Sunday, February 11, 2007

American Idol Unauthorized

Want the dirt on the show you can't keep away from? A new DVD, "American Idol Unauthorized," claims to have it, but according to this review in The Toronto Star, the DVD will show you a lot of complaining and moaning -- by "experts" and losing contestants -- that the show is rigged, manipulated, racist, cruel and swirling with nasty truths, but provide no proof to back up their claims.

The DVD's producers (whose catalogue also includes such memorable releases as "The Secrets of Princess Diana: The Royal Seance," "S.W.A.T. Uncensored" and "Operation UFO")interviewed pundits, fans, experts and a few Grade B-D actors: Mindy Sterling ("Austin Powers"), Kate Flannery ("The Office"), Rex Lee ("Entourage"), Christina Moore ("That '70s Show") and Marilu Henner, as well as former contestants, including Jim Verraros (Season 1), Kimberly Caldwell (Season 2), Corey Clark (Season 2), Julia DeMato (Season 2), Lindsey Cardinale (Season 4), Jessica Sierra (Season 4) and Scott Savol (Season 4). They even have Ed McMahon! In other words, the complete loser brigade.

The Star describes the DVD as being filled with torqued narration, groan-inducing graphics, cheesy sound effects, moralizing and, oh yes, laughably bad production values. And then there is the gripefest:

  • Verraros claims producers stage-managed reality by reshooting certain scenes: "We're all crying and we're bawling our eyes out. Okay, like, every emotion that happens is real. And then they ask us to do it again, cry harder." When talking about the contracts would-be Idols were pressured to sign, he says "they raped us." (adds the reporter: I'm pretty sure he's speaking metaphorically.)

  • DeMato claims there was shocking inequality when it came to expert support: "The vocal coaches paid more attention to certain contestants that made it very far on my season." (adds the reporter: But doesn't this raise a chicken-egg proposition?)

  • Savol says producers used dishonest editing to make him appear lazy: "They just made me look like I didn't want to practice with these guys ... I'm sitting there watching it and I'm like, 'Is this serious?' " (adds the reporter: When he says this, he sounds really ... lazy.)

  • Clark says producers balked when black contestants requested a hairstylist who knew how to deal with, say, cornrows. "We had to find our own stylist to do our hair and pay them," Clark says. "The other contestants were getting their hair done for free." Clark also claims Paula was unhappy with the show and even considered a lawsuit. (A producer, he adds, spat in Paula's face at a party after she failed to utter a pre-arranged comment on the show.) On a separate note, Clark says judge Randy Jackson overuses the word "dawg," which gives "black folks a bad name." He also calls Jackson "fake" and worse, "Hollywood."

  • The documentary then raises the spectre of an unfair voting system. According to the film, the FCC has received more than 2,000 viewer requests to investigate Idol. Tom O'Neil, senior editor with In Touch magazine, says: "We know that the voting on American Idol is rigged." The theory goes something like this: Producers pick winners then manipulate the outcome, usually by "jamming" the phone lines of unwanted contestants. Exhibit A, the critics point out, is the Season 2 finale that had Ruben Studdard beat Clay Aiken even though national polling predicted a landslide victory for the latter.

"American Idol Unauthorized" doesn't offer any hard evidence to back up any of these anecdotal charges. The reporter says that Fox and producer Fremantle were not even invited to respond to the charges in what he calls this "episode of the E! True Hollywood Story."

The DVD won't be available in the U.S. until April 10th and will retail for $19.99. If you must see it yourself, shop around. We've checked, and you can pre-order it for far less at many U.S. retailers. The cheapest price we found was at Deep Disount DVD. You can pre-order it there for $10.89 including free shipping. It's your call.


Idol executive producer Nigel Lythgoe (who also is an executive producer and judge on "So You Think You Can Dance") held a conference call with the press last week. Everybody keeps wondering about Paula Abdul's job security. Reading this, we don't think Paula has anything to worry about. However, we don't know about Randy Jackson. We couldn't help but notice that Lythgoe took a couple of nasty little potshots at his judge. Here are some of his comments from the official Fox transcript:

On whether Paula Abdul is just an over the top theatrical personality: Yes, she is. She won't like me saying that. But she is. ... Unfortunately, once you get in your head that she's drunk or she's taking drugs, neither of which she does, she certainly doesn’t do social drugs or even drink, so once you've got that in your head it's very difficult. We look when we're editing the show nowadays and say, "Hey, are people going to think she's drunk for doing that?" We try and take that into account.

At the same time, we don't want to stop her personality. She leads with her heart. She cares about the kids. And she wants to protect them. But she's also an extrovert person. She's really the only performer in the three of them. Randy Jackson, obviously, played bass guitar, but he'd just stand there with his hat pulled over his eyes and not do anything.

On whether contestants will be permitted to blog: Once they're in the top 24 and the top 12, they will not be allowed to blog. We'll put a screen up to explain that they are involved in the show, and they can no longer blog until later. ... We don't want anything slipping out. If we've got major stars coming on that we want to do a big publicity thing with. "Hey, Michael Jackson is coming to American Idol this week," then I’ve got to leave that up to Fox publicity to put out there, not have it slip out with somebody telling their Mom that Michael Jackson is coming.

On whether the contestants have become more sophisticated: I think the thousands that come nowadays ... are more sophisticated. But, certainly, as we go down, they know they shouldn’t screw up their lyrics. There is one young lady in Hollywood who I would have said would have been in the top five this year that got cut purely and simply because she couldn’t remember her lyrics in a group. She just "Ma, Ma, Ma," for the whole of the song. It broke my heart. But they have to have reasons to cut you, and that was the reason that this young lady will disappear off the show. It's sad, but that's what a competition is. You've got to work every single day, and everyone that comes nowadays to Hollywood knows there's no get out here.

On whether more contestants are hiding police records from Idol: ... We don't get involved, as the producers of the show, in the background checks. That goes out to a private company and Fox. We are informed at the end of the day, "You can’t invite this person, that person, or this person." And we don't ask why. To be frank, we're not interested.

If Fox believes that it will damage the show, or damage Fox, or damage the production, then it's best that they just don't come along. With the checks that Fox do, I think you can only do so much. Every season we get something in SmokingGun because somebody gets through the net, and their so-called friends or family will call up SmokingGun, and it's a lot easier to find out about people when people want to tell you about it, rather than you going and doing searches.

On why we don't see more of the good auditions: There just isn't time. If you just do the math for yourself, just do the math of what the show would be, because you've obviously got to have comments, we've got to show you what they're doing, and the stress and trying to understand the stress, so it's not just a complete series of people singing, and multiply it by 172. And most of the time the people that do come are lost on the first day. A hell of a lot this season lost on the first day, and it’s boring, to be frank. At this point we’ve got to almost follow the people that we know, that we care about, and are going through to the rest of the series, because otherwise we're just investing in people we're never going to see again.

On how they decide which contestants they're going to do film and profile: Backgrounds, where they come from, their stories, their human interest, what we believe our viewers will enjoy seeing, what makes you care. Our job, we believe, is to stimulate an audience that sits down to watch a little box in the corner of the room. If we can make them angry, if we can make them cry, if we can make them happy, if we can stimulate any emotion in them then we're doing our job. However we do that, sometimes we overstep the mark with getting them angry. Sometimes I believe we overstep the mark in making them cry.

But if it affects me and if I get emotional, I think that's going to transfer into the public. If they care, then they will continue to watch the series. And, more importantly, they will pick up a telephone and vote for the person that they like. This isn't just a voyeuristic program, it's an interactive program, and we ask you to pick up a telephone and give a crap.

On eliminated contestant Akron Watson: Being asked to continue is Hollywood, and it's got nothing to do with his story and his performance. When he came along and auditioned, we treated him like everybody else. I'm not privy to what the guy's done for the rest of his life. We certainly couldn't do that over 100,000 contestants that come along. We treat everybody the same, or attempt to, and he was part of that process. Whether he's invited back or not by Fox does not concern me regarding what he did at that audition. If he'd have murdered somebody we would have thought twice, and if the mother would come forward and say, "But he murdered my son, how could you put him on television?" Then we would certainly attempt to stop him being on television. But as far as I'm concerned we've just been asked not to bring him back to Hollywood.

On whether he has a favorite contestant this season: My favorite was cut out. ... I can't name my favorite. It is a girl; I've got to be honest with you. Hopefully, she'll come back next year. I certainly don't want to compromise her with anybody else if she comes back in further years. "Wasn't that Nigel's favorite? If she gets through I'll bet she gets through because she's Nigel's favorite." So I wouldn’t do that. I’ll only talk about my favorites after they’ve been through American Idol and come out the other side. I can tell you Chris Daughtry was my favorite from last year.

About extending the age limit for contestants in the past ... and future: I think that's brought us some more maturity and a little more professionalism in certain areas. We're happy about that. I wouldn't mind extending it even further next year, to be honest. [the questioner then asks, "You would go to 30?] Yes, I would. I'll have to discuss it with everybody else, but I don't know why 28. I really don't know why 30. But I guess we're just about managing to cope with the hundreds and thousands that we're getting at the moment. Opening up any more and I'm frightened to death how many people we'll get.

On whether they are considering doing an Idol All-Star edition: It's something that I'm trying to make work this season. They're talking about doing a song competition on the Web, and have people write songs for the next American Idol finale. Because whenever they come out and sing a song on the American finale, the only bloody criticism Randy Jackson can do is, "I don't like that song." That's not very helpful. They're going to be putting it out next week and trying to sell it, and here's you saying, "I don't like the song."

[And we're sure Jackson didn't score any points from Lythgoe when he said this about the songwriting contest in the Feb. 5 issue of TV Guide: "Finding a great song is like trying to find a diamond in a million square miles of tar. There's a ton of great singers out there. There's not a ton of great songs. Just look at the charts. Every year there may be five or six great songs. And that's out of eight million records released."]

So the way to do it, some bright spot thought, why don't we let America choose the song they're going to sing, as well as their idol? Then we sort of encapsulate the whole
thing. My idea was, okay, well give me ten songs, and I will bring back 10 Idol finalists to sing them on a special, and then America can really see them rather than just have them on the Web and download them or whatever. Let's see Constantine Maroulis again, let's see Ace Young, let's see Vonzell, Tamyra Gray, and all of the great people that we voted for over the years. I'd love to do that. And with good reason at the end of the day for doing it, which is to produce the song that the next American Idol is going to sing. ... I've pitched it to Fox, and Fox hasn't come back to me yet and said yes or no.

On how they determine which contestants get paired in hotel rooms in Hollywood and whether they have a curfew: The curfew isn't in place when they are doing their groups because we like to get them exhausted. The whole reason for doing groups is that when you get through to American Idol, and you're on live television, you go through that process. The day after your show, which is a Tuesday, that night you're given a song to learn, in a group for the next day for the results show. Sometimes, a big long medley. We don't really want to give you that to worry about before you do your own performance on the Tuesday.

So the stress and the strain of that Tuesday night after the show is enormous on the kids, and we want to make sure that they can cope with that. So we put them through that terrible, "We're going to shove you in a group. See if you get on with people. And we're going to keep you up all night singing it, and then we’re going to be rude to you the next morning and abuse you the next morning." That is what the actual show does.

On how hard the grind is for contestants: I don't think a lot of people realize how tough it is once you get into the top 24, and the top 12 is even tougher. Now, you've got to learn songs and sing them in front of a major star who you may have loved all your life, and be told it's not good enough. Then get through that whole week. They're doing the Ford stuff, they're taking out to premieres that they probably don't want to see, and it is a tough, tough week. The more successful you are, the tougher it gets. So we have to know that people can cope with that.


We've heard far too much about how the judges are meaner this season. We think those who are saying this are Idol newbies, critics who are just getting onboard with Idol and haven't watched the show in previous seasons. Maybe they need to spend a bit more time in front of their TV's watching "American Idol Rewind."

Anyone who is familiar with the show knows that the judges are no meaner, or nicer, than before. That includes Idol executive producer Nigel Lythgoe, who said, "We were no crueler this year than we ever have been any other year. ... It has always been, for some people, cruel, and for other people, honest. But this season, for me, no more and no less ... Simon Cowell is nothing if not honest. The first season he was booed, the second season he was jeered, the third season he was cheered, fourth season everybody said, 'You know what, you say all the things that I would like to say.' Fifth season it was, 'You're saying everything I'm thinking.' Sixth season, 'It's you're crueler than you normally are.' Well, the answer is no we're not."

But the final word goes to Season 1 semi-finalist Natalie Burge. During the selection of the 10 finalists, when Ryan Seacreast asked a group of semi-finalists whether they had any questions for the judges, Natalie asked:

"I was just wondering if you guys feel bad about some of the blunt, harsh and, some people say, just plain mean comments that you made to some of the contestants? I was wondering if you feel bad at all? Can you sleep at night?"

And Simon Cowell answered:

"Well look, my mouth thinks faster perhaps than my brain. And sometimes, yes, you do say things which, you know, when I watch the show back, you kind of think, 'Oh, god,' you know? But, that's the way it is, you know? This is a talent competition, and some people were very good ... some people were dreadful last night. That's just the way talent competitions go. Sorry."

So there! Even at the very beginning some of the contestants thought Simon was mean. Natalie even wondered how the judges could sleep at night. Nothing has changed one iota.

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© 2007

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