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?