PHILLIPS COLUMN: American Idol is addictive

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 20, 2007

American Idol is an addiction. It’s my &8216;crack’ so to speak. I anticipate the next season from the end of the previous season to the time the next begins. I put the premiere on my calendar, in my to do list and set an alarm for a reminder. Yes, I am that crazed about it.

But, unlike some Alabamians who’s interest in Idol peaked when Ruben Studdard hit the stage or even more recently when Taylor Hicks claimed the title, I have been hooked from the beginning.

I loved Kelly Clarkson. I supported her from the beginning; the same is true for Carrie Underwood and Taylor Hicks. I pick a favorite every year and yes, I vote too.

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It’s just something I can’t get enough of.

This week marked the beginning of season six of American Idol. The first week of the season brought new faces, voices, costumes and other talents to the show.

The beginning of the season showcases the selection process, bringing the more interesting and even some of the unfortunate talent to the stage. In a sense I should probably feel guilty for laughing and even at times mocking the less fortunate contestants. But, I just can’t seem to help myself. I often wonder, &8220;What in the world were they thinking getting on stage and trying to do that?&8221; But, they are a pertinent part of the show, just as the contestants that are sent to the next round of competition are.

But, I am not the only one addicted to the Idol mania.

An estimated 36.9 million people watched the two-hour special on Fox Wednesday night, only slightly down from the 37.3 million who tuned in for Tuesday’s two-hour season premiere, according to Nielsen Media Research.

The Associated Press (AP) reported they were the two biggest nights of prime-time entertainment on Fox since it came onto the air nearly two decades ago.

The audience for what host Ryan Seacrest dubbed &8220;the weirdest turnout in history&8221; on Wednesday was 17 percent bigger than the corresponding night a year ago, according to Nielsen reports.

To put the numbers into perspective, the most popular show on television so far this season, ABC’s &8220;Desperate Housewives,&8221; averages 20.7 million viewers a week &045; or a little more than half of what &8220;Idol&8221; delivered upon its return, AP reported.

Another substantial part of the show is the judges’ response. There is nothing better than watching Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson or Simon Cowell’s face when a contestant gets on stage and does their rendition of whatever song and destroys it. Watching them as they shake their heads, hide their faces and even at times react to the point of laughter only adds to the humor of the audition.

Wednesday’s edition featured hopeful contestants from Seattle, one of seven cities where auditions were held last summer. And it provided plenty of criticism from the Idol judges.

To another woman who insisted a drink of water would smooth her delivery, Cowell replied: &8220;You could lie in a bath with your mouth open and you couldn’t sing.&8221;

The &8220;American Idol&8221; juggernaut has become ever more popular in this, its sixth season. But it sure seems meaner, too. At least that’s the talk this week as the judges &045; not just the acerbic Cowell, but the usually genial Jackson and the kind but loopy Abdul &045; up the torture quotient, taking train-wreck TV viewing to a whole new level, the AP reported.

The cruelest moment undoubtedly came in Seattle, where a spirited young man named Kenneth Briggs, who liked to compare himself to Justin Timberlake, was told by Cowell: &8220;You look a little odd … you look like one of those creatures that live in the jungle, with those massive eyes … a bush baby.&8221; Once he left, the three judges were shown cracking up hysterically at the &8220;bush baby&8221; remark.

But let’s not forget the good in the bunch. The contestants receiving the go to the next round will show off more of their talent in Hollywood. It is the beginning of the Idol journey for them. Just as Rubben Studdard, Taylor Hicks and other Idol champs have done, these contestants are at the first stage in a process that could lead them to fame.

I plan to continue to follow this season of Idol, just as I have every season before. I will watch all the contestants give their initial audition and of course make my own judgments on their talents. Then when the contestants arrive in Hollywood and begin their performances I will begin narrowing in on my picks of the season, eventually picking a favorite and voting for him or her each night.

Again, it’s an addiction. Something I can’t control. The nights that Idol is on I will plan my schedule so that I take a break during that time and can tune into Idol, laughing and gawking and all the sorts enjoying my addiction and watching the next American Idol champion perform.

Gennie Phillips is managing editor of The Times. She can be reached by e-mail to