Some judge a country by its flag, others by the tone its people take when they say, "Please stop using my country's flag as a dinner napkin."
But actually, reality tv, and particularly song contests, tell you all you need to know about a place. My wife the scientist has become addicted to Star Mania, Austria's version of American Idol, and now I too am caught up in this grand spectacle of adorable young Teutons doing theirt own versions of various Celine Dion songs. Weeks ago, when I first noticed what she was watching, I told my girl that Star Mania flies in the face of everything I like about music. Then Ric did a punk rock version of the theme song from Biene Maja, an old Euro cartoon about a hungry bee, and Martin, the tall chirpy one who thinks he's straight, got kicked off the show after receiving a "sexual" fan letter. So I started watching, just as a nice way to spend time with my wife, you understand.
Last night was the Star Mania finale, a three-way championship round that should have been like King Kong versus Godzilla versus Gamera, but was actually more like, well, Tom versus Gernot versus Nadine. Within minutes of the opening credits, Tom, who is very lovable and who does not think he is straight, was killing it with a diva number called "When the Lights Go Down." Next up was Gernot, a frat boy who just narrates every song and frankly shouldn't have made it this far. True to form, he tossed off a smirking Frank Sinatra impersonation, and thereby sealed his own fate. Then it was Nadine's turn. Nadine is a 16-year-old brunette from Tirol. She looks like she will die of stage fright at any second before and after she sings, but whoa, when she sings, it's like ,"Yoo hoo, Mr. Grammy, I'm coming to get'cha." Well, she did some song. It was good. I felt like I was being sucked into the tv screen by her big brown Bambi eyes.
After Gernot got the ax, after the ensuing tears of victory and defeat, Tom and Nadine fixed their cold appraising stares on each other (actually they were both very gracious) and did their final finales. Nadine did some other song (Mary J. Blige, maybe?) and it was good. But Tom wore gold lame and did the theme from "Goldfinger"! He even held out his hand like a pistol and blew the "smoke" off the barrel/finger! That's it, I thought, he's lost, this is way too gay, way too much for the Austrian heartland. And I was right.
Nadine won, which was great, because she's extremely sympathetic and sweet and now she gets a record contract with Universal and I'm sure she'll be battling anorexia and drug addiction and a horribly conniving entourage very soon.
But, gee, Tom.... Despite my stated misgivings about Star Mania (which I stand by), it was really actually very truly moving when he told the host of the show why he sang "Goldfinger." He said he heard it for the first time when he was twelve. All his friends hated it, but Tom thought to himself, "Hmm, I kinda love this song." Then he said it was the first time that he realized that he didn't care what other people thought of him.
Actually, I have no idea what any of this says about Austria. But I've been smiling about it all day.