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'American Idol' Personality Disorder

Talked with Fox reality guru Mike Darnell this afternoon about "Idol's" opening night numbers (show's best ever, more than 37 million viewers) and he promised Seattle would be the best worst-auditions town ever.

He did not disappoint. Auditioners weren't just bad, they were Star Trek convention weird. They all appeared to suffer from "American Idol" Personalty Disorder -- you know, talentless, self-assured and oblivious to the filleting they received at the hands of judges. They looked like subjects in a Honoré Daumier caricature gallery.

Kenneth Briggs, who, Simon noted, looked exactly like a Bush Baby, became new BFF of gelatinous Jonathan Jayne. Alas, neither got through to Hollywood.

Hairdresser Eric Chapman actually knew what he was doing with scissors and a blow dryer, but was otherwise clueless. After judges gave him the hook he announced "I have to do something for you. I'm going to fix your hair," pulled a jar of gel from his pocket, and headed toward Simon's scalp, at which point beefy security guards took over.

Jennifer "The Hotness" tried to sing with gum in her mouth. She too got the hook, after which she announced she'd been too hot for Simon, who, she said, "listens to that back country Englishman's sheep stuff, so I really don't care."

Another woman, who called herself something like Darwin Mischa, came with her mom; they looked like a Far Side family and had a Zoloft calm about them.

The weirdness eventually rubbed off on the judges. Simon at one point decided to call Randy and Paula "Squidly and Diddly" and began obsessively saying, "I'm not being rude but..."; he later gave the camera the finger which Fox covered over with a little Union Jack. Later Randy and Paula growled in unison at Simon for no particular reason.

"Welcome to the talent vacuum that is Seattle," show host Ryan Seacrest said, summing things up nicely.

By Lisa de Moraes  |  January 18, 2007; 2:26 AM ET
Categories:  "American Idol"  
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The second night I was able to watch the entire show, and laughed out loud several times. It demonstrates that one can get accustomed to watching Roman circuses and even develop a taste for them. (A drink or two helps...) ## Somewhere (here?) I read that those mischieveous Seattle-ites were likely to send in mock candidates and have fun...but either they filtered those out, or the candidates are better at staying in character than Borat...

Posted by: Gina | January 18, 2007 8:24 AM | Report abuse

The mother/daughter combo was tough to ignore. Do they cut each others hair and then do the lipstick? It was a great show.

Posted by: peter | January 18, 2007 8:41 AM | Report abuse

Am I the only one who is beginning to think that American Idol is jumping the perverbial shark?

First off, I think the show is turning into a fraud. It is not doing what it is claiming to do, which is search for America's next great pop star. Instead it devotes the majority of its time showing you the freakiest and goofiest Americans ever.

Something like 9000 people showed up in Seattle, possibly more. Obviously not all go before Randy, Paula, and Simon. Now I don't have an inside track with how they do the judging, but I would bet it is something like this: Other judges (that you never see) rate who the top 50 singers are(give or take), and other judges rate the top 50 absolute feakshows. Those 100 are the ones that go before Randy, Paula, and Simon.

The thing is, out of 9000 people, I would bet the guy or gal ranked 51 is a pretty darn good singer, but that person will never have a shot to go before the judges.

Case in point yesterday--there was a guy on was on his third tryout, and had never been before the three judges. When he finally got his chance he was passed through to Hollywood. Part of the drama of the show is having the judges weed out people that are good from people that are great. Now pretty much the decision is almost made for them ahead of time.

An easy way to remedy this is to have two sets of judges. Randy, Paula, and Simon would judge the top talent, while another set of judges would handle the freaks.

Whew, enough of my rant, it was good to get that off my chest.

Posted by: Gabe | January 18, 2007 9:22 AM | Report abuse

To Gabe ... what ever made you even think that this show was capable of identifying great talent? It is just a TV show out for ratings, that's all. Seems now, that a majority of the "winners" turned out to be thuds anyway.

Emphasizing the worst talent in these early episodes helps in building the anticipation of finding viable contestants, and also helps keep the show multi-dimensional as it moves from its informal early try-outs to cut throat sudden death face offs. It is rather clever, and helps keep the show from being monotonous as it moves from location to location and stage to stage.

Yet, I can't help feel sorry for some of these early contestants that have no talent, but have so little other hope as well. These aren't the ones we laugh at, but pity and hope that their lives aren't as desperate as portrayed by the producers.

Posted by: Bill Monroe | January 18, 2007 9:54 AM | Report abuse

Sadly, most of these "bad" singers are plants. Keep in mind that these people go through 2 or 3 auditions before they even get to Simon & company.

And how often do we see them after getting rejected spout off about how Simon doesn't know what he's talking about? That may've worked in the first season when nobody knew who he was, maybe even in the 2nd. But by now, everyone has to realize that the guy does have and ear for good singers.

The ultimate proof that most of these "bad" singers are plants came several years ago during auditions at SF. Remember the "Rapping Nanny" Chris Noll? He did a freeform rap about Paula and then went on a Bobby Knight-esque tirade after he was rejected. Guess what? He was actually actor/comedian Chris Wylde, who used to have his own talk show, used to host the game show Taboo, appeared in one of the more popular episodes of Trading Spaces, and has been in a a few commercials. I can't believe that no one throughout the entire auditioning and editing process didn't recognized him.

Posted by: BF | January 18, 2007 9:55 AM | Report abuse

I admit I only watch the show's tryout episodes, and they're hilarious, laugh-out-loud, watching-someone-slip-on-a-banana-peel funny. It's called Schadenfreude and been around since the beginning of time.

Sure, there are moments when I feel sorry and/or embarrassed for how people behave in front of millions of people. But then I remember they are all there voluntarily. Some of them may have sad stories, but this is not their only chance in life. And if they're really so delusional to think they're great singers, the judges will not bring them back to reality no matter how mean they are.

So compared to that hyped-up Hollywood contest bs, this is actually the more real and human part of the show.

Posted by: justashow | January 18, 2007 10:14 AM | Report abuse

This part of the show is getting really mean spirited, IMO. One of the guys seemed to have some form of autism, and at least one of them seemed to be mentally challenged.

Posted by: LAE | January 18, 2007 10:17 AM | Report abuse

It doesn't matter if the show's bad contestants are plants, or if Randy and Simon are too mean, or if they never find actual talent, because as long as you are watching, they win.

It's a TV Show first and foremost. Their only goal is to find viewers. And that is something they do very well.

So take AI for what it is: Horribly-Great Television.

Posted by: Justin | January 18, 2007 10:19 AM | Report abuse

"Reality" television has been around since at least the first Real World season, and you people are _just_ catching on to the fact that it's heavily edited for guaranteed entertainment value? AI has already been on enough seasons that you shouldn't be surprised to magically discover that there is a screening process -- hell, they have shown how the whole process works before ON THE SHOW! Of course they let through some terrible singers, otherwise no one would watch the auditions. Would you really want to watch a show of just good and decent singers, with a handful of great singers? Of course not, you need to mix in the freaks and tone-deaf.

For those of you who want to watch just a music competition, tune in once they get to Hollywood. Before that, it's all about the bad singing. And I love it.

Posted by: OD | January 18, 2007 10:26 AM | Report abuse

Darwin was not wearing a bra under her gold blouse! I can't get over this. Her mother was, but Darwin wasn't!

Posted by: MZ | January 18, 2007 10:46 AM | Report abuse

I agree with you, LAE. The judges seemed to be able to identify the contestants with actual disorders, and went easy on them. I think they actually seemed uncomfortable to have to be in a position to mock these guys. I don't know why the producers think it's a joke to spotlight those with gentle minds, as it were.

Posted by: Ro | January 18, 2007 10:49 AM | Report abuse

It seems this season all they want to do is humiliate people, only letting the horrible singers painfully finish their songs? I think Simon went too far insulting the kid with the big eyes, he can't help the way he looks. Part of the fun in prior seasons was watching Paula and Randy sticking up for people and the conflict that ensued. This year it's just all of them being rude and nasty. They don't even show any of the good singers anymore. At the end, they show the people they picked, I'd also like to see them during the show. It was just plain uncomfortable in some parts.

Posted by: CC | January 18, 2007 11:08 AM | Report abuse

Really, I'm done with American Idol. It's become so incredibly predictable. You will have the weirdo wannabees, the hugable hopeless, and the marginally talented, and perhaps an okay talented person, but nothing that really blows you away. I watched the first night, but considered the second night a punishment I'd rather not inflict on myself.
American Idol is done....let's move on to the next thing.

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

I don't watch the auditions anymore. It's way too fake. I, believe it or not, would rather listen to the above-average, but on-the-cusp-of-not-making-it, singers than the obvious there-for-attention freaks. And the post-audition "Simon doesn't know what he's talking about, bleep, bleep, bleep" is so predictable. No thanks.

Posted by: kc | January 18, 2007 11:27 AM | Report abuse

Folks, the audition shows are not to be taken seriously. It is purely for entertainment and ratings purposes and to show us the tone-deaf delusional people who do try out.

The producers aren't going to give everything away by showing us all of the good performers at this stage - we'll see them in Hollywood soon enough.

That being said, during last season's audition shows, they did show us Taylor Hick's audition.

Posted by: Music Lover | January 18, 2007 11:57 AM | Report abuse

Too bad the hairdresser didn't get to fix Simon's hair! Why a man with a square head insists on wearing his hair parted in the middle and combed out to the sides on top is beyond me. The contestant would have saved the day.

Posted by: TM | January 18, 2007 12:52 PM | Report abuse

All I can say is that the show is incredibly funny. Period. End of Sentence.

Posted by: sentheru | January 18, 2007 1:54 PM | Report abuse

I think the judges seemed genuinely ticked that the producers had seen fit to throw such a huge proportion of freaks their way in Seattle - none of them (the judges) seemed to be having a good time. And eventually it's got to be a pain to have to think of clever put-downs for all of them. However, auditions are the only part of the show that I watch, so I guess the producers know what they're doing. And surely, since the contestants know the pre-judges only choose the best and the worst, don't the worst know who they are?

On a purely gossipy note, Simon was a lot less mean (excepting the bush baby incident) and Paula was bouncing around the whole time in a completely inconsiderate and drunken manner, and Randy just laughed like a fool at everything. Go lowest common denomitor TV!

Posted by: SM | January 18, 2007 4:46 PM | Report abuse

Randy's "mean act" with the voice coach was just as boring as his usual "I don't know, dog, it was kinda pitchy in that middle part you know, uh, because it just didn't do it for me, uh" routine. We've all heard the identical spiel about taking people's money from Simon whenever a bad singer claims to be a voice coach. Randy has the entire off-season to come up with something original to say and he just can't pull it off. The unblinking "Unchained Melody" guy made better small talk.

Posted by: Rural Juror | January 18, 2007 6:13 PM | Report abuse

I love the singing competition part of American idol... the best trying to be the best.... it is fun and exciting.

I don't like the part where the producers of the show are making fun of the people that clearly are not singers. It is sad, and an easy laugh... I will continue to watch the show, but use my tivo to skip to the good singers.

Posted by: Chris | January 18, 2007 7:20 PM | Report abuse

Lisa, I love you and I really dislike Rosie O'Donnell, but today I must express disappointment with your take on the auditions. Since you are a reporter, you should not be content to just point out the lack of medical expertise of those who suspect that some of the auditioners have genuine mental disorders; I think it might be worth investigating yourself, or asking a Post reporter with the relevant background to investigate, whether some of the people whom the show mercilessly mocks really do have disorders. I'm not a trained expert, but have more than average knowledge about autism, and three or four of the Seattle auditioners appeared to have autism or an autism spectrum disorder (such as Asperger's syndrome), one of the symptoms of which is an inability to pick up on social cues -- such as body language suggesting one's singing isn't very good. The "Unchained Melody" guy could not make eye contact with either the judges or with the more approachable Ryan -- a classic symptom of autism (albeit admittedly not "clear proof"). The kid with the big eyes also had low-set small ears that pointed forward, which may be the sign of a genetic disorder/birth defect that is often correlated with certain secondary impairments. That kid was genuinely hurt by the comments about his "nonhuman" appearance, and may have been too proud to explain he was born with a genetic defect.

I'm not a prude or politically correct; if those who are arrogant but with no mental health problems are mocked, I can live with it, though it's not my preferred form of humor. But I'm completely off the train if, as I suspect, the producers are identifying young adults with potential disorders, not investigating whether those potential disorders are real, and then basically making fun of the handicapped. I'm sure they would not mock someone with an absolutely obvious deformity like a cleft palate, which means that if they are drawing the line there, with all their money, and not investigating more subtle disorders or impairments, they are the worst kind of exploiters and profiteers, and the kind of people that you usually and rightfully condemn in the TV business, Lisa.

It's not only morally repugnant to mock genuinely ill people, but, morality aside, a way-too-easy target. What fifth grader cannot pick on the "weird kid" (with autism, asperger's or mental retardation) and make other kids laugh? There is no talent required for that, so the judges and producers deserve no credit for "humor" or being "funny." And do not give me the "the auditioners are adults and volunteers and know what they are doing" response, because (a) some of the mocked are not even 18, and (b) others are over 18 physically but, if as I suspect, have autism or other similar disorders, they are not really going into the process with a full, adult appreciation of the situation. Again, would a "voluntary" cleft-palate or, say, Down syndrome auditioner, be mocked? No, because the AI producers and execs are drawing a line somewhere, but nowhere near the appropriate place.

I'm a tad embarrassed that one actually must develop a full argument, rather than just assert as a self-evident truth, that there really should be no room for mocking genuinely disordered pople on a national TV show of any kind, much less one consciously marketed as family entertainment.

Posted by: fred | January 19, 2007 8:42 AM | Report abuse

I watched some of each of the first two episodes and I find it hard to believe that there is so much controversy surrounding a show that is, in most ways, being produced similarly to the first 5 seasons. My problem with season 6 is that they are dedicating up to five whole minutes on one talentless contestant. How many contestants have we watched audition over the first 2 nights? Maybe 40? Now how many did we get to see a few seasons ago in the first few episodes? 75? I get bored easily when they're not switching to new contestants. I think the editing has been poor this season and I probably won't continue to watch.

Posted by: anon | January 19, 2007 9:13 AM | Report abuse

Yay Fred. Right on. We need a little more heart & kindness.

Posted by: Gina | January 19, 2007 10:50 AM | Report abuse

I am a special education teacher and I work with young people who have autism and similar disabilities. In my professional opinion I think one of the contestants (the computer programmer) most likely has a disability from the autism spectrum disorder, possibly asperger's disorder. The man who auditioned made little to no eye contact, did not understand a subtle joke, and was unable to hold a conversation. The poor guy sang an entire song and it was clear that he did not have a chance. It was painful for me to watch his audition. He sang his heart out and it was evident that he tried his best. He was made fun of but the sad thing is that I feel his awkwardness was most likely due to a disability- the hallmark of this disability is a lack of social awareness. Shame on American Idol.

Posted by: Jen Smith | January 23, 2007 7:42 PM | Report abuse

Lisa: I think you are doing a great job! I read your AI comments with delight. You have some good insights and a wonderful sense of humor. Keep it up!

I'm not a big fan of the auditions, they get boring really quickly. I'm ready to hopefully hear some good singing this year on AI when the actual voting competition starts. We have to get through Hollywood week first so I hope AI makes it interesting at least.

Posted by: Jack | February 8, 2007 6:01 PM | Report abuse

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