I used to love "American Idol." I have been on record as saying that "American Idol" was the biggest influence on music from the year 2002 to present day. And I loved predicting winners. I was almost always wrong, but I did win in an "American Idol" pool once. Part of my failure at predicting winners each year was my emotional investment in each year. I rooted too much to analyze clear-eyed.
As a counterpoint, I loved fantasy football for a few years, too, but was much better at that because I don't actually watch NFL; not caring who won, I studied stats and probabilities and acted dispassionately. That's the smart way to pick winners.
My favorite singer in all of "American Idol" was Jennifer Hudson (side note: my second favorite was Haley Reinhardt, who has since delivered the best version of "Creep" since Radiohead). I was absolutely stunned when she had an early exit on the 3rd season of "AI". I mourned her loss, because I was sure that was the end of her career: she came in 7th place. And she seemed to toil in obscurity for a year or two, until, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, she gave an unforgettable performance as Effie White in "Dreamgirls." She was on top of the world... where she deserved to be.
And then unimaginable horror struck just a few years later. Her mother, brother, sister, and nephew were all shot dead. At the time, I couldn't help but think that had she not resurrected her career through "Dreamgirls," the world would not have noticed that almost the entire family of some "no-name" reality show contestant was wiped out in a single day. As if the world noticing could blunt the impact?
I don't know how she didn't disappear from society. I don't know how she rose again from the ashes. But she did. Human resilience somehow never stops surprising me. A neighbor of mine, the first to welcome me to the neighborhood, died two weeks ago, and I remembered that he often greeted me with a bear hug. Yes, people live on in our memories, but when they pass away, no amount of memory will bring back the tangible weight of a bear hug. I saw his wife and 7 year old daughter at my boys' school and I hugged them--lightly, in case they were too fragile to withstand a bear hug. They smiled, and appeared for that moment to have found peace and a determination to press forward. I don't know how.
My boys really enjoyed the mediocre animated comedy movie, Sing! They have repeatedly asked me to play the soundtrack from Sing! on Spotify. It starts out strong with a Stevie Wonder and Ariana Grande duet. But it fizzles out for a while. Then Jennifer Hudson dazzles: in a duet with Tori Kelly on Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," and especially on Lennon and McCartney's "Golden Slumbers." The Beatles's version was always sweet, but Hudson's is sublime. It is raw. It is human.
The boys want to listen to "I'm Still Standing." Pretty good version, pretty good song. Great sentiment. But I rewind. I want to hear her again, rising from the ashes. I kind of want to give her a hug. Her version bests the original. The Beatles original. "She's still standing," I think. I don't know how.