How a Hit Almost Failed its Own Audition
Here is a long, interesting, New York Times article excerpted from NYT’s media writer, Bill Carter’s new book, “Desperate Networks.” The article describes how American Idol was turned down by everybody until Fox broadcasting picked it up. And even then, it was only picked up because Rupert Murdoch’s daughter was a big fan of Idol’s British predecessor, Pop Idol.
Randy, Paula and Simon met each other for the first time on the set. On the first day, Paula was horrified by Simon’s withering put-downs of the auditioners. Apparently, there was real tension between them from the start. Simon also had no intention of starring in the state-side version of the show, but Fox executives insisted.
And, the show initially had two hosts, because Murdoch insisted that the show be executed exactly like the British version, Pop Idol. Fox Executives felt the show would work better with a single host. And, after Season 1, the show has continued successfully with only one host.
The article is a very good read.
Vote for the Worst? Really?
“Votefortheworst.com was started in 2004 to support voting for the entertainingly bad contestants on American Idol. Why do we do it? During the initial auditions, the producers of Idol only let certain people through. Many good people are turned away and many bad singers are kept around to see Simon, Paula, and Randy so that America will be entertained.
Why do the producers do this? It’s simple: American Idol is not about singing at all, it’s about making good reality TV and enjoying the cheesy, guilty pleasure of watching bad singing. We agree that the bad singers are entertaining, and we want to acknowledge this fact by encouraging people to make an even funnier show by helping the amusing antagonists stick around.
The show starts out every year encouraging us to point and laugh at all of the bad singers who audition. We want this hilariously bad entertainment to continue into the finals, so we choose the contestant that we feel provides the most entertaining train wreck performances and we start voting for them.”
Dave makes a really good point. While the person who finally wins the competition is a talented, marketable singer, the show is ultimately a reality melodrama. So, along with the talented singers, there are contestants who are advanced based on their ability to play a character and/or advance a story arc. Singing ability for these contestants is often secondary. The producers use the “characters” to hook us into the Soap Opera, but expect us to ultimately vote through who they deem to be the marketable one-i.e. the “chosen” one. VFTW attempts to throw a monkey wrench into the proceedings. And I find that rather amusing. So, you can count me in as a fan.
In the past, picks like Season 3’s John Stevens (talented, but way too young) and Season 4’s Scott Savol (his homely looks actually helped him advance–a definite “character”) were clearly contestants the producers didn’t care to have stick around. This year, however, after VFTW’s first Top 12 pick, Kevin Covais (advanced as spoiler/comic relief) was sent home, they made a rather controversial pick in Kellie Pickler. Kellie was clearly a singer of average gifts advanced as a “character”. But, unlike previous picks, she was clearly somebody The Powers That Be wanted to stick around. But, they didn’t really want her to win.
VFTW’s latest candidate may be their most controversial yet. This time, the pick appears not to be popular with TPTB. However, the new candidate has proven to be more than a character–he has proven his vocal chops on the Idol stage. Actually, the dilemma VFTW faced for this latest pick, was a Top 5 completely free of dead weight, perhaps for the first time ever. Who to pick from a field of 5 very talented singers?
From the VFTW site:
“And we have selected our new VFTW candidate: Taylor Hicks! We even did our banner in grayscale as a tribute to our new pick!Why have we picked Taylor? Well, this show is not made for Taylor Hicks. He shouldn’t be singing songs from the 21st century or be limited to Idol’s cheesy song catalog. That’s not his style, and I’m sure he joined the competition to try to bring something different. The producers don’t want something different though, and it’s obvious that they’re breaking his spirit, even going as far as to make him change his song at this last minute last week because they didn’t see “Try a Little Tenderness” as a love song. What? That doesn’t even make sense. Tay-Tay is also incredibly VFTW because he either goes all out and acts crazy to entertain us (remember him missing the mic stand during “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” anyone?) or he phones in his performances while looking bored (“Just Once”, “Country Roads Take Me Home”). Simon Cowell also hates Taylor, as is evidenced by his reaction at his audition and his reaction each and every week. Simon wants Taylor out now, because he can’t stand to promote someone so unmarketable. So what do we say? Stick it to the show and vote for Taylor! He has the Soul Patrol, and now he has us, the Asshole Patrol! Hopefully we can work together to help Taylor win this thing!”
Judging from comments at Gray Charles, The Soul Patrol, while hesitant at first, are coming around to the idea of Taylor as VFTW. Speaking as a Taylor fan, I think it’s awesome. Frankly, if I were a contestant, and I was chosen as a VFTW candidate, I’d thank them for the votes. A vote is a vote, no matter where it originates.
RealityTVMagazine just did a little story on the fan reaction to the producer’s decision to pull Taylor’s song choice last week:
“A Reality TV Magazine reader named JJ wrote in to tell us ‘Maybe AI doesn’t want Taylor to win?? I don’t know, but what happened to Taylor Hicks this week is disheartening. I’m surprised he hasn’t walked off that show yet. He deserved an apology from the judges.’ Another Reality TV Magazine reader named Christine wrote us with the following comments, ‘I’ve been trying to start a letter writing campaign to Ryan and American Idol, asking them to address the fairness issues. I think most of the contestants are not treated fairly and it’s not just because of handpicking the most marketable individuals. It’s also about drama and ratings. It’s very disturbing to think about what these performers have to endure each week and I’m sure it’s worse than what we’ve been seeing (including especially, last minute song-changes that lead to less preparation time).'”
The belief held by some Idol fans–that the producers help favored contestants advance while hindering others who appear to be a threat to the favored ones–has been a source of controversy since Ruben Studdard beat Clay Aiken Season 2. As we know, AI thrives on controversy. This stuff just gets people talking. I suspect the producers love it.
One Big Happy Family!
I’m sure by now you all have heard about Paula and Ryan’s “feud”. Paula swears it ain’t so. The trouble supposedly started when Ryan made some snarky remarks about Paula’s singing on the Tonight show. In her own appearance a few weeks later, Paula joked about Ryan’s “relationship” with Teri Hatcher. Whatever. The “feud” sounds like it was cooked up by AI’s public relations people in conjunction with the show’s script-writers.
This year, the judges and Ryan are constantly “fighting” and trading barbs with each other on-air. The word I keep hearing is “dysfunctional”. “Like one dysfunctional family, ” Ryan described the group on Wednesday. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard Nigel or Ken use the word in one interview or another as well. My cynical self says the “fighting” is just one more scripted story arc and another way to cook up controversy. Let’s say it together, kids–AI thrives on controversy.
This LA Times blogger thinks Paula is ruining Idol.
“I’m willing to believe that Paula Abdul is just another whacked-out celebrity with no self-control, shame or sense of proportion. Is there possibly a pharmacological explanation too? Oh, perhaps. But whatever the source, her behavior on Fox’s “American Idol” is moving beyond soap opera and into the realm of Verdi opera. She slurs her speech on-air, she spars non-stop with Simon Cowell, she reportedly isn’t speaking to Ryan Seacrest. On Tuesday’s show, she wept — yes, wept! — after Elliott Yamin crooned Donny Hathaway‘s “A Song for Paula.” Well, not really — the title is “A Song for You, ” but the lachrymose judge behaved as if young Elliott had just serenaded her from piazza balcony near the Spanish Steps. Yes, Paula … it really is all about you. Her antics have become such a distraction on “Idol” this season it’s astonishing the producers recently agreed to re-up her for three more years. There must be a fascinating back story behind that renewal, or else the Powers That Be were simply too frightened to risk disturbing the “Idol” cash train. “
I beg to differ. Pauler is money baby! Even if every contestant blows giant chunks, Paula can always be counted on to entertain with her endearing non-sequiturs and loopy antics. I make many Pauler-is-stoned jokes, but I really have no idea if Paula is a loose cannon or a fantastic actress putting on a hellava show. But, I’m convinced that if Idol lost her, the ratings would suffer. And I’m betting the producers love her just as she is. See: Controversy, AI thrives on. Are you kids enjoying tonight’s theme?
Ace felt closest to Chris Daughtry and Paris Bennett. But, he stressed, that what the entire cast went through has made them family. About Kelly Pickler, he said, “If she took an IQ test, I think she’d rate really high. She’s really smart.”
Ace’s version of the Queen Incident: Ace said, “…it edited everything backwards. When I first met Queen, I didn’t know I was going to meet them, so I did my own rendition of a classic song, so Randy and them wouldn’t be, ‘Yo dog, it sounds good but it sounds like…karaoke…’ When I met Queen I walked up on stage, I looked at Brian and said, ‘first off, you guys are amazing, and if we just do a jam session and just sing Happy Birthday, I’m going to be the happiest kid in the world.'”
May answered, “Good, cause what I heard on that CD, I’m not going to do that on my song.” After that, Brian asked Ace what he wanted to do with the song. Ace made some suggestions that would alter the song somewhat, and Brian said, “Fine”. After they worked out the arrangement, Ace said, “That sounded like a Queen record with my voice on it.” Then, Brian said, “Screw that, it sounded like a new record.” Apparently, everybody left happy.
On the show, Ace saw the edited tape for the first time. It looked like he and Brian didn’t get along at all, which according to Ace (and Brian’s comments on his website) was the exact opposite. Ace adds, that in the run-through he had a light show. But, during the live performance, all the house lights were on. Said Ace, “All I felt once I started singing, was that I wanted to say goodbye…negative vibes through the whole thing.” During the critique, Ace felt he had no choice but to take it, because it wasn’t the time or place to say anything.
American Idol’s Tuesday edition had 28.7 million viewers and a 11.5/30 share in the key demo. Wednesday’s Results show scored 27.4 million viewers and an 11.2 rating/27 share in that key demo–adults 18-49. The gap between the Performance and Results shows has narrowed in the last two weeks. But the ratings overall are remain steady.