American (Idol) Democracy

Simon's a lame duck, Ellen's surging in the polls and Perez Hilton's launched a rogue campaign

Perez Hilton's last major gig as a judge was far from a unanimous success. But that hasn't stopped him from campaigning to replace TV’s best known – and perhaps most disliked – arbiter of talent: Simon Cowell.

“I’m a gay man and nobody has snarky opinions on singing like a proud [homosexual],” the self-promoting, controversy-courting online gossip declares.

Hilton's tongue-in-cheek (we hope) pitch came in a clever mock presidential-style campaign ad posted Tuesday on Funny or Die. The political theme seems apt, given that the future of the “Idol” judge’s panel is the subject of Beltway-like, seemingly endless speculation.

Cowell is a lame duck, with his exit planned for the season's end. New judge Ellen DeGeneres is surging in the polls (some 58 percent think she’s doing an “awesome” job, though 46 percent miss Paula Abdul, according to an AOL Television survey). Meanwhile, self-declared Queen of All Media Hilton is getting laughs from his rogue campaign for the job – just like self-declared King of All Media Howard Stern, who recently mused about replacing Cowell.

All this politicking comes as the public is casting its first votes on the fates of this season's talented contestants – remember them?

In its nine seasons, Fox’s "American Idol" has operated in its own bizarro, alternate world of American democracy, where one text equals one vote (and virtual ballot-box stuffing is rampant). Last year's faceoff between Kris Allen and Adam Lambert drew some 100 million votes, compared to about 115 million cast in the Barack Obama-John McCain presidential contest.

Meanwhile, we’re at a strange point in time where another Fox enterprise – Fox News – is a platform for a handful of folks who could end up running for president (Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Mike Huckabee). All three straddle the worlds of celebrity, punditry and politics. With Obama just over a year into his term, divisions and political posturing from all over are distracting the country from important business at hand.

The same might be said regarding the much less weighty matter of the shifting of the judges on “Idol.” The buzz over who will replace Cowell threatens to drown out what the show really should be about: the young singers.

“What a cush job,” Stern said earlier this month as he called “American Idol” a “f---ing karaoke contest.”

Hilton shows similar profane disdain: "Perez for Idol, B-----s!" is his campaign slogan.

Check out his video below. We think it's amusing and taps into a larger truth about what "Idol" has become – but you be the judge.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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