The new year's TV sensation is unmissably Fox's "American Idol." How big? Bill Carter of the The New York Times reported the show's executives have been "startled into silence" at the 2006 numbers. It's a juggernaut, widely viewed by all age groups.
Two years ago, I sat down to watch an episode, not because I wanted to (I certainly didn't), but because I felt the professional obligation. I confess: I was hooked. It was dramatic, it was hilarious, it was heartwarming, it was professional -- all the things that make for good television.
Sadly, this year, you can add another descriptor: It's also now raunchy.
By now, on a show this popular, millions of "Idol" fans have heard the hubbub that some groups have raised against the man playing the role of nastiest judge in this "reality" program, Simon Cowell. He's heard from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation for telling one contender to shave and wear a dress. He's heard from the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance for making the unnecessary wisecrack in dismissing an obese contestant that they couldn't afford his food bill.
It's time for Fox to hear from parents over the waves of bleeped profanity in these tryout episodes, which have gone from annoying to incessant. Rejected contestants go into profanity-laced tirades, and Fox doesn't turn the camera off. They follow the angry curser down the hall to capture every bleepity-bleep-bleeped utterance, complete with the "American Idol" logo pasted on their mouths.
It descended to an absurd level with a metal-head contestant with dyed-red hair named Ryan Hyatt. When asked if he was the next American Idol, Hyatt said, "[Bleeped F-bomb] yeah." Judge Paula Abdul responded, "You just cursed. We're not allowed to do that. It's a family show." The curser responded, "Well, I'm not a family guy."
And Fox isn't making a family show if they milk this for ratings instead of editing it out.
What followed was worse. After the said metal-head unloaded a satanic screech routine and was rejected, he delivered a predictably obscene rant, with Fox bleeping him 13 times in five seconds.
MSNBC.com writer Andy Dehnart nailed the current trend on the head. On these tryout shows, "Idol" now is no better than other sleazy Fox reality-show outings like "My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance," humiliating people by the dozens to amuse the audience. "Three years ago, in their infancy, the 'Idol' auditions were amusing. Now they've become an exercise in crassness and excessive, unabashed meanness, perfect for a Fox reality show but unbefitting a show that has the reputation as best of its class."