An objective review of Richard Rushfield’s ‘American Idol: The Untold Story’… okay, not so objective

David Archuleta does get a full-page pic! (thanks for twitpicking YJfan!)

When the lovely Pastel gave me a copy of Richard Rushfield’s book, American Idol: The Untold Story, I admit I was tempted to look up “David Archuleta” in the index and read only those pages* … that’s likely why Rushfield didn’t include an index, bwahaha.

I’m glad I started from the beginning however. I learned such fascinating facts as:

  • Idol creator Simon Fuller was known as “Svengali Spice” for concocting and managing the Spice Girls as a “product” more than a musical group.
  • Simon Cowell’s early record exec sucesses were for Teletubbies and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, which his peers may have laughed at but made him filthy rich.
  • Ryan Seacrest isn’t the laid-back host you see on camera — he’s a strategic show-biz power player who has choreographed every career move with cunning and steely-eyed ambition. (Fascinating to find out who negotiated RyRy’s first lucrative Idol contract for him — his dad, also his manager.)

In other words, this book only confirms what many of us already think of Idol. It’s a show created not to fulfill the dreams of its young hopefuls, but to use them as pawns in a ratings game designed to line the pockets of a select few.

In my view, Rushfield could have dug even deeper on that theme. He reveals a few telling anecdotes — such as Simon wanting to push Kyle Ensley of Season 7 through to Hollywood Week only because, as Simon himself says: “I want a character on the show. I want someone I can pick on.”

But overall, he’s fairly soft on the Idol Machine and glosses over many of the more notable scandals (and conspiracy theories). He’s also inconsistent in his observations. For example, early in the book, he mentions that Simon was known to strategically criticize a contestant, knowing the audience would often rally to support them and the votes would pour in. (And then Simon could signal a “dramatic turn” by praising them later.)

But Rushfield seems to forget this astute observation by Chapter 16 when he mentions Simon recanting his criticism of David Cook on Season 7 finale night. Rushfield says, “The admission was part of Cowell’s enduring appeal, his ability not to take his opinions too seriously, to admit mistakes, which projected the unfailing sense that this is one man who tells the truth no matter what.”

It’s unfortunate Rushfield drifts away from his more hard-hitting early chapters and doesn’t call out Simon’s faux-criticism (and subsequent recant) for what it really was — manipulating the audience into thinking Cook needed “saving,” then doing an about-face the next night to support his favoured winner — and engineering yet another “dramatic turn.”

Also uneven is Rushfield’s coverage of the outstanding Idol “moments” — Fantasia’s “Summertime” and Adam Lambert’s “Mad World” are mentioned but where is Carrie Underwood’s “Alone” or David Archuleta’s “Imagine”? Rushfield mentions the key to Idol’s sucess is its placement on a weeknight for maximum “watercooler” buzz the next day. Well, people *cough*JLo*cough* are still buzzing about “Imagine,” so how the heck do you not even mention it?**

That said, the book was very well written and a real page turner. It was fascinating to read about how the show came about, both in the U.K. and the U.S. I sensed, however, that Rushfield didn’t want to burn any bridges in order to maintain his access to the show, so it’s not as hard-hitting as it could be … in other words, “The Untold Story” is yet to be told.

I’m hoping by Paula! 🙂

* Brief mentions on pages 203-208 & 211, in case you’re tempted to do the same thing
**okay, so perhaps I’m somewhat biased here. A tad. Or two tads.

P.S. So has anyone else read the book? Is anyone into A.I. this year?


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35 Responses to An objective review of Richard Rushfield’s ‘American Idol: The Untold Story’… okay, not so objective

  1. emmegirl says:

    Interesting read tofan.
    The Idol machine. It practically prints money. Nothing is left to happenstance.

    To watch with casual indifference and just appreciate the performances would be great, but I just can’t do it. And it’s not even about D, but about the manipulation, misrepresentation, use and abuse. Tis best for me to not imbibe.

  2. TOfan says:

    I hear ya, emme!

    I forgot to mention that Richard Rushfield mentions how talented David is several times and includes Chords of Strength in his “Selected Biography” at the end of the book.

    I’ve added a poll at the end of the post, btw. 🙂

  3. peppertara says:

    TOfan, thanks for the post, I actually did buy the book but have only gotten into the first couple of chapters thus far.
    You mentioned that Richard didn’t include David’s Imagine in those “outstanding Idol moments”, which is a bit of a shocker to me, especially when Rushfield is definitely a fan of David’s. Mind boggling actually. Reminds me of Randy saying (every year) after someone’s performance, that it was the best performance they ever had on the show. Heard him say that again this year. Gets old, haha…especially when the obvious can’t be beat (David of course).
    You touch on some really interesting points and I agree “Rushfield didn’t want to burn any bridges in order to maintain his access to the show, so it’s not as hard-hitting as it could be … in other words, “The Untold Story” is yet to be told. Probably the case.
    I have watched a little of Idol this year, mainly to see what the talent is like (or not) this year. I do like JLo on the show and Tyler is rather entertaining and there appears to be some young talented singers this year (more so than last year). It’s the same old thing however….as you pointed out. I also did happen to catch that drill sergeant of a vocal couch. Ridiculous coaching IMO, think she had those young singers shaking in their boots, may as will be at a training camp in the military, sheesh.
    As for Simon…I could say a lot about him but won’t….except that I agree about the psychological games he plays. So obvious right from the start.
    Fortunately sweet David’s phenomenal talent propelled him almost to the finish line. As he said once, he won second place…such a wise thinker he is.
    Guess I will finish the book eventually but it certainly sounds like it confirms the obvious to me….the show is first and foremost about the buck, no surprise. The only thing I like about the show (besides enjoying the odd performance from a good singer) is that it brought David into our lives and into the public eye and gave him a jump start. There is always something good in just about everything and David was certainly the goodness that came out of that show. 🙂
    Guess I wandered away from the book a little but will have to read the whole thing.
    I do like Richard though, given he has had some very good things to say about David.

  4. awestruck says:

    TOfan, I thought Simon’s re-cant of Cook occurred on the results night when it could make no difference to the voting…

    sour grapes TOfan, lol – everyone has an opinion as to what was the ‘ultimate’ Idol song, for instance Randy thought that one by a guy named Luck??? this year was “the best Idol song EVA” – me, I thought the guy emoted very well, but he oversang it all the way through. So, yeah I am dvr’ing AI – fast forwarding through all the drama and drivel and just trying to enjoy the singing for what it is. Only now at picking of the top 24 have I really watched an ‘entire’ episode. Must say that I am liking JLo, Steven and Randy as a judging group for the most part, inconsistencies aside.

    As for Rushfield’s book I actually couldn’t put it down once I started it. Had the same initial thought as you to just read what he wrote about David. It actually turned out to be an interesting read about how it all got started and developed – behind the scenes stuff. Always, from the beginning, it was all about making money… And this coming from me who never watched the show until the seventh season.

    Peppertara – I’m able to just watch for the entertainment value too. The only year I really watched was David’s year and could never invest that much energy it it again! You should finish the book, it does have it’s insights even though he is not ‘burning any bridges’ – smart journalistic move imho especially if he wants continued access to the shows people…

    Sorry if this is rambly and dis-jointed… it’s early and am having trouble sleeping, lol.

  5. awestruck says:

    Peppertara and KIZZI (from last post) = As for the screaming vocal coach, those giggling girls needed a wake up call and it certainly got their attention, though it could have been done in a less aggressive way!

  6. TOfan says:

    peppertara, awestruck is right, I couldn’t put it down either, so def. worth reading. And Rushfield includes a lovely quote from David and makes reference to his amazing talent several times, which earned him style points for me, lol.

    Off-topic, just saw on Twitter that TOSOD has had a sales bump on Amazon, up to #32 in Music > Pop > Vocal Pop. Def. no such thing as bad publicity! 😆

  7. peppertara says:

    awestruck, TOfan…I will definitely finish the book, just had some time constraints recently, want to finish it though, for sure.

    Off topic but wanted to post this. Recently a Canadian fan of David’s sadly passed away. This is a twitter message posted by a friend of hers. I did not know her but that makes no difference. Very sad and still wiping some tears here but I am so glad that David was a part of her life. My heartfelt thoughts and prayers go out to her and her family. May she always be blessed.

    On Sunday 27th February 2011, @sangeyvang said:

    “As of last night at 11:11 pm, a true Arch Angel and friend, Madison, had passed away due to cancer. She had such a wonderful, beautiful, and kind heart, more beautiful than I have ever known. She was a big and supportive fan of @DavidArchie’s as well. Maddie, she was a best friend, and a sister to me. She always believed in me when no one else did. She always made me believe that things are gonna get better. The morning before she passed, she was in so much pain, but had the courage to open her eyes when she heard David’s song, Falling Stars. David Archuleta meant so much to her and has changed her world for the better. Please help me show support and love for Maddie and her family. May she rest in peace, our dear Arch Angel. <3"

    Angels For A Cause is also adding some Canadian hospitals to the list of recipients for David's CD TOSOD. A wonderful project to gift his CDs to sick kids in hospitals across the U.S. and now some Canadian hospitals too. If you are not familiar with the project you can check out the Angels For A Cause Website. A couple of their tweets:

    AngelsforaCause Angels for a Cause
    In honor of Maddie, a Canadian archangel who has lost her battle with cancer, we will be contacting the Canadian CMN hospitals to add….
    2 hours ago
    AngelsforaCause Angels for a Cause
    to our project so we will keep you posted when we finalize that. Thank you for your patience and Maddie's family is in our prayers.
    2 hours ago

    • TOfan says:

      Thanks for letting us know, peppertara. I put a link to the Angels for a Cause campaign in the right-hand sidebar. What a great idea.

      Prayers & condolences to you, sangeyvang, may you rest in peace now, Maddie.

  8. emmegirl says:

    Rest in peace Maddie.

  9. jackryan4DA says:

    Vaya con Dios, Maddie

    @sangeyvang – Be strong

  10. angelofdja says:

    My heartfelt prayers to all of Maddie’s family and friends. It’s a blessing having David and his music to help through the rough times.

  11. jackryan4DA says:

    Look at the big spread that @DavidArchie got in the Provo Daily Herald today

    Here's the big spread that @DavidArchie got in the Provo... on Twitpic

    Niiice 🙂

  12. Kizzi says:

    Looks like the majority here are “over” AI. 😀

    I read the book and learned much for a person who doesn’t watch AI until this year which I am enjoying as I said on a previous thread. Did the book tell all? Nope. Is it intended to be an expose? Nope. Did Rushfield treat David well in his prose? Yes, not only in the book but in his articles in LA Times and his blogs. He appears to be a consistent fan.

    It is a TV show, a reality show, so with those two facts, it has to be viewed within that context. My kids’ auditioned (in obviously less auspicious environments) and it was sometimes painful to not be selected and to be publicly judged (whatever the system). In some auditions there were definitely politics in play. I served on a board of a community theater and the politics for roles (unpaid) was frequently ferocious….and the most talented person with the best audition and skills didn’t always get the role.

    So, I think AI does mimic somewhat real life auditions and definitely adds scripting (which can result in emotional manipulation, cruelty, etc.) to make it interesting to the viewer for ratings. That’s my primary objection to reality TV anyway as real life is tough enough without added obstacles, emotional, manipulative or otherwise.

    As the show is now in it’s 10th year, anyone who auditions cannot be blind to what the deal is, what treatment they may be subjected to, etc. If they are at this point, it’s out of naivete. I think the judges are more in tune with the contestants with the change up in the panel and there is good chemistry. Do they have their own agendas? Yes. However, Lopez and Tyler have a career track that allows them extreme credibility, and, that, I believe, also allows them to be kinder as they have achieved much in their careers.

    And finally, although David was in Star Search and AI, I am of the opinion that he doesn’t match reality talent show contestants profile. Other than wanting to sing and having a prodigious talent, I think all the other “things” that went along with “winning” or “winning 2nd place” were not as apparent.

    And, this is just my personal, skewed, myopic opinion, David didn’t appear to want to be a teen heart throb. However, given his age, that’s the slot he best fit for marketing and sales. So here we are 8 years since Star Search and almost 3 years since season 7 of AI and he’s toured, made 3 albums, written much, learned much and he made decisions based on his talent, and chose his direction, probably for the first time in his life. How daunting to have all this talent that just has to be shared and not yet have the life experience to know where to take it.

    And, philosophically, all that has happened over the last 8 years, much at the direction of family and significant others (friends in the music industry, in his faith), David has made his own decision about his career path….which has made many fans giddy and left with a sense of optimism…very empowering!

    The coming chapters in his life story, are yet to be written. And we don’t know the outline of that story but for one thing…he just wants to sing. And, well, I just want to listen. 😀

    • TOfan says:

      Kizzi, I’m glad you’re still enjoying watching Idol, and I might tune in later in the season for some of the performances. I’ll always be grateful to Idol not only for introducing many of us to David, but also for inspiring him to expand his musical horizons and giving him a platform and “boot camp” experience to take that to the next level. He wasn’t likely to get a band together and start touring grassroots clubs, and he’s said several times that he knew he wanted to pursue music, but he just didn’t know how… they provided him with the “how.”

      And yes, auditions can be brutal (I’ve done them), but unlike shows such as “So You Think You Can Dance,” which really is about dance first and foremost (even during the audition episodes), American Idol only pretends to be about music … it could become a ratings grabber and have heart if it treated music … and musicians … like something to be valued and nurtured, not exploited. Maybe the new judges can help do that, I dunno.

      Update!
      TOSOD is now #1 on Amazon Vocal Pop rankings … and #4 on Barnes & Noble Bestsellers! Woot! (I think a combo of many of the sites that posted the Jive “news” linking to the TOSOD Amazon page, and the CMN Hospital gifting campaign!)

      • kizzi says:

        I don’t think this year AI is pretending to be about the music. Just listening to Lopez and Tyler’s comments leads me to believe it is about the music. Now audiences have to vote. Is audience vote influenced by the things Rushfield listed in his book which the show manipulates. Yes. Apparently they (AI) aren’t successful though in getting their favorite voted in past seasons. I haven’t watched prior seasons, including season 7, from the beginning so I can’t compare. My daughter is a Cowell fan. I am not. She has watched AI faithfully since season 1 and says while she liked Cowell she really likes the new judges especially Tyler and she loves Lopez’s chic, savvy and compassionate persona.

    • awestruck says:

      Yup Kizzi – especially this “How daunting to have all this talent that just has to be shared and not yet have the life experience to know where to take it.”

      • TOfan says:

        for sure, and that’s where the right management can help… I noticed Natalie Portman thanked her manager in her Oscar acceptance speech last night, and said they’d worked together for 15 years … she’s only 29!

  13. KathyH says:

    Aw, Kizzi, VERY nice comment. I just want to listen, too. Although I’m still enjoying the HECK out of TOSOD (can’t stop listening lately — did those songs take on special significance or what?) I’ll take new music from David whenever and in whatever form in comes.

  14. emmegirl says:

    kizzi, love this too, “How daunting to have all this talent that just has to be shared and not yet have the life experience to know where to take it.”

    Hopefully this allow’s him the time for finding the perfect fit for his professional needs.
    He has been a prodigious talent since he was young, and I want the whole world to know just how brilliant he is.

  15. peppertara says:

    Some really good commentary here (as usual). I’m still into Rushfield’s book and enjoying it. Tofan, I do love the last part of the poll…about reading the book:
    “No, and don’t plan to, A.I. now makes me gag”. Lol. I’m not quite at that point, have to admit I still do enjoy watching new performers on the show (love listening to people sing, especially the ones who can) at least once they get to the top 24. I just may watch a little more of the show from here on in.
    Love that David’s album sales have gone up lately! I was on Amazon and also noticed that his book is coming out in paperback on May 3rd. May just have to get a copy, be nice to have both the hardcover and the paperback! Maybe one day I’ll get David to sign the paperback (okay…BIG wishful thinking on my part) 🙂

  16. Laura says:

    I’ve been a long time fan of your site, but this is my first post. I love to come here for all my David updates and I really enjoy the insightful comments.

    I have a question. I’m excited to see that Angels For A Cause is adding some Canadian hospitals to the list of recipients for David’s CD. I’m planning to donate but I’d like the CD’s that I purchase to count towards the US sales numbers. If I order from Amazon.com, will that work or do I need to take that drive to Buffalo lol ?

    Thanks for all your hard work!

    • TOfan says:

      Thanks, Laura! Please jump in again anytime, LOVE to hear what everyone has to say!

      I’ve had the same dilemma sometimes about buying CDs… when David’s 1st CD came out, I covered all the bases and bought from amazon.ca and .com (and iTunes & HMV & Walmart) LOL But to answer your question, I’m pretty sure buying from Amazon.com (or barnesandnoble.com) will contribute to David’s U.S. sales numbers.

  17. TOfan says:

    And here’s another great David-inspired project from Karin (@zerogravity!) … no need to buy anything new, but she’s collecting any “extra” David stuff (extra copies of CDs, books, VIP posters, T-shirts etc) to be included in gift baskets for the young patients at Ryan Seacrest’s Broadcast Media Center (called “The Voice”!!!) at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

    Read more here:
    http://archuletafanscene.com/2011/03/01/david-stuff-needed-for-karins-project/

  18. TOfan says:

    David Archuleta’s IHOP Wake-up Call for National Pancake Day to benefit Children’s Miracle Network (thanks MaggieAnn54!):

  19. Abrra says:

    This is awkward for me 😉 I started to read your review and stopped. It is a good read I am sure. I started the Rushfeild book a few nights ago and I don’t want to spoil it by reading a full review, haha! ( I printed it out for later) I hesitated buying it, but my curiosity won out in the end. What is the saying about sausage? If you see how it’s made you may never eat it again. I am one who still likes to watch Idol. I like seeing the contestants tackle the songs each week. This season seems to be shaping up as quite a “competition”. Many powerful and talented singers, both male and female.

    I will be forever thankful for the platform that Idol gave to David. Even Jive served a purpose by educating David about the business side of music. Touring in support of his first 2 CD’s was performance training camp. He has improved his stage work 100 fold! Three years of exposure and publicity put pulled his name out of local talent shows and into the national limelight. He stands on his own for now. We all stand beside him.

    Love my SnowAngelz

    Abrra

  20. Abrra says:

    Oh and Bless you for the previous article with the transcript. I sent that to a Spanish fan to translate. She was so happy!

    Abrra

  21. refnaf says:

    Hey!!!!
    Great review TOfan!! I am an idol one timer (season 7, hahaha) but this sounds like an interesting read….
    As for idol this year, I have caught a few bits and pieces, but it just doesn’t do it for me.
    The manipulation is too much to stomach, but I may check out a few of the performances on youtube in the next few weeks to see who’s who.

    (((hugs))) everyone 🙂

    • Xay says:

      My Fav. quote:For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop wheenver you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again. ~The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

    • You know what, I’m very much inclined to agree.

    • ZiQri says:

      For the love of God, keep writing these aretlcis.

  22. TOfan says:

    New post/thread!

    🙂

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