In preparation for my trip to Germany, I’m watching YouTube clips of “Deutschland Sucht ein Superstar,” (DSDS) Germany’s version of “American Idol, and reading Germany’s tabloid newspaper, Das Bild. The two converged recently in a story that puts the nanny into “nanny state.”
Just as context, DSDS is a lot like “American Idol” and the show both are based on, Britian’s “Pop Idol”: young singers go to an open audition and the best of them compete for the “Idol” crown, which wins them a recording contract and almost-guaranteed spot on the national pop charts. DSDS has its Simon in the form of Dieter Bohlen, one half of a geeky German Wham clone from the early 80s. He’s more cynical than Simon, but also given to a certain campiness in his criticism (as in how creatively can you use the word “shit” within the German language.) The fellow judges are no Rudy and Paula though. They almost always say no, though the female judge will sometimes apologize; and the only time the interchangeable third judge says anything besides “no” it’s only translatable into British English, which also means I usually don’t understand it anyway.
Oh, and the German version also oddly features the Germans trying to sing in English, which is, frankly, embarrassing for all. Does anyone in any country really need to hear “Ze Djini in ze buttle?” or “Hvut iz luv?” If Beethoven were still alive, he’d be grateful to be deaf.
In any case, anyone who auditions has got to know what they’re going up against. But that doesn’t keep the German government bureaucrats from getting all uptight that untalented, deluded teens are bursting into tears because they’ve just been told they’re not good enough for a singing contest. One case mentioned in particular is the audition of Raymund Ringele, which thanks to the miracle of YouTube we can all watch.
For those of you who don’t understand German, here’s a rough synopsis to put it into context. Raymond’s 17 and speaks with the folksy Rheinland accent. He’s excited to be trying out, and his dad says his singing is enchanting. Raymond comes up to the audition, clearly nervous, but tells the judges he’s happy to be there, and begins hyperventilating. The judges ask what’s wrong, and Raymond tells them is pulse is racing; Dieter Bohlen jokes 17-year-olds don’t have a heart(beat). “Yeah, OK, if you say so!” Raymond tries to joke back, which falls flat. Finally, Raymond sings a pop song (in German, thank god) breathily and jumping around frantically.
Dieter Bohlen tells him he could get a spot on the worst of the worst list, and that the audition was really, really bad. So Raymond starts crying and the female judge goes up to comfort him. And then, Raymond takes advantage of it by going into total drama queen mode and falling on the floor. The judges look genuinely surprised as the assistants give Raymond some water, call in the father, and help him out. “I didn’t know if it was for real,” Bohlen says, “but if I were his father, I would have told him he didn’t need to do this.” At the end of the piece rolls an explanation saying Raymond recovered, that he lost his building (er, stance, presence?) because of his pulse; that his father supports his musical ambitions, and the show wishes him better luck after getting some lessons.
For this (and criticisms of talent-challenged German teens), Germany’s child protective services agency has threatened to fine the show for undue cruelty to minors. I want to burst out laughing, but it’s the tax-paying citizens of Germany who are going to have to pay for this–and who will have to pretend to be kinder to pissy hysterical 17-year-old boys as a result. Can you say “minimum audition age of 18” and “more draconian audition agreements” in German? I can’t, but I bet the producers of DSDS are thinking about it.