You’ve seen him lending his witty talents to the OurStage Magazine here and there, and now we’re happy to announce that Joshua Neuman will be laying the smack down on all things music in his own OurStage column, Neuman’s Own. Josh cut his teeth in journalism in the hyper-frenetic world of obituary writing at his college newspaper. Next, he became the Music Editor of Heeb Magazine, but after running out of versions of “Hava Negilah” to review, he soon became the magazine’s Editor-in-Chief. Music, however, still remained an important part of his life, whether he was in the shower or hanging from a poll at the Hunkamania strip club in Atlantic City, NJ. Get a daily dose of Josh on Twitter.
He’s Richard Simmons meets Lilith Fair, but somehow he’s still got game. Unassuming 16-year-old Brett Loewenstern made it to the Top 24 of the tenth season of American Idol last week. To be sure, he’s far from the best singer in the Top 24, but as everybody knows, Idol isn’t a singing contest—it’s a less-than-scientific experiment to produce that ephemeral cultural commodity known as the “pop star.” Nervous and twitchy, singing about acceptance and holding hands with his competitors, Loewenstern may seem too fainthearted for the fracas ahead of him. And for those reasons, it feels jarring to imagine the Boca Raton-native having the heart of an assassin. But what if Loewenstern is playing all of us?
It’s been four years since “Sanjayamania” was running wild, but for the public’s attitude towards freaks and geeks, it’s been a hundred. After Sanjaya Malakar earned a spot in the Top 24 (the judges, at times, praising his performances to that point), the Indian/Italian-American increasingly found himself as the laughing stock of the competition. Simon Cowell increasingly bludgeoned him and mainstream commentators participated in the chorus of mean-spiritednes: Andy Samberg sent him up on SNL, Sanjay’s “pony-hawk” became the most ridiculed fashion statement in the show’s history and Howard Stern encouraged his listeners to vote for Sanjaya to undermine the contest. Sanjay took it all in, never fought back, and the public ate it all up.
But it’s no longer 2007 and “bullying” has taken center stage in American zeitgeist. And Loewenstern—or perhaps more specifically, the show’s ratings-obsessedproducers—can’t seem to call enough attention to the fact that he was picked on back in his hometown. When we were first introduced to him in New Orleans he confessed:
“Growing up, starting in about the third grade, people would pick on me. I was never really invited to birthday parties and they would call me a dork and a geek. It was really hard for me…. I want to give a message to kids and bullies. Be yourself….” Loewenstern sang “Bohemian Rhapsody” at his audition, but when the judges gave him the thumbs up the show’s producers cut to a different song by Queen—“We Are the Champions,” the campy number that was also the anthem in Revenge of the Nerds.
Perhaps somewhat strategically, Loewenstern has embraced this role. When given the chance to perform any song in the world during Hollywood Week he chose an original he wrote about being picked on: “Every time I look in the mirror I see a stranger staring back at me/Wanna hold his hand, tell him it’ll be okay…. I’ve got my bulletproof vest and I am no longer scared.”
Then, just to drive home the point, during his post-performance interview he uttered to the camera: “I would like to say to the people that tried to bring me down, bully me…I’m done with being a victim.”
Indeed, watch a few Loewenstern performances on YouTube. He’s a lot more confident than he is leading on.
If Loewenstern increasingly wins over the public with his revenge of the nerds persona then it might be bad news for Jordan Dorsey and Clint Jun Gamboa—who the show framed as bullies-in-the-making during Hollywood Week when neither wanted to perform with Jacee Badeaux.
Idol is not taking a stand against bullies—it’s cynically and calculatingly exploiting the public’s desire to take one. In this light, having Loewenstern sit side-by-side with the talented Badeaux helped inoculate the show from the charge of bullying while ousting a competitor who wouldn’t bode well for their bottom line.
That being said, it’s virtually impossible in the current climate to imagine Loewenstern suffering a Sanjaya-like fate. Times have changed too much and the redheaded performer seems too shrewd to not miss out on playing this cultural moment for all it’s worth. Whether it’s enough to crown him the next American Idol remains to be seen, but to the bullies back in Boca Raton: he’s already had the last laugh.