If you can’t sing, you can’t sing. It’s sort of like height – you got it or you don’t. So you’d think the off-key rejects on “American Idol” would understand why, because they can’t sing, they aren’t likely to win a singing contest.

But no.

That would assume “Idol” is about singing. It isn’t. It’s about fame. Getting attention. Having your 15 minutes. Everyone wants it. And most don’t care how they get it.

So we now have the curious case of Kenneth Briggs and Jonathan Jayne, two rejects from “American Idol”- and I don’t mean rejects in the final handful, I mean rejects from the first “Gong Show” auditions – who in recent days got more U.S. media attention than any humanitarian, nurse, doctor, altruist or foreign leader.

Why? That’s the question, isn’t it?

But before the “why,” here’s the “what”: Briggs and Jayne were chronicled by “American Idol” as fast friends at the auditions, the way nerds who have no one to eat with in high school become friends. Briggs is an odd-looking guy with bulging eyes – some have speculated that he suffers from a medical condition – and Jayne is a heavy-set redhead who – according to some reports – suffers from a mild form of autism.

That someone would exploit them is bad enough. But if these two did on a schoolyard what they did during auditions – singing terribly, dancing awkwardly – other kids would giggle and point. And we would call it “sad.”

On “Idol,” it’s called “opportunity.” America’s next pseudo-celebrities

Briggs and Jayne were trashed by the judges, particularly Simon Cowell, who, as part owner of the program, knows exactly what makes it successful and him rich.

Cowell made fun of Jayne’s weight. And of Briggs he said, “You look like one of those creatures that live in the jungle with those massive eyes. What are they called? Bush baby.”

Whoa! Jackpot! These two no-talents parlayed that rejection straight into the spotlight, from the “Today Show”- where they were interviewed – to “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”- where they were offered to be correspondents at a celebrity golf tournament.

Now, why was this happening to them? Did anyone think they were talented? Of course not. Did most privately agree that one was fat and the other weird-looking? Of course.

But this brings us to why people watch “American Idol.” It’s because most people like to a) watch others make fools of themselves (“better him than me”) and b) watch others succeed (“if him, maybe me”).

It’s called living vicariously. Or, to be harsher, having such an empty life that it needs to be filled by mocking the failures – and envying the successes – of others. The lowest common denominator

You can call that armchair psychiatry. You can say, “I watch because I love music.” Here’s a tip. If you love music, listen to Ella Fitzgerald.

The truth is, we love to see people humiliated. Much of YouTube – the hottest thing on the Internet – is simply videos showing people acting like idiots. “Jackass” was so popular they had to make two movies. “American Idol” knows what it’s doing when it passes over truly talented contestants and gives airtime to obvious rejects. Heck. Everybody knows it.

But when guys like Briggs and Jayne get overly “dissed,” newspapers write stories pondering whether “Idol” judges have gone too far? Even the New York Times pondered “New Low On ‘Idol’?” We act as if this is an important social question. And because 37 million people watched the first “Idol” episode, other TV shows desperately try to splash in some of those numbers – no matter how minor the reason.

All of which leads us to Jayne and Briggs sitting on talk shows. I can’t feel sorry for them. They knew what they were getting into. And as for the “bush baby” insult, Briggs, on the Kimmel program, held up an image of Simon’s head on a bush baby body, so how is he much better?

But I do feel bad for a culture that puts these guys in the limelight and lets them think they really have talent, that people are interviewing them because they truly are gifted, when in fact, it’s just voyeurism of a more subtle kind.

When asked on the “Today Show” what they wanted to do next, Jayne and Briggs said they wanted to be movie stars.

It could happen.

There’s always “Jackass III.”

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com.

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