Special Olympics: No Beef With 'Idol'

From left,
From left, "Idol" executive producer Ken Warwick, host, Ryan Seacrest and judges Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell answer reporters' questions. (By Rene Macura -- Associated Press)
By Lisa de Moraes
Monday, January 22, 2007

Special Olymics International says "American Idol" should be commended for giving one of their former athletes the opportunity to be seen last week on national TV getting the Simon Cowell treatment.

"While polite isn't a word one would normally associate with Cowell and company, a viewing of the episode in question shows that the judges were in fact gracious and very encouraging to [Jonathan] Jayne during his rendition of 'God Bless America,' " the organization said in a statement, noting that "at one point, [judge Paula] Abdul commented admiringly about Jayne's spirit and advised him to 'always believe in yourself.' "

This year, as in the past, early episodes of "American Idol" feature mostly lousy auditions and the snarky reactions to these "Idol" wannabes by judges Randy Jackson, Abdul and, mostly, Cowell.

Fox and "Idol" producers and judges got a thumping late last week on TV talk shows and in newspaper articles for including the tryouts of the 21-year-old Jayne and another 20-something wannabe, Kenneth Briggs, with whom Jayne became friendly. "The View" led the charge, with Rosie O'Donnell and Elisabeth Hasselbeck calling it an "all-time low" for the singing competition -- both episodes of which drew around 37 million viewers last week.

Those who condemned the inclusion of Jayne in Wednesday's episode are preaching against the Special Olympics' message. "Whether on the stage of 'American Idol' or on the field of competition for Special Olympics, people with intellectual disabilities don't want pity or special treatment," the group's statement read. "They want to be judged for who they are and appreciated for what they can achieve.

" 'American Idol' should be commended for providing Jayne with the same opportunity to succeed as any other contestant."

Cowell had already taken issue with criticism of the decision to air Jayne's audition.

"To suggest that because somebody has done something like [participate in the Special Olympics] they shouldn't be allowed to enter the competition smacks to me of censorship, to be honest with you," Cowell told TV critics over the weekend at Winter TV Press Tour 2007.

"I don't think that we should be censors on the type of people. And what we're trying to be, I think, on the show, more than anything else, is representative. A lot of the bad singers you are seeing -- trust me -- there are thousands that didn't make it through. And I think if you asked any of those thousands who didn't make it through, every one of them would say, 'I wish I had the chance.' "

Meanwhile, Jayne called the experience "absolutely wonderful" in an interview with the Seattle Times, explaining that he did it because he hopes to eventually land a job as a DJ or talk show host.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company