Is American Idol meaner this season, as some critics have charged? Ask the show’s judges and you get a resounding “no!”
“It’s no different than it ever was,” Randy Jackson told reporters Saturday at the Television Critics Association press event in Pasadena, Calif. “It’s what we do.”
Responding to some viewers’ observation that he’s been tougher this year, Jackson continued: “I think a lot of people have selective listening. There are nights throughout the season The Dawg has kept it stern.”
“Like it or don’t like it, people like the bad singers. It’s the bad singers that will bring the ratings in,” producer Ken Warwick said of the show, which launched its sixth season on Jan. 16 with its biggest-ever premiere audience: 37.3 million viewers.
If the judges are harsh, it’s just because the singers are so awful, said Jackson: “We’re amazed at the people who show up that are that bad.”
Added host Ryan Seacrest, “They are serious. They think they are that good. We don’t knock on their doors and drag them to audition.”
“It’s part of the fun and the wackiness of this show,” said Simon Cowell, who apologized to the 200-plus journalists at the press conference for keeping them waiting for 40 minutes because, he said, his flight from London was delayed.
Cowell pointed out that before each audition they tell all the contestants they could be in for tough criticism if they continue on – although, he admitted, “I take your point that it’s a singing competition and why should I call someone a bush baby?” (Rosie O’Donnell slammed him on The View for lobbing that insult at contestant Kevin Briggs.)
“We’ve never tried to censor this show and there are times, trust me, I watch and wish I’d never said things,” he said, but noted that in the end, “I feel more comfortable being on a show where we show the warts as well as the good things.”
Also defending herself was Paula Abdul, who displayed some odd behavior during a recent TV appearance.
A composed Abdul explained that she had endured hours of satellite interviews that day. “When you do satellite radio tours, you get up at 3:30 in the morning,” she said. “You’re being broadcast into different morning shows. The very last one that I did after three hours had tremendous technical difficulties.
“I’ve been in this business 20 years. I really am a veteran doing these,” she added, but noted that in all her years as a choreographer and top-selling pop singer, she was never scrutinized as she’s been since she’s been on Idol.
“It’s, ‘What’s wrong with Paula? She’s drugged. She’s drunk. She’s not making sense,’ ” Abdul said. “I’ve never had to weather this storm of publicity. I’m a judge on the world’s biggest show. I love it, but it’s often daunting. It’s very frustrating.”
Cowell too came to Abdul’s defense: “Don’t condemn somebody for being a bit wacky occasionally – otherwise it’s boring. The whole thing was overblown.”
He also mentioned newly minted Golden Globe winner Jennifer Hudson, whom he’d criticized when she was a contestant on the show’s third season. “I always said (she) would have a great career,” he joked. “When that girl came into the room I went, ‘Oscar.’ ”