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My Generation 

American Idol sets 'em up, Mary J knocks 'em down.

American Idol is over. Maybe I can talk to my parents again.

"Hey, Mom. What are you doing?"

"American Idol."

"I'll call back."

It's weird when your parents become part and parcel of America's corporate-culture calculus. It's kind of cute, watching them get obsessed over stuff they'll forget about in six months. It's also a letdown, in light of their youngest son's imprecations (mine) against that stuff for the past decade. I've always been that disdainful thorn.

But it makes them happy. Oddly, they were fans of runner-up Katharine McPhee this year, a 22-year-old California soul singer with ample ballast you were sure would float her to America's visually attentive top. She lost to Taylor Hicks, a 29-year-old Alabama man with gray hair and a warm smile. For Mom and Dad, though, the real winner was Mary J. Blige, who, in signature style, roared through a take on U2's "One," finalist Elliott Yamin holding on for dear life.

"Shit, son, that Mary J. Blige can sing. She's better than all of those other people," Dad exclaimed of Blige.

Instantly, television had transformed him into a fanatic of Blige, who's first No. 1 came back in '92. He vows to buy her new album, The Breakthrough, as soon as someone goes to town. As expected, he likes her U2 covers better than songs called "MJB Da MVP."

"This album is too hip-hoppy for me. I'm telling you, she's got too much talent to be wasting it on this hip-hop crap: Booom Bla Bom Bom," Dad says, laughing at his own onomatopoeia and keeping up the joke for a good 10 seconds. "Boy, she's talented, though."

Imagine that: The false hopes of a television set's warm glow, fading after the price has been paid.

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