The Lawrence Cowell Show

courtesy OETA

The south Minneapolis family sits down together each week to catch American Idol on TV. It has been a seasonal ritual for close to a decade.

"It's our Lawrence Welk Show," the dad says. "When I was a kid, Saturday was bath night at our house. All the kids had to take baths by 8 p.m. so we could get downstairs and gather round the tube to catch this freak from North Dakota with his musical wand and his weird accent. Lawrence Welk was our Simon Cowell. We thought he was goofy as hell, but we enjoyed the show."

The mom says American Idol is one of the few shows a family can enjoy together these days. She says so many programs seem to appeal to either an older or a younger crowd, rarely to both. American Idol is the exception.

"I can be comfortable watching a show like this with my kids," Mom says. "It's corny, like The Lawrence Welk Show was corny, but it brings the teenagers upstairs from the basement or downstairs from their bedrooms, and for an evening it has us all together in one room, commenting on what we're watching, laughing, arguing. Without Idol I'm not sure what we'd do together in our house outside of eat."

"Did you know Larry Welk graduated from the MacPhail School of Music in Minneapolis?" dad asks. "No joke. Way back in 1927. My old man met him once. Pop caught a live show of Larry and his Hotsy Totsy Boys. Later on in the service, he saw his Honolulu Fruit Gum Orchestra. Pop said when those bands died, music died."

"Speaking of old music," Mom says, "did you know that famous Anthology of American Folk Music put out by Folkways Records features virtually nothing but southern artists, the lone exception being some guy from St. Paul named Frank Cloutier? He's the only northerner in all of those 84 tracks. Now get this, every single American Idol winner has been from the South as well. What is it about the North and our lack of musical artistry?"

"That's some obscure stuff you got there, honey," Dad says. "I know some interesting trivia as well, about Larry. I read Wunnerful, Wunnerful: The Autobiography  of Lawrence Welk last December. Did you know that wild man bumped the Shirelles off the top of the pop charts back in 1961? It's rock 'n' roll prime time in America and weird Larry records this tune called 'Calcutta' and blasts 'Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow' out of the No. 1 position. He did the recording in one take, and America fell in love with it. He also kept the Miracles from taking 'Shop Around' beyond the No. 2 slot. It would have been their first No. 1 hit. Those girls hated Larry. They wanted to shove that wand right through his larynx."

"I know a lot of American Idol performers hate Simon Cowell," Mom says. "They can't let it show, of course, because it would hurt their chances on the program, but I've read that behind the scenes they fantasize about killing him."

"I don't doubt it," Dad says. "Let me tell you about Alice Lon. She was the 'Champagne Lady' on The Lawrence Welk Show. Larry thought she was showing too much leg one day and booted her. He told the audience he wouldn't tolerate any "cheesecake" on his program. Well, he had to try to rehire her because fan mail poured in saying he'd been too harsh. 'Course Alice would have nothing more to do with the show after that."

"I think the fan letters have been pouring in to get Paula back on board," Mom says. "Simon was cruel to her as well."

"Yeah, imagine the fit Larry would have had seeing Paula's fleshy gams," Dad says. "The champagne bubbles would have been pouring out his ears."

Tonight the family has gathered yet again. The kids drift in from adjacent rooms and flop on couches, or pillows scattered on the floor. The theme music starts and the room goes quiet as Ryan Seacrest takes the stage.

The family is excited about this latest season even as CNN is reporting it to be the least-talented group of performers in nine years.

"People are saying the show has jumped the shark," Dad says. "But we're still digging it. It's our break at the end of the day. Nobody's taking baths beforehand, but otherwise it's our Larry Welk Show.

"See the Nissan parked out front? Picture it as a Rambler and it's 1969 all over again." 

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