American Idol began in 2002, as a spin-off of a popular talent show in the UK, and immediately it took America by storm, producing successes like Kelly Clarkson, Clay Aiken, Carrie Underwood, and Jennifer Hudson, who just recently won the Golden Globe for her performance in the film version of Dreamgirls.
Yesterday marked the season permiere of the show’s sixth season, bringing in a record 37.3 million viewers. And yet, fans are complaining that the good singer to bad singer ratio just isn’t what it used to be.
“They’re spending way too much time on the bad singers,” said one viewer on the Yahoo Message-boards. “I don’t know if it’s because there just aren’t enough good singers or if they think that the bad singers are more entertaining, but a person can only hear so many screeching renditions of Somewhere Over the Rainbow before they just change the channel.” Another new complaint is that the judges are spending too much time per singer. “It seemed to be longer segments of individuals,” said one viewer at the Americanidol.com website, “I’m not going to waste my time tonight.”
Viewers also complained that the judges were too cruel in letting down bad contestants. I questioned several viewers who watched both Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s episodes and this was a common complaint. “They literally laugh in people’s faces,” said one viewer. “It’s just wrong; plus you can tell that Simon really enjoys hurting people’s feelings. I don’t think that’s right.” Simon Cowell, of course, is the king of nasty who everyone has loved to hate since the show’s first season. His brutally honest method of letting down auditioners has some contestants leaving the talent show in tears. On tonight’s episode alone, Simon made fun of several singers’ looks, telling one young man that he looked like a creature from a jungle. He also insulted another female singer (a very good one) but not until after she’d been accepted and left the room, by saying to his fellow judges, “You just let in a giraffe,” commenting on the girl’s incredible height of 6’4 (without heels).
While I do agree that sometimes the judges go too far (except for Paula Abdul, who always finds some way of complimenting even the worst singers), I don’t think contestants should be surprised. The show is in its sixth season — contestants should know what to expect. The judges make the show what it is, at least in my opinion, as I find myself caring more about what the judges’ opinions are going to be than about whether or not the person can sing. Simon’s blunt words and condescending presence are partly what bring the show its high ratings; it is unfortunate but true that people love to see others make fools of themselves, and they also love to watch said fools being reprimanded by a confident crank with a British accent.
The question that seems to be on most viewers’ minds after watching the combined 4-hour season premiere, is: do these people really think they can sing? Opinions differ. “The singers have to audition twice before they can see the judges,” one viewer noted. “They’re being let through on purpose, because they’re bad, just for entertainment value.” Another viewer added, “These people don’t really think they can sing; they just want to be on TV.”
My father swears the auditions are fake, in a Borat, Daily Show kind of way, insisting that certain contestants (like the young man known simply as “Red” who brutally butchered Bohemian Rhapsody, or the girl who sang while imitating the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz) can’t possibly believe that they are actually talented. “This has gotta be a prank,” he said from the comfort of his recliner, while he, my mother, and I all watched the show together. “I don’t think so,” I replied. “Never underestimate the power of denial.”