I don't mean to be as rude as Simon Cowell, but all this talk about how much meaner "American Idol" has gotten this season is almost as silly as the idea of Paula Abdul having her own upcoming cable reality show on Bravo.
It has always been mean. I've been writing about that since I interviewed former co-host Brian Dunkleman of Ellicottville when the series premiered.
"This is not going to be a whole summer of being mean," assured Dunkleman. That was in 2002.
A month later, then WB executive Jordan Levin had a simple answer to why "Idol" had succeeded where a similar WB reality show, "Popstars," had failed.
"I think ("American Idol") is meaner," said Levin. "We could have done that show and there was certainly footage that allowed us to do that, but we chose not. We chose to put on an experience that wasn't degrading to the contestants but offered again, sort of wish fulfillment. In retrospect, it's probably a mistake."
Google "Idol" and "mean," you'll get numerous stories from past seasons about how much meaner it has become. The beat went on for Season Five. "By now," I wrote in January 2006, "the contestants also know what to expect from Cowell. He was at his mean best in the opener, dismissing a guy dressed as the Statue of Liberty before he barely got a note out of his mouth."
It's the same old song in 2007. The criticism ignores how much bigger the no-talent pool has become as the number of people auditioning has increased.
During a news conference in Pasadena, Calif., the judges defended the showcasing of laughable talent. Abdul noted that contestants fight over who deserves to be rated the worst. Producer Ken Warwick said by Season Six "it's more the bad singers that will bring the ratings in."
"What you don't see on camera," added Cowell, "is that we ... talk to everybody before we start filming, introduce ourselves and basically go, 'All right. Is everyone good today? Are you going to win? If any of you aren't very good, the chances are you're going to get a hard time. So if you don't want that, you should leave now.' "
No one leaves. The delusional ones think they are going to win. Or at least that the condemnation will be worth it. "Anyone who gets on national television and is murdered by these three (judges), they go home and they're a national hero," said Warwick.
After the news conference, I asked Cowell to assess the overall talent of Season Six. "It smacks a little bit more (of) Season One, where you can't spot an obvious one," said Cowell. "So it could be a dark horse is going to win. But I prefer that. When someone like Carrie Underwood walks in, you go, 'fine, she's won' and it's not that interesting. There are about three or four people (this season). At the end of the day, we only need one, don't forget. There is one guy that stands out but the girls are a little bit stronger."
You can't build a 13-week show around three or four good singers so you need a lot of really bad ones before the show becomes serious. Of course, Cowell has been known to be mean to even good singers, notably Jennifer Hudson, who just earned an Oscar-nomination for her role in the movie, "Dreamgirls." Cowell noted he didn't vote Hudson out, America did. He's right. If Hudson had stayed in the competition, you can be certain that Cowell would have started singing her praises again.
Near the end, Cowell, Abdul and Randy Jackson always trumpet singers they have criticized because it is almost time to sell records.
I don't mean to be mean, but if you've watched "Idol" for six seasons, you'd have to be a fool not to understand that the meanness and almost every part of the show is a calculated act.