By the time I get Andrew Fenlon on the phone — two days after the airing of his now-notoriously contentious American Idol audition — the world around us has already split into three factions: those who loathe him, those who love him, and those who need a reminder: who is Andrew Fenlon?
(For those of you in that last group, the Newton native, noise enthusiast, and multi-talent about town delivered an exasperated and exasperating audition to a still-unsteady post-Paula panel of Idol judges, eventually winning over butt-cut-in-chief Simon Cowell with his display of deadpan insolence, but all the while enraging a singing trick poodle named Kara DioGuardi, who eventually threatened Fenlon with a spanking. At some point during this, his sparsely decorous rendition of "House of the Rising Sun" fell on deaf ears — or steamin' mad ones, in Kara's case.)
His button-pushing appearance launched a bizarre media blitz that in the two days following the episode, saw (by Fenlon's estimates) him give about 15 radio interviews. The highlight of his unexpected junket was a rematch with DioGuardi herself on Atlanta's WSB-FM (which started with Kara offering Andrew the opportunity to write a jingle for Folger's Coffee and ended abruptly with Andrew informing Kara that he gives the spankings around here). But the trending question throughout was a simple inquiry toward his authenticity: was he for real?
"Yes," he says definitively. "It was an act, but I wasn't a hired actor. There are many different levels of reality going on here. Ultimately, I think the level that you received was the truth. By acting, I think I was being truthful, in a strange way."
Whatever level of artifice Fenlon committed himself to, it was compelling enough to carry him through the winnowing of his audition pool, down from about 7000 to a neat 40; half "bad" and half "good" — Fenlon among the latter. Though no frothing Idol fan himself, Fenlon always admired its populist glow — that anyone could skip work, show up, sing a song, and become "some sort of star." Fenlon fancied himself ambassador for an under-represented population of music lovers whose tastes are more aligned with personal liberties and freedom of expression than chart domination. Of course, the rigorous processing of the Idol experience took a huge shit on Fenlon's doe-eyed optimism.
"They did some things I really didn't like," he tells the Phoenix. "They put me in a room and told me to dance to no music. It was like they were taking away my personal liberties. I have a liberty to say I don't want to dance. They also interviewed me with intensely personal questions — I felt violated!"
Invasive screenings, unpleasant exchanges, and the hate-erati factions of Twitter and Facebook aside, Fenlon has savored the aftermath. The standard 15 minutes of fame is now something more like 15,000 wall posts, and while having thousands of girls tell you how lame Kara is and how awesome you are feels great, Fenlon can't help but wonder if he might have made a different name for himself.
"I don't really feel comfortable having my name plastered all over the place. My friends call me Johnny Fontaine, and I would have rather had that everywhere. Andrew Fenlon is boring."