Monday, April 25, 2011



Each season American Idol delivers on a promise whose epic scope is unparalleled in the annals of competition: to take an unknown dreamer from the middle of America and turn him or her into a genuine star. It has become not only the biggest show on television, but the biggest force in all of entertainment; its alumni dominate the recording charts and Broadway, win Academy Awards, and sweep up Grammys. In fact, American Idol has reshaped the very idea of celebrity.

But it didn't start out that way. When the little singing contest debuted as a summer replacement on the U.S. airwaves, it was packed between reruns and low-cost filler. The promise that it would find America's next pop star produced a hearty round of guffaws from the country's media critics. Now, some ten years and millions of records later, no one is laughing.

American Idol: The Untold Story chronicles the triumphs and travails, the harrowing backstage drama and the nail-biting onstage battles that built this revolutionary show. In this revealing book, veteran journalist Richard Rushfield goes deeper inside the circus than any reporter ever has. Candid interviews with Idol alumni, including Simon Fuller and Simon Cowell, shed new light on the show that changed the entertainment industry. Rushfield has had full access to the people who created American Idol, starred in it, and kept it atop the pop culture pyramid. This is the first book to take Americans behind the curtain and tell what has really been happening on the world's most watched and speculated-about stage.

Richard Rushfield, author of American Idol: The Untold Story, for three years has covered American Idol for the Los Angeles Times, writing hundreds of columns and conducting thousands of interviews with cast and crew. He is currently an entertainment columnist for The Daily Beast, a Vanity Fair contributing editor, and author of its long-running "Intelligence Report" column.


Idol was perhaps the first show on television to have as much of a life off the screen as on.   These days we are used to The Hills girls, Bachelor contestants, Real Housewives and Jersey Shore housemates seeing their dramas spill over from the shows that made them famous to the covers of the tabloids and the greater celeb-obsessed blogosphere. 

But when Idol debuted on the US airwaves in 2002, such a phenomenon was relatively unknown.  The internet was still in its infancy and network programming was a remote, pristine world, largely untouched by the hurly burly press.
What brought Idol out of its shell was the steady stream of scandals it provided as fodder for the ravenous new media.  Each year it seemed, some gotcha shattered Idol's peace, some disqualification brought it face to face with the public beast.

Ten years later, the stream of scandals doesn't seem to have hurt entertainment's greatest juggernaut.  If anything, the blow-ups have kept us all talking about the show, even when the singing got a little dull.

Here then, in order of appearance, are the ten greatest scandals of Idol's first decade:

10. Justin Talks Back
When Pop Idol debuted in the UK, judge Simon Cowell quickly became the man the nation loved to hate, and contestants who talked back to him became heroes for fighting the grinch.  Such was not to be the case in the US. Riding high as the Season 1 front runner, when Justin Guarini suffered his first off-night, he was visibly shaken, and responded to Cowell's harsh critique with a relatively mild retort, "I want see what the audience thinks." 

9. The First Ringer: Kelly Clarkson
It has become an annual tradition; the discovery each year that a certain contestant is not as amateur as the driven snow but has performed on stage. Some even on stages in Hollywood. In general this recurring scandal stems from a general misunderstanding of the Idol rules.  Contestants are not, as producers explain each year, required like Olympic athletes to be untouched amateurs, never paid for their work.  The rules only demand that contestants not be under any current contract when they join the show.  In the end, this confusion comes down to Idol's audiences being more catholic than the pope; having expectations of the singers above what is actually required by the show.

The very first Idol was also the very first accused ringer.  While on the show, Kelly Clarkson was portrayed as a happy go lucky Texas tomboy in pigtails.  However when the news came out just after the season ended that she had in fact not only lived in Hollywood, but recorded music with A list producers, many in the press cried foul.  Kelly proved however to be the teflon champion, so likable and beloved that no accusations would ever stick to the first Idol.

8. Frenchie Davis
The Godmother of all Idol sex scandals. In the years since, risque photos have surfaced of many a contestant.  But when the videos of Season Two early frontrunner Frenchie Davis came to light, it was no ground for the show which prompted a round of soul searching among the producers.  Ultimately the nature of the videos - a sex act performed upon a beverage container on a site entitled "Daddy's Little Girl"  proved too hot for Idol and Frenchie became the first public disqualification in the show's history.  While no serious contender has been eliminated for similiar reasons since, no images have since surfaced to rival the triple X octane of Frenchie's.

7. Corey Clark

Just a couple months after Idol's first disqualification with Frenchie, the show eliminated yet another contestant when it came to light that sleepy eyed bad boy Corey Clark was wanted in his home state of Kansas for battery of his 15 year old sister and assaulting a police officer.  Clark was given a chance to explain on the air before he was sent home to face the music (he ultimately pleaded no contest and was sentenced to six months probation). The arrest apparently hadn't come up on background checks because the police had misspelled Clark's name on the official report.  Getting one last moment on the Idol stage did little, however, to assuage Clark's sense of injustice at being disqualified.  He left the Idoldome, but would come back to haunt it again years later, when he would provoke the mother of all Idol scandals.

6. Clay Aiken Cheated?

Accusations of vote fraud would become the permanent background noise of American Idol finales, but in Season Two a rare Seacrest flub started the ball rolling.  Twice in show, Seacrest misstated the gap between Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken, saying first that out of 24 million votes cast, only 13,000 separated them.   Later in the show, he attempted to correct that statement, clarifying that the winner had won with 50.28 percent of the vote - which would add up to a number some ten times larger than the previously stated 13,000.  The following day, Fox felt compelled to put out a statement explaining that Ruben had in fact won by 130,000 votes.  But it was too late; a thousand conspiracy theories had been launched and to this day, tribes of Claymates roam the land believing their hero was cheated of his rightful crown.

5. Corey Clark, Part 2
Beaten but not bowed, Corey Clark darkened Idol's doorstep once more.  In 2005, he reappeared giving an interview to ABC's Primetime Live claiming that while on Idol he had had a clandestine affair with Judge Paula Abdul, who secretly coached him through the contest.  On the show he played a voice mail message purported to be from Paula, in which she seemed to be telling him to keep quiet about their relationship.  In the furor that followed, pundits opined that Fox would have to dump its star if the show was to remain credible.  But Idol stood by its gal and toughed it out, denying Clark's charges.  Ultimately, the media narrative turned against ABC, accusing them of sleaze in trying to damage a rival show.  Paula survived and even turned up on Saturday Live to mock the accusations, but it was a very close call.

4. Sanjaya and the Rise of Vote For the Worst
Each season had seen a contestant that the caused the pundits to tear their hair out wondering, how does this no talent survive.  But none caused more heartburn than Season 6's Sanjaya Malakar, who openly seemed to mock the hallowed Idoldome stage.  Looking for an explanation for Sanjaya's longevity, the press turned to a heretofore little known site called Vote For the Worst, which led an anti-Idol movement, encouraging haters to subvert Idol from within by supporting the least talented contestants.  Early in the season, the site had thrown its weight behind Sanjaya, as had radio host Howard Stern.  Sanjaya made it to only to seventh place, but not before becoming the show's permanent anti-hero.

3. David Hernandez Breaks the Gay/Straight Barrier
When evidence emerged that Season 7's David Hernandez had worked as a gay stripper, it was Idol's first open encounter with the question of sexual orientation.  Many wondered whether the family friendly show could afford to keep Hernandez on.  In the end, the scandal turned out to be a non-event.  Idol let the viewers decide the question, and they kept Hernandez around for another week.

2. Paula and the Performance that Wasn't
Since it's earliest days, Paula's tongue-tied seemingly ditzyness was one the show's great subplots.  However, in Season 7, when she critiqued  a performance that had not yet occurred,  it seemed like something worse was afoot.   Speculation varied from on air substance abuse to evidence that the producers were fixing the contest.  Paula later explained that a last second change of format had led to the confusion.  The show, again, stood by its judge, but this time, there were no jokes about the subject to be heard on American Idol.

1. Cell Phone Gate
Since the defeat of Clay Aiken, no loss has sparked as many conspiracies theories as Adam Lambert's in Season 8 at the hands of Kris Allen. The scuttlebutt among Lambert's fanatical following was flamed when immediately after the finale it came out that Idol sponsor AT&T had handed out special phones at Kris-boosting parties in Arkansas which allowed the recipients to place huge numbers of calls.  No evidence has surfaced that the number of votes cast was sufficient to influence the outcome in an election where tens of millions of votes were tallied, but again, the cat was out of the bag and the Glamberts joined the ranks of Idol's permanently aggrieved.
© 2011 Richard Rushfield, author of American Idol: The Untold Story

AMERICAN IDOL: THE UNTOLD STORY by Richard Rushfield is an “American Idol" fan’s dream book. The book is detailed from the beginning of the show and includes how the show got started abroad before being the hit it is here in America. It chronicles how Simon Fuller and Simon Cowell started American Idol type projects overseas before bringing it to America. Rushfield writes in a very engaging way that will draw interested readers, and certainly die-hard fans in on all there is to know about this cultural phenomenon.

The first few chapters give information on Fuller and Cowell before Idol’s American debut. Rushfield writes about how Fuller was at one time the Spice Girls’ manager and when he left the group, he had to come up with something more sustainable. He also tells how Simon Cowell went from being a small time record label executive to his prime spot as the star judge you loved to hate on American Idol. The collaboration of the two Simons brought about success in Pop Idol and Popstars in the UK, but it is a rocky road getting there.

By Chapter 5, American Idol finally becomes the main focus of the book, telling about its initial battle just to get a network to carry them. FOX is the lucky winner in this gamble as it agreed to carry American Idol and there was no turning back from there. I am sure they are happy they did and all the networks who turned it down are probably still kicking themselves. With the excitement as well as pre-show doubts for success, American Idol hits the airwaves and although the critics didn’t like the show, the viewers, who really count, did. With the crowning of the first American Idol, Kelly Clarkson, the show is a media mega-hit.

The narration goes on to tell of Kelly Clarkson’s success and how she got there and includes photos and quotes from all the players involved. With the duo of hosts, Brian Dunkleman and Ryan Seacrest, the show was loved even with “evil” Simon Cowell as a judge accompanied by often wacky Paula Abdul and talented Randy Jackson. Problems over the next few seasons as well as success are described in depth. I don’t think the book leaves much to be wished for as it includes so much information from gossip to truth, contestants to fans. There is even an interview with Brian Dunkleman who was let go and how it effected his career. Of course, the scandals are included as are the somewhat odd fan favorites like Fantasia Barrio, David Archuleta, Crystal Bowersox and Sanjaya with his wild hair. The quotes from all the performers was a favorite part of mine and brought back a lot of memories of the show over the years.

With Paula Abdul’s apparent breakdown to Simon Cowell’s decision to leave the show, AMERICAN IDOL: THE UNTOLD STORY is a book you can read in parts or if you are a true fan, all in one sitting. It has SO MUCH information, you may find yourself going back to check on things you forgot about or just weren’t watching at the time it was going on. Either way, to quote Ryan Seacrest, “THIS is American Idol!”.

Thanks to Anna at FSB Associates for a copy of this book for me to review. The review is strictly my opinion and in no way did the book that was given to me make a difference in this review.


Pamela Keener said...

Thanks for the review. I must admit I am not a true fan of AI but watch it towards the end of the shows to see who wins.
Love & Hugs,

Christa said...

Sounds interesting. I love American Idol and love finding out any behind the scenes information of what goes on.