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Posted at 10:41 AM ET, 01/22/2007

The Great American Pastime: Fallen Idols

By Liz Kelly

Late last week, news broke that "American Idol" hopeful Thomas Daniels has a -- gasp! -- past.


For those who watched, you'll remember Daniels as contestant no. 81045 -- the 22-year-old guy with an with an afro, easy smile and tweed jacket who, before wowing judges with his rendition of Amos Lee's "Arms of a Woman," says he slept behind a dumpster. If you didn't watch, think of him as the one who was not a complete freak. Take a second and watch his initial "Idol" appearance:

His audition falling roughly somewhere between an albino Bettie Page badly in need of new bra and several sociopathic Napoleon Dynamites with disconcerting voices and stalker potential, Daniels stood out not only as the kind of guy who might just go the distance, but the perfect antidote to last season's winner, Taylor Hicks.

Then, on Friday, -- the AOL-backed site specializing in starlet stalkerazzi videos -- "unearthed" legal documents revealing a DUI arrest, an alleged hit-and-run and evidence that Daniels had attended eight -- EIGHT -- AA meetings. The news spread quickly across the Web and by Friday evening, E! online was calling it a "controversy."

Like "controversies" of seasons past (Bo Bice's cocaine arrests, Scott Savol's domestic violence rap sheet and Taylor Hicks's marijuana possession charges) this, too, will end up no more than a footnote on Daniels's yet-to-be-made Wikipedia page.

But the incident served as a disappointing reminder of duality of American idolatry -- a need to elevate idols only to knock them down.

But why? Copious gratitude to anyone out there who can please explain this bizarre phenomenon to me.

By Liz Kelly  | January 22, 2007; 10:41 AM ET
Categories:  TV  
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The path from obscurity to famous is much like the flight of Icarus. Fly to high, and the wings melt and crashing back to earth that person goes.

Now, as to why... I suspect envy/jealousy has a lot to do with it. There's a little bit in all of us that want's to be famous. We become jealous of thise that have achieved, think about how much better you'd do if you were in their shoes. But alas, these people are living out your dream, so it's only natural for people to take pride when they fall, showing that that they are no better than you (and in many cases, much worse.)

Posted by: BF | January 22, 2007 11:08 AM | Report abuse

A similar phenomenon exists in politics. We cannot wait to dig into every gory detail of an elected or potentially electable official. I agree with BF, jealousy probably has a lot to do with it. In politics and American Idol, the stars come from the populous, and therefore shouldn't be any better than any of the rest of us. We don't even like regular people who we encounter day to day to think, or seem like they're better than us. Excessive American individualism gone awry? Hard to say. I'm just thinking out loud.

Posted by: ML | January 22, 2007 11:18 AM | Report abuse

Maybe we just don't like people to lie to us. See when you put yourself up on a pedestal, you're looking for a pat on the back but what youll likely get is a kick in the stomach.

Posted by: Stick | January 22, 2007 11:45 AM | Report abuse

Maybe we just don't like people to lie to us? See when you put yourself up on a pedestal, you're looking for a pat on the back but what youll likely get is a kick in the stomach.

Posted by: Stick | January 22, 2007 11:45 AM | Report abuse

I think it's rooted in a whole bunch of our human traits:

1) Humans are social/pact creatures. We like to be in groups, and the best way a group can function is if there's a clear hirearchy for us to work under. So the people that watch Idol (can't say I'm one of them, but I did watch that clip) want to raise him up on his pedestal for being as good as he is, which is better than us.

2) But that also works in reverse. While we naturally want and need people higher than us, we also want to be higher than people. One of the best examples I've heard of this comes from pre-Civil War. Here's it roughly: slavery had support in the south from whites of all statuses... by having slaves around, even the most hillbilly of whites could be able to say "at least I'm better than a slave." Similar thing in India with the untouchables. In this guy's case, we (the collective masses) want to feel like we're higher than him because we haven't DUI'ed and hit-and-run.

3) And, then, when you combine those two, things get better. There probably isn't much that's more gratifying to see someone higher than you topple to below you. We may admire him for his singing opulence and want to hoist him up, but it's very gratifying to know that, in the end, he is just a person, no matter what the media spin machines may eventually try to tell us.

4) That, and he made it to Idol (and TV) while you didn't.

Posted by: peanut | January 22, 2007 11:57 AM | Report abuse


Because they can.

Posted by: Fairfax | January 22, 2007 11:58 AM | Report abuse

Stick said: "Maybe we just don't like people to lie to us. "

Did these people lie to us? Did Thomas sy "I have no criminal record"? Did Bo Bice say "I've never touched drugs"? Did Taylor say "I did not inhale"?

Posted by: BF | January 22, 2007 12:05 PM | Report abuse

I'm mostly just disappointed to find out that Mr. Daniels doesn't already have a Wikipedia entry.

Posted by: byoolin | January 22, 2007 12:40 PM | Report abuse

From the Post's Department of Human Behavior, perhaps a little more insight into why we get so upset: A general dislike of wafflers. We expect the Idols to be one way, and then they're not.

Posted by: ML | January 22, 2007 1:13 PM | Report abuse

Well one would assume that there was some sort of background info requested, even if they did not check up on it. Under the assumption that they would probably avoid someone with baggage when they could as easily have no baggage, he was probably less than forthcoming. So technically I guess he did not lie to us.

Posted by: Stick | January 22, 2007 1:17 PM | Report abuse

So am I the odd duck for not caring about an Idol contestant's drug use or criminal past? I mean, if someone is on the run from murder charges, yeah I would pay attention. But if a dude was charged with drug use/hit-n-run/domestic violence (ok, that last one makes me a little queasy), that doesn't make a difference to me when I'm watching him warble out Manilow tunes. I do hold politicians a little higher, but then again, in this day and age I think it's weird to find someone in the 35-50 demographic who hasn't at least tried an illicit something -- when I run across these people (in real life as well as on tv/political arena) I wonder what backwater they're from, and I don't trust them to be well-rounded. It's 2007, I expect everyone over 30 to have at least attended a party where someone was smoking/snorting, to at least once in their lives gone over the speed limit or raised their voice inappropriately, to have at least eaten a grape in the grocery store. Nobody is perfect, and if you claim that you are, you're just asking to be taken down.
As far as I know, American Idols do not claim to be perfect.

Posted by: miss belle | January 22, 2007 1:29 PM | Report abuse

At least he's not like the twins from last season who I believe committed a crime after they were selected to go to Hollywood and then once on the show, they acted like they knew everything there is to know about show bizz. They had good voices but boy where they annoying!

Posted by: M | January 22, 2007 1:32 PM | Report abuse

I read someplace that this guy actually was upfront about his so-called criminal pass with Fox, and it was not a big deal - so he was not lying to anyone about it!

Posted by: Betty | January 22, 2007 1:35 PM | Report abuse

A return to one of my favorite words:

Posted by: Schadenfreude | January 22, 2007 2:08 PM | Report abuse

A return to one of my favorite words:

Posted by: Schadenfreude | January 22, 2007 2:08 PM | Report abuse

Isn't the phenomenon that the press makes a big deal about these things because they are stupid? The rest of us don't care.

Posted by: bkp | January 22, 2007 2:33 PM | Report abuse

I'm not sure what the intrigue is here, but I'm hooked on AI. It's like my version of Lost to the rest of you fools. I never had the urge to watch the first 3 seasons (except the end of Clay v. Ruben), but I watched last year at the beginning to see the awful people and got sucked in.

It's like this weird vortex of pain and pleasure where there is no reward for watching or participating. Even if you win, you're still an AI. I dunno what it says about human nature, but I'm sure it rates up there with Wal-Mart and Starbucks and the degredation of humanity. But, boy, I sure can watch this sad peep show. Maybe it represents the frailty of the human experience and the bittersweetness of life?

Or maybe it's a clever marketing ploy by Fox.


Posted by: not bluto | January 22, 2007 3:34 PM | Report abuse

Ugh, I misspelled degradation.

Posted by: not bluto | January 22, 2007 3:35 PM | Report abuse

newly made instant celebrities (instelebrities if you will) are much more accessible to media, have much more new material to dig up, and fool us into thinking that we are way beyond the paris hiltons and tomkats that have swamped the magazines and air waves.

Posted by: d | January 22, 2007 4:02 PM | Report abuse

I think that we put celebrities on pedestals above ourselves. We see them as more important and valuable than the rest of us. We do this because we don't believe in our own worth so we give away to celebrities the value and esteem that rightly belongs to each of us. The fact of the matter however is that we are all worth the same. No one of us is better than the other. So when we lower ourselves by elevating others we resent them for "taking" our own goodness and value away. Hence we resent them even as we elevate them and we rejoice when they are brought down because it helps us to restore a little bit of our own lost value that we are forever giving away to celebrities.

Posted by: Nick | January 22, 2007 5:11 PM | Report abuse

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