With its high ratings and countless parodies, it’s unlikely that the words ‘American Idol’ do not ring familiar bells. The show, now in its fifth season, has ingrained itself into our everyday pop culture discourse and, as a result, we’ve learned new insults like ‘That’s bloody awful’ courtesy of Simon Cowell. Thousands tune in on Tuesdays at 8:00 p.m. not only to watch those worthy of the spotlight sing their path to fame, but more importantly to watch Cowell mercilessly rip apart those he deems unworthy of it.
He, like the other judges Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson, has never had a problem popping the dreams of the delusional. However the blunt insults that initially propelled the show to its popularity and appeal are now the same ones being called into question.
Recently, a controversial clash occurred when the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation accused Cowell and Jackson of making anti-gay remarks toward contestants on the show, many of which the group believes have been completely excessive and uncalled for.
Take, for example, contestant Charles Barry to whom Simon commented, ‘I don’t mean this disrespectfully … shave off your beard and wear a dress.’
But how is that supposed to be taken respectfully? Cameras later followed Barry as he made a phone call on the brink of tears, which the show portrayed as funny. In another instance, after a male contestant finished singing, Cowell sarcastically remarked, ‘Wonderful. Just what we needed, Sylvester Stallone’s younger sister singing Paula Abdul.’
And lastly, on another occasion, Jackson tactlessly asked, ‘Are you a girl?’ after contestant Zachary Travis (as evidently indicated in his name) had finished informing judges that he was a boy but often confused for a girl.
‘The real offense here,’ said GLAAD representative Damon Romine, ‘was in the producers’ decision to add insult to injury by turning a contestant’s gender expression into the butt of a joke.’
Lisa Gregorisch-Dempsey, senior executive producer of the television show ‘EXTRA’ argued, ‘The critics totally miss the point. No one is exempt from the razor tongues of all three judges. Who goes on the show thinking it’s a Miss Manners tea party?’
Of course, viewers and contestants alike need to get over being excessively sensitive.
It is a contest, after all, and the frankness and honesty being prescribed is sometimes what the contestants need to hear.
There is, however, a way to deliver that message just as effectively without being unnecessarily cruel.
Cowell or Jackson targeting an individual’s gender is a step out of their criticism boundaries as singing judges. ‘American Idol’ is a show critiquing singing, not lifestyle choices. Especially with a show that is as widespread, culturally impacting and supposedly ‘family-friendly,’ as ‘American Idol,’ it is sad to see the standard of humor set so low