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American Idol Madness; Check Out Palm VOD

I’m reeling from last night’s two-hour onslaught, Idol Gives Back. While the charity fundraising was laudable, the mawkish, self-indulgent production detracted from the message. Fox subjected the audience to a mind-numbing parade of contrived set-ups, a gazillion celebrity mini-views, off-key singing and gaudy production numbers.

American Idol has officially gone beyond jumping the shark into new territory. I don’t know what the word would be for something that’s so beyond the shark. Maybe my posse here can invent a new term.

At one point, Bono lounges against a door jam, his expression fatherly as he looks on while the six finalists croon, gathered around a Steinway baby grand. He walks in, all patriarch-like, to dispense rock and roll advice. Extreme close ups of the finalist’s adoring expressions were edited in. It was cringe-worthy.

The excessive hype continues with the ads. A Ford commercial features a bunch of celebs awkwardly lip-synching to Stayin’ Alive.

"Stay around — the results will shock you!" urges host Ryan Seacrest.

The ad onslaught continues unabated. All cars are exhilarating — "scary fast" German cars. Then — oh no! — not another Drew Barrymore romance vehicle, this time a film called Lucky You.

One bright spot worth mentioning — Jack Black bouncing around the stage trying to keep his jeans up while singing Seala’s Kiss from a Rose. "I’m Jack! Jack Black!" he roars as he jumps in front of the cameras, "Are you guys ready to have your minds blown!?

The song I’m singing tonight is Kiss from a Rose … "It’s from Batman Returns [lowers voice a little, reverently], the most sensitive of all the Batmans."

Priceless. And his singing voice is better than 90% of the contestants and guests. Annie Lennox hit some rough chop trying to manage Bridge Over Troubled Water.

But then the last few, tortuous minutes of Idol will probably be remembered as one of television’s greatest manipulative moments. The audience was warned they would be shocked — shocked! — by the results. And, for a few seconds, the audience is led by the nose to believe that Jordon (the expressive 17-year-old) was voted off.

But suddenly, no 00 she’s safe! Everyone is safe! But how!!?? Says Seacrest, "We can’t vote anyone off on Charity Night!"

Shocked? Annoyed maybe, but not shocked. It was an amateurish, adolescent production stunt. And the only reason I’m watching Idol at this point is to rubber neck this pop culture wreckage.

I can only say — thank god for cable. Here’s one cable alternative to the star-making machinery we were subjected to on Fox last night.

Drill down to Comcast’s on-demand Palm VOD. Palm VOD now reaches 9.5 million households in 35 states.

It’ a little cable sweet spot, a refreshing contrast to broadcast network excesses. Palm is an eclectic film and music production company founded 10 years ago by legendary music producer Chris Blackwell.

Palm VOD extras features their African and Latin world-music videos, with an HD flat screen and home theatre system, the commercial free collection works as a pretty cool party backdrop.

For starters spool upOne Giant Leapnow airing as part of the Palm Film Festival.

The dual Grammy nominated film is a genre-bending, part -documentary, part-music video celebration of world music and first people cultures featuring REM’s Michael Stipe, Michael Franti, Kurt Vonnegut (god rest his hippie soul), Dennis Hopper, Tom Robbins and more.

Where else will you hear Michael Stipe collaborate with Indian singing legend Asha Bhosle? Get your ambient groove on here and listen to their duet titled I Love the Way You Dream.

Sometimes the film wanders a little far afield but there is one striking edit in particular. While an LA plastic surgeon muses about the uptick in demand for plastic surgery, the culture of narcissism and fear of aging, his remarks are juxtaposed against painstaking preparations for cremation shot in India’s city of death, Varanasi. (For a devout Hindu, to die in Varanasi means the final release from the cycle of death and rebirth.) The camera hovers above the shrouded body, the face in peaceful repose, framed by thousands of bright yellow blossoms.

The film was written and produced by Duncan Bridgeman and Jamie Catto, two South Africans who traveled the world for six months to capture footage Their sensibility is reflective of the burning man/urban youth culture that runs through the planet like an underground spring, a variant of the hubbies described in Stan Stalnaker’s Hub Culture. On shoestring budgets, these 20-somethings hop from country to country in packs, from youth hostel to youth hostel, creating informal sisterhoods and brotherhoods while sampling cultures and music on the go. Many are highly educated and they’re a tough demographic to crack. Check out One Giant Leap for a peek into their utopian streak.