Thursday, April 20, 2006

Southern Exposure

I've seen several items in the news over the last week or so that explore why American Idol contestants from the South seem to fare better than their competitors from other regions of the country. Birmingham alone has ties to four finalists: Ruben Studdard, Diana DeGarmo (born here; raised in Georgia), Bo Bice, and now Taylor Hicks.

Some people speculate that it's because we throw our kids in church choir early on and "make" them sing...some people say it's because the South enjoys such a rich musical history in terms of blues, gospel, jazz and country...some think it's because we're more "rural" than the rest of the US and have nothing better to do than sit around and watch reality television shows.

I don't really have a problem with any of those theories, though I'm surprised that last one didn't also say, "watch reality television shows while they bite their toenails in their run-down trailers as they simultaneously sip moonshine, play the banjo, and smooch on their cousins." I have some issues with the way the media portray the South, if you can't tell. (Total aside: Daph, do you remember how Anne Harris always stressed in our comm. classes that "media" is the plural of the singular "medium" and therefore takes the plural verb? I've never forgotten that. Riveting information for the rest of you, I know.)

I've only seen one person mention what I think is the real reason Southern contestants do so well on American Idol: we enthusiastically support our own in this part of the world. Being Southern is such a huge chunk of our identity that we tend to rally around fellow Southerners. We love a "small town boy / girl does good" story, and since the normal six degrees of separation are whittled down to around three for us, we feel like we know the people who are competing. And since we feel like we know them, we vote for them, because they're practically one of the family. I don't know if those of you who have never lived in the South can fully understand it, but we are fiercely loyal to our place and to our people in this (red)neck of the woods.

Someone - I think on - mentioned that one factor in Southerners' AI success is that we can be charming, as evidenced by the fact that it's much easier for a Southern presidential candidate to win over Northern voters than vice versa. Of course I find Southerners to be charming, but I've never lived anywhere besides Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana, so I see the world through deep fried glasses. I assume that all people in all parts of the country are charming and warm and hospitable, just as we are down here.

I'd love to hear if y'all have any theories about the Idol deal. If you live in another part of the US (or a completely different country, for that matter), what's the hospitality temperature of your area? Warm, lukewarm, or frigid? Do you feel "rallied around" where you live? If you were on American Idol, for example, would you feel like you had the support of not just your town but your entire REGION behind you?

Meanwhile, I'll be on the front porch practicin' my hog callin' if anyone needs to find me. ;-)


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