Let’s be honest: Thirty million people do not tune in every week to “American Idol” to watch what typically amounts to bad karaoke. Oh, sure, there are occasional awe-inspiring performances, but week to week, the singing really isn’t the real draw of the most popular television show in the history of the known universe.
Because “American Idol” is more than a mere talent show. It’s not quite a docusoap, the subgenre of reality TV that includes shows such as “Laguna Beach,” but “Idol” is full of unpredictable drama.
This season has been no exception. While there has been no , the craziness of the contestants, the contentious relationship between host Ryan Seacrest and the judges, and Paula Abdul’s unpredictable behavior have all provided more than enough insanity to keep the audience amused.
The fifth season debuted by breaking records for FOX, drawing 35.5 million viewers, the most ever for the network. The audition rounds were mostly a freak show parade of attention-hungry, tone-deaf people, most of whom were slapped down by the judges. Simon Cowell was particularly harsh this season, particularly with fat people and effeminate males, whom he regularly ripped. Still, no one splashed him with a cup of water, as one contestant did during the second season.
A day after the show debuted, the first scandal erupted, when the media reported on the who made it to the Hollywood round. (FOX’s background checkers appear to be slightly less competent than the people in charge of keeping Paula Abdul away from the laughing gas.)
Twins Terrell and Derrell Brittenum, who hadn’t yet appeared on screen, had been charged with forgery and other crimes, and the media reported that Terrell was already in jail. They were later “uninvited” from the show, but not before a few weeks of drama from the twins, culminating when Derrell quit the show and then backtracked on his decision.
After advancing during the Hollywood round, he lectured the judges, mistakenly thinking his brother had been eliminated. He was soon corrected by his annoyed sibling, and told the judges, “I’m begging for your forgiveness.” The judges let him come back to join the top 48, clearly because the twins made good TV and could sing, but we never saw them again thanks to the dis-invitation.
‘Brokeback Mountain’ to Chicken LittleThat Hollywood-round episode was also when “Idol” jumped on the “Brokeback Mountain” train, parodying the film using footage of the show’s three cowboys, including diminutive Garet Layne Johnson, who was one of the audition round stand-outs. Defamer by calling him “a tiny Wyoming cowboy who managed to inspire and/or creep all of us out a bit.” His personality wasn’t able to mask his inability to sing, however, so along with the Brittenums, he disappeared into Hollywood round history.
That same night, “American Idol” trounced the Olympics, pulling more than 10 million viewers than the winter athletic competition did, a new record. Apparently, wondering what Paula Abdul or Simon Cowell will say next is much more interesting than wondering what Bob Costas will say next.
Once audience voting started, we were introduced to Randy Jackson’s “Dawg Pound,” a section of the audience where the male semi-finalists sat, ready to whoop at Jackson’s command.
During those early rounds, one standout was Chris Daughtry, who, unlike another front-runner then, Ace Young, is still around. Chris performed “Hemorrhage” by Fuel and so impressed the band that they offered him a job as their lead singer, although he later temporarily earned the ire of some viewers for not acknowledging that he borrowed “Live”’s arrangement of a Johnny Cash song.
Soon we were down to the top 12, including Kevin Covais, whose apparent resemblance to the animated CGI version of Chicken Little earned him a nickname and a following, even if that following mostly came from nursing homes. “That [performance] would appeal to anyone over the age of 90 who was hard of hearing,” Simon once told him. The top 12 did not include Brenna Gethers, however; the semi-finalist had drawn attention by talking back to the judges and asking America to support her, but voters apparently like their contestants to be humble, so she went home.
As the final 24 quickly turned into the top 12, Paula Abdul seemingly went insane. During one results show, when asked by Ryan Seacrest why two contestants had received the lowest number of votes, and Paula said, “Simon said because one of them ate pizza and the other ate salad.” Later that night, she babbled and slurred something about “a fortune cookie and says the moth who finds the melon finds the corn flake always finds the melon and one of you didn’t pick the right fortune.”
Later, in interviews, she blamed Simon Cowell for her crazy comments, but soon, Ryan Seacrest was basically accusing her of being drunk, frequently commenting during the performance shows about the possible intoxication of one of the judges. “For sure, someone at that table has a flask, I know it,” he once said. Pretty soon, the feud between the two erupted, and there were rumors that they were no longer speaking to one another, which they addressed both on and off the air.
Paula Abdul’s alleged relationship with Corey Clark resurfaced indirectly when, during a performance, Ace Young pulled open his shirt to show a scar on his chest. Paula asked about it while critiquing his performance, and said, “One day you’ll have to explain to me how you got that one.” Randy and Simon immediately freaked out; Randy shouted, “Oh, listen! Paula! Oh, no no no! Control yourself!”
She pulled herself together then, but weeks later broke down after Elliott performed, literally bawling as she told him, “But you are this handsome, evolved performer that is — you are an American idol, you are. You have a beautiful, beautiful voice.”
During all of this, FOX signed her for three more years of the show, which is not surprising, because she’s a lot more entertaining than Bucky Covington ever was.
Simon vs. Ryan, round eight millionRyan Seacrest didn’t just do battle with Paula; he and Simon also traded barbs, as they’ve done in the past. Simon Cowell referred to photographs of Ryan making out with “Desperate Housewives” star Teri Hatcher and basically accused him of faking the relationship. “Lose the beard,” Simon said, live on the air.
Meanwhile, the top 12 contestants were generating controversy of their own. Mandisa, who earlier made up with Simon after he made fun of her weight, was the fourth finalist to go home. Once she left, she confirmed reports that she was affiliated with an anti-gay organization; she even told one publication that she wouldn’t perform for her gay fans: “Based on what I believe, I’m not an advocate for [being gay], so it’s nothing I would take part in.”
In early April, news broke that Bucky Covington — who was next to go after Mandisa — was once arrested for switching places with his twin to try to fool police. It didn’t work.
A few weeks ago, the unthinkable happened: the arrogant, unapologetic Simon Cowell actually apologized. He admitted that he was wrong, that he was fallible, and that he was human. “I think I was unfair to one person last night. And I want to apologize, because I don’t think this person got the right appraisal. And that person is Katharine,” he said, and the Earth, surprisingly, kept spinning.
Last week, it was Katharine who was apologizing, after a button popped off her dress during her performance the week before. Obviously frightened that she’d lose the vote of people who’ve never seen underwear before, she said, “I hope I didn’t offend anybody.”
If there’s anyone left who hasn’t been offended by something that’s happened on “American Idol 5,” don't worry. There are still two more weeks to go, and that’s plenty of time for at least a few more scandals and a handful of crazy Paula moments. Without them, it wouldn’t be “American Idol.”
is a writer and teacher who publishes reality blurred, a daily summary of reality TV news.