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An effete elite? Guilty, sort of.

Disclaimer: I like Lady Gaga, Frank Sinatra and James Taylor. The radio buttons in my car are set to public radio, classical music, the Top 40 and oldies stations. I admit to watching way more Food Network, Bravo and TNT than PBS. My web browser's bookmarks run the gamut from the New York Times to a site about makeup.

But PT Barnum got it partially right. It's not underestimating the intelligence of the American people that makes people rich; it's underestimating the taste factor combined with intelligence. I'm prepared for jeers, flaming and catcalls and to be called elitist, effete and snob. Bring it.

The bottom line: We Americans could use a dose of elitism and snobbery. We could also use a mega-dose of discretion and discrimination. No, not the "no Jews, Catholics or Blacks allowed" or "no Mosques in my neighborhood" kinds of discrimination. The discrimination I want to see more of is the one that's defined in Webster's as"subtle appreciation in matters of taste" and "the ability to see fine distinctions and differences."

In college a bunch of us used to stand on line to get cheap seats for ballet performances at the Metropolitan Opera. We saw some of the greats, like Baryshnikov, Nureyev, Kirkland and Gregory and Bujones. It was a heady time. We once finagled our way backstage, hoping for a glimpse of greatness.

That same college group also did the standing room only/standby status routine for opera at the Met. We saw some breathtaking performances: Corelli, Scotto, Domingo, Milnes, Pavarotti and more (we never did get backstage; I think I would have passed out if I saw Corelli in person). I saw/heard Beverly Sills sing all three queens at NY City Opera - back in the day before its administration decided to self-destruct - and when she was invited to sing at the Met, I was there, cheering on this overdue recognition. My friends and I debated the atmospheric perfections of Sutherland vs Sills, the Italians vs the Americans and the (even then) fate of opera in America.

I love ballet. My own dancing looks more like Seinfeld's Elaine Benes than Cyd Charisse, but that combination of music and movement takes my breath away. It's true: everything is beautiful at the ballet. And I love opera. Overblown, overdone, outrageous in its conceit and yet simultaneously intimate, sweet and personal.

What ballet and opera share is this: you can't just wake up one day and decide, "I think I'll go dance Odette or sing Madama Butterfly." No. It takes years, a lifetime really, of training and discipline to make it all look like you woke up one day and decided to dance Odette or sing Madama Butterfly.

And that's where I find myself today as I reflect on the elimination of two of the top 10 finalists in Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance."

To be blunt: I resent "American Idol." The premise is not something I want praised and promoted. Yes, some of the contestants have pleasant voices, but that's beside the point because what is extolled is not real musicianship but rather personality. Some of the singers can't read music or have no or minimal background in the craft or technique of singing. I cringe at being presented with teenagers who have not paid their dues in sweat and study. That the process is a fraud is self-evident: how many winners have actually had decent careers besides being found in "where are they now" gossip pages? I admire the ones who didn't win the popularity contest but take chances or perfect their crafts. My choice for winner would have been Carly Smithson, who in 2008 sang "I Don't Know How to Love Him" from Jesus Christ Superstar; she was booted that week by an American public that in my not-so-humble opinion just doesn't get it. Simon Cowell, until last year AI's resident villain, was my hero. He told the contestants the brutal truth, and I trusted him. Too bad America didn't.

But then I am redeemed and rescued by "So You Think You Can Dance." The dancers, from the self-taught hip hop and b-boys to the most rigorously disciplined ballet dancer, have demands of style and technique placed on them that would destroy any AI contestant. The SYTYCD finalists contestants are not some fly-by-nights, nor are they crowned solely on popularity. Their being eliminated by a combination of popular vote and professional dancers' judgement speaks volumes about the long-term quality and potential of their craft and performance.

I'm in the minority, I know. The great painter Paul Gauguin is quoted as saying that "There is always a fresh demand for fresh mediocrity. In every generation the least cultivated taste has the largest appetite."
But how wonderful would it be if every so often the world focused on the best rather than the most, on the challenging rather than the trivial?

I'll keep watching "So You Think You Can Dance;" it gives me hope.


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