Bob Watches 'American Idol,' While I Ask, 'Are You A Music Snob?'

As NPR Music producer Stephen Thompson noted on Twitter (@idislikestephen) last night, watching All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen sit through an episode of American Idol is a bit like watching the Amish in Times Square. To Bob's credit, he didn't squirm as much as I thought he would, though on a few occasions he did scrunch his face, as though someone were holding a handful of manure under his nose.

Following last week's post about contestant Adam Lambert, Bob was especially curious to hear and see the program's most theatrical and memorable singer. Here's a partial transcript of the conversation we had after Lambert squealed his final note:

Robin: Do you think [Adam Lambert] can sing?
Bob: Well, of course he can sing. But you don't get sucked into the song. It's like he throws a switch and he's full-throttle.
Robin: You're saying he's very mechanical.
Bob: Well...
Stephen: It's not mechanical. There's just no nuance at all.
Bob: Right.
Stephen: He's kind of, in some of these songs, trying to sound like Jeff Buckley.
Bob: I don't hear that at all.
Stephen: And I love Jeff Buckley. But Jeff Buckley [goes for] those extreme notes maybe once every second or third song. And otherwise, he's got a deeper, softer tone. And for Adam Lambert, it's just squealing.
Bob: Yeah.
Robin: It's not squealing. But I do think he has more power in his voice than he knows what to do with.
Stephen: He also is doing one thing that's very smart, if the goal is to win the competition, which is that each one of his performances is very much an event.
Robin: Yes.
Stephen: It's like he's saying, "Okay, all these pikers did their thing. Now I'm going to do a giant, theatrical explosion that's going to blow everyone away."
Robin: I'm going to go out on a limb here. I think I would pay money to see him perform.
Stephen: Wow!
Robin: If I knew he was giving a show in town, I think I'd have to go. It's not just that I think he's such a talented singer, or I like the music. It's because he's a performer and it would be a spectacle.
Bob: I think you'd be exhausted by the third song.
Stephen: Can you imagine if he did nothing but wail and screech for an hour?
Robin: (to Bob) Let me ask you this: Are you just a music snob?
Bob: No! You know, I just need to get a certain thing out of it.
Robin: Well, let's say the definition of a music snob is...
Bob: Look, I can't listen to Barbra Streisand. I can barely listen to Sinatra. I can't stand that style. It drives me out of my skull.
Robin: I talk to people who proudly say they've never watched a second of American Idol and I think, you know, "Lighten up!" Nobody appreciates really thoughtful, inspired music more than I do. But I can enjoy this, particularly in the context of a competition.
Stephen: I do love it as a spectacle. It's just fun.
Bob: This is all really about over-emoting singers. And they're the kind of singers... I hate that stuff. It's why I stopped listening to the radio. The pop-buying public has always seemed to love singers who over-sing. That's the nature of the pop-music beast.

At this point, Bob turned down the volume on the TV and put on a CD of new music from Patrick Watson (which is amazing, by the way). But the evening didn't end without us getting Bob to tell us who he liked the most on American Idol. His pick? Danny Gokey.

What do you think about music snobbery? Are you a snob if you simply don't like listening to certain kinds of music?

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