Is American Idol cruel?
Of course it is, dimwad. That's the point. Dog Whisperer is about dogs; 24 is about Jack Bauer saving the world; The View is about estrogen, and American Idol is about making fun of people with no talent and no clue.
And therein lies the formula: Everybody is a wannabe, and when bloated self-esteem meets the reality of no talent, you end up face-to-face with Simon Cowell.
Cowell, of course, is the nasty piece of work who made a tasteless crack about a contestant with autism and put down another by saying he looked like a "bush baby."
But spare me the moral outrage. The audience knows what to expect, and they get it.
They get Jessica, an earnest young blond woman whose dream is not just to sing like Jewel, but to be Jewel. She shows up at the audition in Jewel drag. She wants it so badly - the fame, the celebrity, hanging with J-Lo and Christina and Paris. She lives for this.
But Jessica can't sing. At all. It's not even a close call. At best, she's a marginal singer on karaoke night.
When the judges tell her this, Jessica is crushed, absolutely devastated. As she breaks down, Cowell, the tool that he is, quietly tells her that this is actually a good day for her, because she has finally learned that she will never be a singer and now has a chance to get on with her life. She is, of course, inconsolable.
Clearly, until this moment, everyone around this young woman assured her that she was a talented, maybe even gifted singer. None of her friends, family, co-workers or teachers ever told her the truth.
So who was kind and who was cruel? The folks who led her on all these years, who fed her delusions and her inflated, impossible dream? Or Simon, who told her the truth?
This is what's revealing about the whole show. Most contestants know they don't have a shot and are just chasing their 15 minutes of fame (or with YouTube, it may be more like three minutes). Some are outright nut jobs.
But the shock troops of American Idol are the bubble-wrapped members of "Generation Me" - coddled with gold stars, happy faces and endless reassurance - pursuing their bliss even though they have the musical talent of a ferret on a chalkboard.
They are the kids who played on teams where nobody got cut and nobody kept score and who were raised to believe that they could be anything they wanted to be. Reality hits them as a rude and nasty surprise.
Of course, most members of Generation Me don't get their reality check on national television. Usually, they hit that wall in a college classroom, in a relationship or in a job.
They seem to be under the impression that their new boss is patting himself on the back at his good fortune in finding such a special, self-actualized employee, God's own gift to the workforce.
More likely, he's asking, "What the hell?"
Sooner or later, they will have to learn some basic lessons of life. As usual, I'm willing to offer some free advice. Feel free to take notes.
Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life hasn't. In fact, it's a lot more like dodge ball than your gym teacher thinks. Humiliation is part of life. Deal with it.
The real world is not going to care as much as your school does about your self-esteem, and no matter what your daddy says, you are not a princess.
You are not entitled to a 42-inch plasma screen TV with surround sound, a Porsche Boxter, a video iPod, a cell phone with limitless text messaging and Bluetooth, a condo with a pool, a laptop computer, a DVR, the double latte with cream, a Ferrari or the new Michael Jordan running shoes.
Life isn't fair. Get used to it.
Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Television is not real life. You aren't going to be a rock star, or make the NBA, so spare us the attitude. As every episode of American Idol makes graphically clear, you cannot be everything you dream, unless you have the talent, the education, and the commitment to work for it.
Now, aren't you glad you heard it from me instead of Simon Cowell? You're welcome.