Even for the most cynical among us, there was something heart-warming about last week's "American Idol" auditions.
Yes, the show has become a juggernaut that rolls over everything in its path. Yes, it's all about making money for the producers and Fox, the network that airs it.
(And a big "Duh!" to anyone who ever thought otherwise.)
But if you could have seen the joy in the eyes of the auditioners who advanced to the next round of the tryouts, it was nothing short of amazing. And infectious.
Yes, the hopefuls still have a long way to go. But given that they beat odds that may have been as high as 30-1 just to make it to the next round, they certainly had something to celebrate.
Or did they?
As much as I wanted to see these kids (and a lot of them were kids) jump up and down for joy and celebrate the moment, in the back of my mind was the thought that some of them were being punk'd.
Anyone who's ever watched "American Idol" knows that some really terrible singers make it through to judges Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul. And that means that not only are these terrible and in many cases completely self-deluded kids being lied to by the "Idol" staffers who decide who goes on to the next round, but then they're going to be lied to again by the executive producers in Round 2.
All this so they can be cannon fodder for Cowell, who will make cruel comments and shatter more dreams.
I know that's the way the game is played. So should anyone who tries out.
But not all of them do.
It would be considerably less cruel just to send the tone-deaf on their way in Round 1, but "American Idol" is about entertainment. And part of that entertainment package is built on mocking the untalented.
And, even when the kids offer themselves up as sacrificial lambs, it's still cruel.
I'M ROOTING FOR Utahn Marcus to win the title of "Last Comic Standing" on Thursday night. Not just because he's a local, not just because I like him personally, but because I genuinely think he's the best of the five finalists.
That said, "Last Comic Standing" is a terrible show. And, like "American Idol," has a big streak of cruelty that seems utterly uncalled for.
For those of you who've never seen it, "Last Comic Standing" is essentially "American Idol" for stand-up comedians. The show holds auditions in various cities across the country; various judges send those they deem best on to the finals in Las Vegas; the finalists perform and, as the show nears an end, viewers vote for their favorites.
(Five finalists remain; one will win in Thursday's episode, which airs from 7-9 p.m. on NBC/Ch. 5.)
I love to laugh as much as anyone, but the show has never been a particular favorite of mine because the talent level is so low overall. For every Marcus there are about 50 hopefuls who couldn't make you laugh with nitrous oxide.
But this season has been worse than its predecessors because There's-A-Reason-It's-In-Last-Place NBC has insisted on two-hour episodes. And what might be mildly entertaining at one hour is painful to watch at twice that length.
The show is so desperate to fill time that, last week, the then-eight remaining finalists had to perform routines before they were told the results of the previous week's voting. And three of them had already been eliminated.
That's just mean.Again, I hope Marcus wins. And I hope this launches him on a big career filled with things a lot better than "Last Comic Standing."