The Bronx has a native son who is moving up in the ranks on American Idol.
However, his hard-luck story of living in a homeless shelter and a video montage that featured gritty scenes from the Grand Concourse around the shelter, were seen by 26 million viewers nationwide. This has the borough president concerned about the borough’s image.
Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., while hopeful of success for 16-year-old singer Travis Orlando, who advanced to the next round after singing renditions of the Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby and Jason Mraz’ I’m Yours,was fuming over the segment that introduced Orlando. He felt the clip, which lasted about two minutes and has Orlando on a walk around the neighborhood he called home for a couple of years, took the borough’s image back to where it was in 1977, when broadcaster Howard Cossell announced during the World Series “the Bronx is Burning.” The Idol segment aired on Wednesday, January 19.
Orlando said when asked about his Bronx upbringing that he wanted to move out of the shelter, where his family lived when his father lost his job and got sick. Orlando told the interviewer, as the camera panned around a sidewalk memorial to a shooting victim and littered streets, “you have robberies, you have killings, anything that you can possibly imagine goes on here.”
Orlando also said “it was bad — gangs, drugs, violence.” Diaz said that the images ignored all of the positive developments that have occurred since the Bronx’s bad old days.
“I am thoroughly disgusted with the treatment of the Bronx on last night’s American Idol,” Diaz said on Thursday, January 20. “Rather than focus on the amazing revitalization the Bronx has seen over the past three decades, the producers of the show chose instead to highlight the negative stereotypes that have plagued our borough for years. The Bronx is the proud home of 1.4 million people, and over the past 30 years we have seen a dramatic drop in crime, incredible new business activity and the development of amazing new infrastructure. The portrayal of the Bronx by the producers of American Idol in such an extremely negative light is not only shameful, it does not accurately represent how far the Bronx has come.”
Lenny Caro, CEO of the Bronx Chamber of Commerce, also thought that the segment damaged the borough’s image.
“If asked to describe our great borough in three ways: revitalized, financially thriving and booming economic development would come to mind,” Caro said. “Unfortunately, the Bronx was described in these three words: ‘gangs, drugs, and violence.’ The portrayal of our borough was anything but realistic.”
Rather than focusing on all of the negatives, Caro hoped there will also be portrayals of Yankee Stadium, which he called the greatest stadium in the world, City Island which Caro said was the Bronx’s Nantucket, and as well as the Bronx Zoo, Wave Hill and many other destinations. He also pointed out that Target was investing in the Bronx, and there is interest from the Hyatt Hotel chain.