Unethical “American Idol” Tricks


Wow. Has it really been that long since my last “American Idol” post? The last one appears to have been in 2012. I began losing interest in the updated version of “Major Bowe’s Amateur Hour” when it became clear to me that the show’s system routinely missed the best talent, notably Adam Lambert, who so obviously had “star” written all over him during the 2009 season that his loss to the vanilla Kris Allen (Who?) was an embarrassment. I stopped paying attention a few years later—yes, I guess 2012 fits.

But I can’t let this pass.

At the end of last month on “American Idol” Season 19, MC Ryan Seacrest announced that ten “familiar faces” from last season, when the show was made remote and virtually dead by the production limitations prompted by Wuhan virus fears , would be permitted to compete for a spot in this year’s top 10. “Those finalists never got the true experience of the big stage, the lights, the cameras, the hair, the makeup, the wardrobe, that fun stuff, Kris Pooley and the band backing them up,” Ryan said, not really justifying anything. Yup, they got a tough break. But it was that season’s groups’ tough break, and the current season’s competitors shouldn’t be penalized for it. Adding those performers now obviously ould skew the voting: some of them already had a solid fan base. This was especially true of last popular season’s runner-up, Arthur Gunn.

Sure enough, Gunn predictably won the “comeback round,” and thus was added to the Season 19 Top Ten. That meant that one of this season’s singers who would have made the finalist group without the Invasion of the Losers from Season 18 was robbed of his or her shot. At very least, Gunn should have been the 11th finalist if he was going to be allowed to compete at all. Then he was voted into the Final Seven, compounding the damage.

Critics commented that the other contestants treated Arthur like a skunk at a picnic, which is unfair: he was a singing skunk at a picnic. Some said they couldn’t blame him for taking this do-over opportunity. I blame him. He should have said “no.” Does anyone remember the Golden Rule these days? Yeah, I know it’s show business and you cut whoever’s throat gets in the way….but you don’t have to. This clip, from “Man For All Seasons” comes to mind…

“But…for American Idol?”

So let’s recap:

  • The show changed the rules of its own game late in the competition.
  • Using the excuse that the previous season’s losers were “cheated” by circumstances beyond their control, the producers decided to cheat the current competitors—widely regarded as a much stronger group than last season’s—by inflicting a new obstacle beyond their control.
  • This elevates ‘two wrongs make a right” from an ethics fallacy to a spectacular ethics fallacy.
  • None of the ten “familiar faces” from Season 18 had the integrity to refuse to louse up the chances of the Season 19 group.
  • Arthur Gunn, the only one of the ten with a prayer of winning his do-over, happily enabled the producers’ betrayal.


The gimmick of bringing back the Season 18 losers has been unpopular with a majority of the show’s viewers, of course. This gave the Season 19 Screwees an opportunity to fight for truth, justice, and the American way. They could have, and should have, told the producers, as a united front, that if the show liked the Season 18 singers so much, then they could have them, but they, the best of the current season, would walk.

It would have worked, you know. Why didn’t they do it? Well,

  • They had to have a leader. Obviously, they didn’t have one. I once led a cast in a threatened strike against an unethical production team, and when the producers refused our demands, I quit. Amusingly, my “followers” chickened out, but I got the last laugh: the show was cancelled anyway. (In the discussions in between, I confess that being a lawyer helped.)
  • Performers are pathetic until they have power—desperate, willing to endure too many indignities. This is why they are abused so often.

If I had devoted any attention or energy to the show, this fiasco would upset me. As it is, it just reinforces my decision, long ago, that “American Idol” wasn’t worth my time.

16 thoughts on “Unethical “American Idol” Tricks

  1. American Idol is still on TV? I just don’t watch much television much any more; about 3 hours a week tops (maybe a little more in the winter). How I wish I could go back to the seventies for one day and sip iced tea under the shade of the oak tree with my grandparents before going inside and watching Lawrence Welk.

  2. I’m going to signal my smug sophistication by stating that I have never watched American Idol. I’m then going to destroy my imagined superiority by admitting that I binge-watched all three years of Ozark after you mentioned it.

      • Yeah, the whole darn show is pretty intense… and engrossing. Found out the outdoor lake scenes are shot a few miles north of us, but accidentally glimpsed a spoiler for that last scene while checking other info. Bah!

  3. The only episode of American Idol I have ever seen was playing in a friend’s home when I was there as a guest. This was about eight or nine years ago as I recall. We were talking, rather than watching the show, and I really only noticed it because of the loud caterwauling by one of the contestants who incorrectly thought they had singing talent. Give me “Ozark” any day.

  4. Personally, I was glad to see Arthur Gunn back again. I figure they realize he should have been the winner last year so what the heck, let’s give him another chance. He won’t win this year either, but at least the powers that be are trying to rectify the mistake.

      • I’m not sure I can go that far. I mean, that ‘s a big leap or a really, really, REALLY slippery slope to go from stupid scripted “reality” TV show like “American Idol” to giving Hillary a second bite at the Electoral College. Unless, of course, you are suggesting that the whole damn system is rigged. I wonder . . .


              • Oh—and remember, to these people, AI is not silly, it’s their life< The reason I originally followed the show was that its end result, ideally, is ethical: it provides an opportunity for a talented artist to make a life out of his or her art, an opportunity that likely would never have occurred otherwise. Becoming a star like Kelly Clarkson or Carrie Underwood is just as important to these people as becoming President was to Hillary—and no where near as dangerous.

  5. I have no opinions about American Idol or any of those supposed “talent” shows. Did anyone catch “FBI: Most Wanted” last night? Generally, it’s an apolitical show and fairly mindless entertainment. Last night, though, was George Floyd and BLM and systemic racism and corrupt policing and alternative lifestyles and ACAB and white supremacy and white privilege all rolled into one 50 minute prime time TV show. I had to take a shower from all of the virtue signaling.


    • Did you see the “Sesame Street” special last week that spent two hours talking to only one member of the original cast, emphasizing her being a person of color, and how they are creating a black Muppet family and addressing the riots?

      I turned it off partway through and watched a bunch of classic skits on YouTube instead.

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