? Why would there be a General Larry Platt performing “Pants on the Ground”? And I guarantee you that there will be no William Hung singing “She Bangs”.
So now what? I was all fired up for American Idol and they give me this watered-down imitation. To say that I was underwhelmed would be an understatement to say the least.
I had promised to write a blog, but I was at a loss.
As I changed the channel to watch Dog the Bounty Hunter, it hit me. If they were going to change the American Idol brand, why not do it in style? Give the people something they could really sink their teeth into.
Bring back Chuck Barris. Bring back the sultry Siv Åberg. Bring back Milton Delugg and the Band With a Thug. Bring back the Unknown Comic. And, dare I say, bring back Gene Gene the Dancing Machine.
That’s right. Bring back the Gong Show.
Like American Idol, the Gong Show presented a contest between amateur performers of often-dubious talent, with a panel of three celebrity judges. The program’s most frequent judges included juicy Jaye P. Morgan, Jamie Farr, Arte Johnson, Rip Taylor and Phyllis Diller.
Just as American Idol has had a revolving team of judges, the Gong Show has its share of judges. In addition to Morgan, Farr, Johnson, Taylor and Diller, there was also: Patty Andrews, Pearl Bailey, Bill Bixby, Dr. Joyce Brothers, Joyce Bulifant, Freddy Cannon, Harry Wayne Casey, Scatman Crothers, Clifton Davis, Gary Mule Deer, Fannie Flagg, Wayland Flowers, Eva Gabor, Steve Garvey, Gloria Gaynor, Shecky Greene, Buddy Hackett, Pat Harrington, Harry James, Milt Kamen, Mabel King, Abbe Lane, Peter Lawford, Michele Lee, David Letterman, Shari Lewis, June Lockhart, Allen Ludden, Steve Martin, Pat McCormick, Barbara McNair, Scoey Mitchell, Louis Nye, LaWanda Page, Pat Paulsen, Johnny Paycheck, Mae Questel, Tony Randall, Charlotte Rae, Rex Reed, Joan Rivers, Mort Sahl, Soupy Sales, Ronnie Schell, Elke Sommer, The Unknown Comic, Bobby Van, Mamie Van Doren, Dionne Warwick, Anson Williams, Paul Williams, Chuck Woolery and Jo Anne Worley.
Pretty impressive list of luminaries, huh?
While American Idol has turned Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson and Chris Daughtry into household names, the Gong Show has had its quota of talent cross its stage as well.
One of the biggest Gong Show-related show-biz successes was Andrea McArdle. Twelve-year-old McArdle appeared on an early show in 1976, shortly before winning the lead role in the hit Broadway musical Annie.
Among the other true talents that appeared on the show were singer Box Car Willie; comics Paul Reubens (aka Pee Wee Herman); Joey D'Auria (WGN’s second Bozo the Clown) and impressionist/comic Michael Winslow of Police Academy fame.
A band led by future film and television score composer Danny Elfman, called The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo eventually evolved into Oingo Boingo. Also, Academy Award nominated actress Mare Winningham sang the Beatles song “Here, There, and Everywhere.”
And finally, Future Super Bowl XXXV winning head coach and current NFL analyst Brian Billick also made an appearance, performing a routine known as the “spider monkey.”
There you have it. I tried. Give me the Gong Show and I will tune in. Unfortunately, I don’t think that is going to happen anytime soon. For now, I will watch Dog the Bounty Hunter and wait for Survivor: Redemption Island to debut February 16. Until next time…from the booth.