'American Idol': A Crying Shame?

ByABC News via via logo

Jan. 18, 2007 — -- As the new season of "American Idol" gears up again, critics of the popular TV show wonder whether the judges and the producers are being too mean to potential contestants.

The judges and the contestants were at again Wednesday night.

"You look like one of those creatures that live in the woods with those massive eyes," infamous judge Simon Cowell told one "Idol" hopeful.

More than 37 million people tuned into the season's premiere, and while the episode was the most watched, many say it was also the meanest.

One contestant modeled herself after the singer Jewel. When asked whether she had passed the bar set by the judges, Randy Jackson said: "No, no, no, no, no."

Cowell was even more emphatic.

"It would take an hour. Are you kidding me? No, please," he said.

After that critique, the young woman began crying.

Rachel Simmons, author of "Odd Girl Out" and an expert on bullying, called the experience "social cruelty."

"What you're seeing here is social cruelty being woven into the fabric of the 'American Idol' experience," Simmons said.

When a contestant juggled batons, the "Idol" judges didn't hold back.

"Useless at everything. Even the juggling was pathetic," Cowell said.

Even Jackson didn't hold back.

"Jason ended up on the wrong show. It's called 'America's Got Some Talent,'" he said.

Most people would say the contestants came willingly and should be prepared for the harsh criticism. Simmons said that reflected a societal problem.

"He did come willingly, because he wants to be famous, because we live in a society where good role models are being replaced by celebrities," she said.

But Matt Rousch, a critic at TV Guide, said mean or not, the American audience wanted it.

"I think memory plays a funny trick with 'American Idol,' because you end the season with a sense of triumph and it's hard to remember what it's like at the beginning of the process," Rousch said. "Every season begins on a very cruel note."

But was this one too cruel?

"They were killing those kids with their auditions," one man told ABC News.

"I think it's over the top mean because they play these people for fools," another woman said.

Still others say contestants are foolish if they walk into "American Idol" thinking it's going to be any different for them.

"Have they never watched this show before? Simon is always mean," Rousch said. "Randy is always laughing in their faces. And Paula is always nuts."

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