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Permission To Humiliate – American Idol

by LauraBelle

American Idol has been known for its dramatic moments, both planned and unplanned, in all four of it’s successful seasons. I believe this Wednesday they finally crossed the line.

We would all prefer to remember “A Moment Like This,” Kelly Clarkson’s big tearful moment in the sun, but we also remember Randy Jackson and Simon Cowell nearly coming to fisticuffs over Simon calling RJ Helton a Loser. We also remember Christina Christianson being voted out the same night she collapsed and fell, so ill she needed to be hospitalized and couldn’t participate in the show. Not to mention this when Ryan Seacrest and Brian Dunkelman began teasing contestants and viewers by promising the results ” … after the break”.

The second season had some memorable dismissals. Frenchie Davis was pulled right before the semi-finals after internet pictures were dug up that she had posed half nude to earn money for college. Corey Clark was let go mid-way through the Finals after research turned up his arrest for beating up his sister. Week to week we waited to find out whether Marine Josh Gracin would be pulled from the show and sent to the emerging war in Iraq. Ruben Studdard’s slim victory over Clay Aiken was overshadowed by the lawsuit against him by the company that had provided him with his area code jerseys.

Apparently the producers found that the third season needed a little more hype and controversy. It wasn’t enough that sixteen-year-old crooner, John Stevens, was getting death threats for his endurance in the competition, and Ryan Seacrest’s promises of results ” … after the break” had long since become tiring. Instead of calling the three lowest vote-getters down to the front stage and dismissing them one by one back to the couch, until the person receiving the least votes was standing all alone, American Idol came up with a new tantalizing strategy. They separated the singers into 3 groups, A, B, and C. One group would be sent back to the couch, and after a break, it would be divulged which group had the lowest amount of votes. The audience was stunned to find that the three women that had been termed “The Three Divas” were the bottom three. Jennifer Hudson, Fantasia Barrino and Latoya London.

Of course, the controversy couldn’t end there. After Jennifer’s dismissal, the question of race came up. Since all three African-American women had ended in the bottom three, and all had been known to be very talented, the question was raised if Jennifer was let go because of racial reasoning in voting. Even one of her biggest fans, Elton John, joined this fight.

This season, American Idol producers must have felt the need to do something BIG. What could top all those previous unforgettable moments? How could they tease the voters a little more? They changed up the semi-finals process this year, and two females and two males needed to be voted out Wednesday night. Along with Ryan Seacrest’s ” … after the break” promises, they also began giving contestants safe hope. The women were seated in two rows, the top row was called safe, and deer-in-the-headlights, Melinda Lira, was let go from the bottom row. The same process was used for ousting Jared Yates. To eject the second woman, Ryan called the bottom row of women safe, and ejected Sara Mather, so visibly upset she couldn’t dance to her song, and sang an upbeat Motown number solemnly.

The men, of course, expected the same treatment. The bottom row was told they could relax, then the top row was forced to line up in two rows next to Ryan. Two by two, Ryan called them safe. Even the last two were safe, leaving everyone in a collective, “Huh?” Quick as you could say controversy, Ryan called out to Judd Harris on the bottom row and said he was out, after previously alluding him to think he was safe by telling his row they could relax.

This seemed unbelievably cruel. It made me feel as if I was listening again to the fourteen-year-old version of my sister, teasing me unnecessarily, then running away laughing after ten-year-old me started crying. The cruelest part of all is the knowledge that they did this just for controversial suspense. That poor guy is going to relive Ryan saying that to him for the rest of his life.

While tempted to publish Fox’s email address here so that everyone can send them letters to say how disgusted they are with them, I find myself refraining, as that’s what Fox wants. They want controversy. They want us to write letters and make phone calls and talk about it around the water cooler. They live for that.

It’s the same with their telephone voting rules. Viewers have complained all four seasons of crowded phone lines, and the unfairness of people voting more than once for their favorite. They want American Idol to change the rules to one vote per household. There is no way they are going to do that; they would lose that desired controversy that they thrive on. They want people in an uproar every week complaining about the voting system – it’s their bread and butter.

Sadly, this behavior of theirs will never stop. They care more about their ratings and controversy than the lives of the performers. Perusing message boards yesterday I found people that actually loved the way Judd was ousted; they thrive on drama as much as Fox does. I hope contestants will just realize in the future what they are walking into when they sign that Fox contract – they are giving Fox permission to humiliate them.

I welcome questions and comments at LauraBelle@realityshack.com

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