Cruelty on 'American Idol'? Fox Plays Possum

"American Idol" judges Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell sat down and took the heat from the media at the Winter TV Press Tour. (By Rene Macura -- Associated Press)
By Lisa de Moraes
Sunday, January 21, 2007

TV critics suddenly woke up, discovered "American Idol" judges are tough on lousy auditions in early episodes and demanded answers from "Idol" judges and Fox entertainment chief Peter Liguori at Winter TV Press Tour 2007.

Actually they've known it all along. They're just knicker-knotted about it now because Rosie O'Donnell sermonized about it on "The View" earlier in the week, when "Idol" returned for its sixth season. In much the same way reporters jumped all over the The Donald Trump-Rosie O'Donnell kerfuffle a couple of weeks back, after Rosie sermonized about Trump and the Miss USA/Miss Universe pageant Trump owns.

Yes, O'Donnell is the national press's new assignment editor.

O'Donnell and, therefore, critics were particularly exercised about last Wednesday's telecast, featuring bad auditions of two men, Kenneth Briggs and Jonathan Jayne.

Besides being a very bad singer, Briggs has enormous eyes, similar to those of an animal called a bush baby, which judge Simon Cowell noted during Briggs's audition.

Jayne, meanwhile, appeared to be mentally challenged and, according to an online biography from a private school he attended in Seattle, he participated in the Special Olympics, the New York Times reported.

"I take your point -- it's a singing competition and why should I call someone a bush baby," Simon Cowell told critics, when asked about the decision to broadcast those two auditions.

"We've never tried to censor this show," he said, admitting there are times when "I've watched it back and said, 'I wish I hadn't said that' and 'why did they put that in the show?' But it's something we all sign up for," Cowell added that he prefers the idea that the program "show the warts as well as the good things."

Cowell said the judges did not know Jayne had participated in the Special Olympics but wondered why someone who had should be disqualified from the opportunity to audition for "American Idol" if they want to, saying it "smacks of censorship."

"I'm not saying it's particularly pleasant to watch . . . I don't think we should be censored on the type of people" who audition and make it to air, Cowell said. "What we're trying to do is be representative."

Judge Paula Abdul noted that both men appeared on Jimmy Kimmel's ABC late-night show to discuss their "Idol" experience and that it "seemed like they were thrilled to death."

Exec producer Ken Warwick noted that when hideously bad William Hung auditioned for "Idol" in 2004 "we got a lot of criticism."

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