Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Deconstruction of American Idol

Now in its seventh season, there is now doubt that American Idol is a powerhouse in American entertainment. Week after week, it is the most watched show on television. Millions call in to keep their favorite contestant in the show. Millions are donated to help a worthy cause. And numerous careers have been launched thanks to this little singing competition. One of the aspects that makes American Idol fun is the feeling of participation that the viewer has. We, the audience, have the power to call a phone number (as many times as we want in the 2 hour block) and do our part to support our favorites. Part of this excitement is that the show is "live", at least for those of us here on the East Coast (I've never watched it elsewhere, so I don't know how they pull it off). However, nagging the show over the years have been suggestions that it is somehow "rigged", that the results are, at the very least, manipulated by the producers through the judges and the host. As best as I can tell, though, these have never been more than vague suggestions. Rumors and whisperings. Nothing more. Until now, perhaps. Thanks to somewhat spacey judge, Paula Abdul, there have been no shortage of "Huh?" moments over the years. She has what I like to refer to as verbal diarrhea. She just sort of talks, and talks, and you hope that something coherent comes out of the mess she just spewed all over the place. Last night, though, was the most surreal moment I have witnessed. Here is the set-up: Each contestant was to sing two songs. Host RyanSeacrest made it clear they would be pressed for time and the judges were to only comment and critique after both songs had been sung. Each contestant performed their first song and, in what appeared to be a somewhat impromptu moment, Ryan has all five come out on stage and asks the judges to quickly comment on the songs so far. Randy and Simon were their normal selves. But in the middle of them we have thetrain wreck that is Paula Abdul. She first starts to comment on Jason Castro's (forgettable) first song. After a quick comment she then continues, "The second song, I felt like your usual charm wasn' was missing for me, it kind of left me a little empty. And the two songs made me feel like you're not fighting hard enough to get into the top four.'' What? Randy leans over and reminds her that Jason only sang one song and she acts dumbfounded. She says she thought he sang twice, then comes up with some line that she was confusing her notes with David Cook, who sang second. Only she then says that David was fantastic. Hmmm, something doesn't add up here. So, the question becomes; What was Paula talking about? As I see it, there are only two possibilities. On the one hand, she already had notes from the rehearsal and she was just going to stick to those, no matter what happened with the actual "live" performance, or on the other, she had prepared before hand the type of critique she was going to offer based on what the producers wanted to see happen. Either option seems pretty underhanded to me. The second option, well, that is nefarious enough I don't even have to discuss it further. But even the first seems wrong to me. If this is supposed to be live, and we, the American audience, are expected to judge the contestants on the live performance, what business do the judges have not doing the same? To maintain the integrity of the competition, the judges should be commenting on exactly the performance I just saw. Commentary on a previous performance, that could have been much better or much worse than the one seen on TV gives the judges an opportunity to artificially manipulate the audience. In the end, I find it quite disingenuous.


  1. I think that it is slightly rigged. Remember way back in the 2nd season when Carmen pretty much sucked it up every week and SIMON would give her a compliment every week UNTIL the week she was voted off. I don't think things are manipulated EVERY week, just when maybe in favor of balancing gender or style types or whatever from the contestants that remain. It's all about effective manipulation. After all, if they left it all completely in the hands of America (or the teenage girl voters who voted repeatedly for whatever "hot" guy), the show would have never been going this long.

  2. I agree that there has to be a certain degree of rigging involved. I guess the other night's was disturbing because of how obvious it was.

    Oh, and, no, I don't remember Carmen from season 2. I totally trust you, but my brain just can't handle that. ;)

  3. Hey Pete,

    Glad to see you're a fellow blogger, man. I've got my two cents to throw in the mix on this American Idol thing, but it has to come with the understanding that I am a noted AI Hater. I'm fine with the concept of audience participation and giving the "little guy/gal" a chance to shine, but the whole product just turns me off. For the most part it comes across as a recycled version of "Star Search" with bad karaoke performances. The wanna-be performers at the beginning of the season are obviously trying to be bad, and...OK, that's enough ranting.

    Anyway, I think you're right in that there has to be a certain degree of rigging in order to get the show to work. As much as we'd like to think that a TV show can be totally spontaneous and entertaining, there's frankly just too much money involved for the network types to risk a crap program. Still, Paula's gaffe is quite the black eye for the program. I'd love to think it would trigger the end of the phenomenon and get executives to bring back "Arrested Development", but that's just wishful thinking.