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PS22’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” at the Oscars: An Adorable Finale or a False Dream?

I have always loved the Oscars. As a kid, my family’s celebration of Oscar Night was an indulgent celebration of imagination and a good humor. My mom would set up a card table in front of our box-screen television set, bejewel the table-setting with champagne glasses filled with water, and cook up a feast. That was just one aspect of the celebration.

The main challenge of Oscar Night was playing dress-up. I remember my dad’s outfit to consistently be year after year a red velvet smoking jacket over sweatpants with a slick comb-over look. I took lots of unfortunate creative freedom with my mom’s lipstick. Ken Doll was wrapped in aluminum foil to most closely represent his distant cousin, Oscar. Some lucky friends would be invited too, but the rules were clear: no dress-up, no entry.

As we dined and laughed and made our best acceptance speeches, Oscar Night was a time that everyone in my family could become the glitterati we watched on the television screen. I don’t remember ever staying awake for the Best Picture Award, nor do I recall actually watching the ceremony other than glam on the Red Carpet, but I think it was immeasurably valuable: what it fostered in my childhood, and honors year after year in its ceremony, are the creative minds and imaginations that make us see the world differently. Maybe it’s a striking performance, or a menagerie of costume design, or a musical score that leaves an indelible impression on the arts. In retrospect, I think why I loved Oscar Night so much as a kid was because it was all about imagination – a thing that most people tend to leave behind in childhood.

Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall (right), Bowdoin Alum ’88, win the Oscar for Best Film Editing for The Social Network

This past Oscar Night I picnicked on my bedroom floor with take-out sushi and my boyfriend in front of my puny television set. Although it lacked all of the accolades of the Oscar Nights from my youth, I still felt like a kid again – sitting cross-legged about three feet from the television, feasting my imagination on the glamour with a side of California maki. The evening ended with a performance of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” by a glee club from Staten Island school PS22. I remember thinking as they belted out Judy Garland’s famous song, “God that must be scary in the Kodak Theater.” It was an unexpected twist for a finale.

The twist, however, did not please Andy Cohen, the V.P. of Programming Executive for Bravo Channel. On Joe Scarborough’s morning television show, Cohen discussed his reaction to the finale – saying his dislike was not for the public school kids, but that to him it strikingly resembled ‘Up With People’ from the seventies:

“Here’s what, Oscar Night is not about up with people. I don’t need to see that. It was bad. It was awful… I literally, if I wasn’t going to go out to some parties I would have slit them right then. It was the worst. I was looking for a knife to stick in my eyes it was so terrible.”

That is a pretty strong reaction. While I think he is snarky to an extreme and reflects his eye for show business, I cannot help but wonder Cohen might have a point. Does the undisputed cheese-factor of the finale misapprehend the core of Oscar Night – as a celebration of celebrity, rather than as a celebration of imagination and the performance arts? Does it encourage kids to set their dreams on Hollywood glamour rather than on creativity?

While I don’t know the answers to these questions, it seems to me that PS22’s performance at the Academy Awards unfortunately endorses a dream of celebrity and not of the craft.

While there is nothing wrong with dreams of fame, the concluding spectacle at the 2011 Oscars simply adds fodder to misleading the people who will someday be our future leaders. At a time where more kids already dream of being a professional athlete or pop culture icon, is it worrisome that Oscar Night’s 2011 finale demonstrates that fame is the name of the game?

Huffington Post “Bravo Exec Andy Cohen Did Not like PS 22’s Oscar Performance”

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