Even if you stopped tuning in to ‘American Idol’ after the unimpressive album sales of its recent winners began to give the show’s title a slightly paradoxical quality, you most likely came across Paula Abdul’s name in yesterday’s news feeds.
If, somehow, you missed the drama that journalists have coined ‘Paulagate,’ here is Entertainment Weekly’s Adam B.Vary’s play-by play. In short, judge Abdul critiqued contestant Jason Castro’s first and second performance of the night after he had only sung one song.
As if Idol’s motivations weren’t subject to enough hair-pulling in the blogs (is 17-year-old David Archuleta totally overrated? Does America ever vote for the best? Are these judges really qualified to judge vocal talent?), Paula’s brainfart whipped reporters and bloggers into a rhetorical frenzy. Michael Slezak (also of Entertainment Weekly) wondered if this, finally, was evidence that the judges’ comments have been pre-scripted all along. Paula’s eventual explanation that she had mixed up Castro’s dress rehearsal with his live performance has initiated further discussion over why Idol producers even allow their judges to watch the rehearsals.
Many journalists on-scene, including Richard Rushfield of The Los Angeles Times, gave their own play-by play of the night’s events. Sitting in the audience on Tuesday night provided a slightly more revealing perspective than watching the events unfold on TV: You can decide for yourself by reading Rushfield’s blog entry
Much of American Idol’s success can be accredited to its pick-your-own-ending-formula that gives a viewer a sense of control. Any revelations of pre-determined judging could thus be seriously damaging to the show’s future. Randy and Simon’s consistent swooning over the same candidates already suggests a heavy bias towards a certain top two, and scripted commentary could make voters feel like little is, ultimately, in their hands. If the judges’ reactions aren’t based on the quality of the performances, who’s then to say that the voting isn’t somehow crooked as well?
Paula Abdul and Ryan Seacrest have already offered their explanations, but if Idol-tracking blogs and their comments are any indication, the public hasn’t yet been willing to brush off the incident. Next season will determine if Idol’s credibility is really in trouble, but there’s also a good chance that amidst our speculation of the validity of reality shows like The Hills, a silly mistake on the part of one judge simply happened at the worst possible time. It’s a visible crack of the surface of the Reality paradigm, and all of our eyes are drawn to it.