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Must an American Idol be Thin to Win?by David Bloomberg -- 07/10/2002
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After the first two episodes of American Idol, we have seen several instances where a person has been excluded not so much because of a lack of talent, but because of the way they look. The two most obvious cases have been Jacquette and Jules.
Jacquette was the woman who, in the first episode, was asked by Simon if she thought she would make it. She said no, because she’s “a big girl.” But Simon gave her a fairly enthusiastic thumbs-up to go to Hollywood. Then, however, in the second episode, Simon turned around and said she does not look like an American Idol.
Jules was the one who got his eyebrows waxed and tried to spiff up his image, only to be shot down and eventually (after some heated exchanges) called a “loser” by Simon. Strangely, Randy Jackson, the (rather overweight) other judge defended Jacquette by comparing her to Aretha Franklin, but attacked Jules for the same weight problem.
This points out an issue about the judging that bothers me: Simon (and to some extent the others) was not just judging the contestants on talent, but on who he thought could win the show. Thus he threw out Jacquette (among others) just because he didn't think she could win.
First of all, I feel it necessary to ask: Why did he bother bringing her to Hollywood? Was she supposed to lose 100 pounds in a few weeks? Why get her hopes up only to smash them to pieces the way he did?
Second, why not just judge them on talent and let the voters (that would be you and me and all the other viewers) decide who should win? He was taking the position that the voters wouldn't vote for her. Well, maybe not. But that shouldn't be his call to make – it’s ours. He should be finding the best talent and presenting it to us. Since she was obviously a talented singer, why not give the public a chance to redeem itself? Instead, they are trying to find another Britney clone (although, frankly, Britney herself is just a clone of past popstars, stretching back to the likes of Tiffany and Debbie Gibson – and probably further back than that). Is Simon really so sure that this is what the public wants that he is unwilling to even give somebody a little different a chance? Is he afraid he’ll come off wrong (again – see below)? How can we truly know what the public wants if they cut off anybody who is different before we can even vote?
That being said, Dana has pointed out that the music-buying public appears to be just as guilty as Simon is – at least a good portion of ‘em, anyway. Still, I always favor giving people a chance to redeem themselves. And it appears others agree – at least in the UK.
Rik Waller is a 20-year-old singer who made it to the top 10 in Pop Idol, the British show that spawned American Idol. As you can see by the picture on the right, Rik is not a small guy, weighing in at about 280 pounds. According to RealityNewsOnline’s man in England, Phil Lewin, Rik has a great voice, but Simon did not feel he fit the “Pop Idol” image and continually tried to get rid of him. The other judges disagreed and, to Simon’s annoyance, he made it to the final 10. Unfortunately, at that point he got a throat infection and was forced to withdraw.
But the story doesn’t end there. Not only did voters move Rik into the final 10, but he also already has a record deal and has a top-10 single to his name (“I Will Always Love You” – see left), with another possibly coming soon (“Something Inside So Strong” – see right). Whether his success will continue or not is up in the air, of course, but if he does, it will be on the strength of his talent, not his looks. Is Simon afraid of such a prospect? Perhaps.
But Simon always has to get in the last word. When Rik suggested he might come to the U.S. to try out for American Idol, Simon was quoted as saying, "If Big Rik does turn up he wouldn't get in the show because he isn't good enough. He had a good voice but he stuck out because he was fat and he knows that.” He continued, "After seeing him in his first video, it was like a horror movie. He'll be asked to go back to England or I'll send him down to the nearest doughnut shop."
Ouch. Simon has justified his criticisms of contestants on the show by saying he’s just being honest. But Rik isn’t on the show anymore. He already has a recording contract. So what is it that so horrifies Simon?
Well, according to an article on Big Rik’s website, Simon has admitted he has a "bit of a thing" about fat people. He told NME.com (New Musical Express), "Sour grapes always come from the fat ones.” He continued, "On Popstars, who moaned the most? The fat bird! Who's most unhappy this time? Fat bloke! It's unbelievable! They believe, because of their size, that they have a divine right to be treated differently."
No, Simon, they don’t believe they have a right to be treated differently – they believe they have a right to be treated the same as the others. Judge them by their voices and their talent, not by their size.
In response to some of Simon’s comments, Rik has responded, "I am a bit stunned by Simon's comments. I have only ever asked audiences to judge me on my singing voice.”
Well, that seems like a reasonable request if ever I heard it. But Simon apparently has not learned his lesson. He still threw off people for not looking like what he thinks a star should look like.
To me this shows that the object of the show is not necessarily to find the next American Idol, but to profit as much as possible from whomever is chosen. The public has not really been given a choice – not a full choice, anyway. We will get to choose from those who already fit the prepackaged mold. Perhaps American Idol should get the subtitle of the latest Star Wars movie: “Attack of the Clones.” For that is all most of them are – clones of popstars past. Heaven forbid it should be any other way.
David Bloomberg is the Editor of RealityNewsOnline, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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