Suicide May Require A Gentler 'American Idol'

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The recent suicide of a former American Idol contestant has TV critic Andrew Wallenstein thinking about harsh critiques. So many aspiring contestants are rather viciously dismissed from the competition by the judges. Is it about to change?


OK. Let's get back to reality, sort of. It intruded into the popular TV show, "American Idol" recently, when a troubled fan committed suicide in front of the home of Idol judge Paula Abdul. Our TV critic, Andrew Wallenstein, says that incident raises troubling questions for TV's reigning hit.

ANDREW WALLENSTEIN: It's safe to say that Paula Goodspeed was a troubled woman. When the 30-year-old's life ended in front of Abdul's home, it was the second time in as many years she overdosed there on prescription drugs. The license plate on the car in which she died referenced Abdul, whose pictures also hung from the rear-view mirror. Goodspeed had invaded Abdul's privacy countless times in the form of letters, flowers and sometimes visits.

Now, I can't imagine how awful it is for Abdul to experience all this, but this unfortunate incident was not the first time these women were brought together. In the 2006 season, Goodspeed actually appeared on "American Idol" for a ill-fated tryout for the show. As with many of the auditions depicted in the show's early rounds, judge Simon Cowell was not exactly kind.

(Soundbite of "American Idol")

Mr. SIMON COWELL (Judge, "American Idol"): I don't think any artist on earth could sing with that much metal in your mouth anyway. You have so much metal in your mouth.

Mr. RANDY JACKSON (Judge, "American Idol"): She's got braces, it's not so much metal.

Mr. COWELL: Yeah, but it's metal.

Mr. JACKSON: It's braces, people have them.

Ms. PAULA ABDUL (Judge, "American Idol"): Yeah, people have braces.

Mr. COWELL: Yeah, but can you sing with all those...


Ms. ABDUL: Yeah, people can.

Mr. COWELL: It's like a bridge, I mean it's...

WALLENSTEIN: Now, if you're shocked by that kind of derision from Cowell, you've obviously never seen "American Idol." He can be much, much meaner. And as for how a mentally unstable woman with no discernible talent gets on television, any "Idol" fan can tell you that the first few weeks of each season are essentially a freak show. Deluded lost souls like Goodspeed are deliberately trotted out just so America can watch the judges ridicule them.

Now I don't have a problem with this per se, in truth what Cowell does is not that different from insult comics, like Don Rickels, but when the but of the joke is so clearly not of right mind, mockery is just plain wrong. In the case of Goodspeed, it was abundantly evident, even on TV, that this woman was more than just a casual fan of Abdul's.

(Soundbite of "American Idol")

Ms. PAULA GOODSPEED (Contestant, "American Idol"): I really like Paul Abdul a lot. She's really cool.

(Soundbite of "Forever Your Girl")

Ms. ABDUL: (Singing) Hey, baby...

Ms. GOODSPEED: I'm like a really big fan, and I make life-size drawings of Paula. I've been drawing ever since I was a little kid, and my first drawing was of Paula Abdul.

(Soundbite of "Forever Your Girl")

Ms. ABDUL: (Singing): You know I love you.

Mr. RYAN SEACREST (Host, "American Idol"): Brace yourself Paula, your number one fan is on the way.

WALLENSTEIN: Abdul has since expressed her condolences, and "Idol's" production company has declined comment. Regardless, my guess is you will see "Idol" get slapped with some kind of frivolous law suit that will suggest the show was responsible for her death. And while that's ridiculous, it's high time the show, and the Fox network, drop its freak show element when the new season begins in January. Just imagine had Goodspeed died days, not years after her audition. Were it not for the passage of time, her death would be much worse than fair warning for "American Idol."

BRAND: Andrew Wallenstein is deputy editor of the Hollywood Reporter.

COHEN: Day to Day is a production of NPR News with contributions from I'm Alex Cohen

BRAND: And I'm Madeleine Brand.

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