When it comes to singing a song and telling a story, or in fact talking forever about nothing in particular, we got Tony Bennett. He's spent sixty years having hits in every decade, starting with 1950. 106 albums and $50M worldwide sales, 15 Grammies and eighty years of age later, he's a legend. He sings with Xtina and is beloved by Stevie, Barbra, and Bono. His Duets is his biggest album ever. Everybody loves him, he's a legend. He jumped on the "ironic cover" bandwagon after everybody else had finally jumped off it, desperately grasping for the tweener buck, and still couldn't equal the emotional power in one pinkie toe of "Hurt." He represents a bygone age when men were men and women were women, and he's still stuck there, along with countless fans and members of the Greatest Generation. Like so many of his fans and fans of the show, he prefers to hear the songs he's heard a million times before, performed just like they have been performed a million times before, because he is deeply afraid of change. His comfort zone is the circumference of the action of a pair of wingtips, in the middle of a lazy soft-shoe. He is a performer par excellence, much like his whole generation of showmen, and is thus part of a phenomenon in which I have a notorious lack of interest. To say I would rather throw myself off a tall, tall building than ever hear Clay Aiken "interpret" a dusty old standard or five thousand is not to say that Clay Aiken is untalented. I'm given to understand he's good at doing this thing. It's just that he's doing something I don't care for. There are people who are good at golf too, but I don't want to watch them being good at it.
The Idols cheer, as they do every week, on Tony's arrival. He describes them all as "very competent," and tells them that he likes all of them. He then explains that, coincidentally enough, the songs in which he is most proficient happen to be "the best songs ever written in America," and explains to us that the "whole idea" is longevity. Keep doing the same thing for sixty years, never growing or changing or challenging your audience in any way, and you too could still get wheeled out onstage for applause when you're billions of years old, like a toothless tiger in a decaying circus cage. You too can be complicit in the consensual illusion that things were better in the past, when racism and misogyny were the order of the day; you too can look back fondly on the Depression and two World Wars and have the gall to get misty about it. You too can be part of the lie. You too can say -- with eyes wide open -- that Sophia Loren still is, and will always be, the sexiest bloated corpse on the planet.