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Maybe it's time to cut Simon Cowell some slack

Blaming the ”Idol” judges for this season’s perceived mean-spiritedness just isn’t fair. Plus: ”The White Rapper Show,” Smurfs in ”The Five,” and more

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Paula Abdul, Simon Cowell, ...

Maybe it’s time to cut Simon Cowell some slack

Another season of American Idol auditions means another season filled with incompetent singers cluelessly showcasing their wares for an entire country. But this year, something seems different. According to everything I’ve read and everyone I talk to, the judges of American Idol have suddenly gotten a lot meaner, lighting into contestants like never before. Frankly, this is hogwash. And frankly, I believe that is the first time I have ever used the word ”hogwash.” Go back and watch season one — Simon was just as rude and crude as he is now. I don’t see any difference there at all. That’s not to imply that this season of Idol has not been meaner than past ones; it’s just that the judges are not the ones to blame. The producers are.

Remember, it’s not Simon, Randy, and Paula weeding out who makes it onto TV from the tens of thousands of applicants. The producers take care of that. They are the ones that pick out the people who make it before the holy trinity. Their job basically seems to consist of sorting stadiums full of auditioners into three groups, which are:

Group 1: The Really, Really Good
These people have genuine talent and are sent in to Simon, Randy, and Paula to see if they are worthy of being addressed as ”dawg” and sent to Hollywood.

Group 2: The Really, Really Bad
These people have no talent whatsoever, yet are also sent in to Simon, Randy, and Paula as a form of comic relief. Their badness dominates the first few weeks of the show and enables us, the viewers, to feel better about ourselves through the mocking of others.

Group 3: Everyone else
Most people fall into this category — the mild, the mediocre, the middle-of-the-road. These people are dismissed on the spot since they are neither good enough to stand a chance at winning, nor bad enough to provide any good laughs.

Where this season’s Idol differs from previous ones is that the people in Group 2 have gone from ”really, really bad” to really, really sad. Some of the contestants being brought in front of the judges (and, in turn, a national audience) are clearly in need of help — and I’m not talking about vocal training. Nicholas Zitzman went beyond merely socially awkward, and there was something vaguely non-human about Darwin ”Mischa” Reedy and her practically identical mother. But the show sunk to a new low with another debatably dynamic duo: Jonathan Jayne and Kenneth Briggs.

Kenneth was the guy Simon compared to a monkey, calling the bug-eyed contestant a ”bush baby.” Some saw that as unnecessarily harsh, but Simon has never pulled any punches in his commentary on contestants’ looks. This is nothing new, and he has actually uttered comments much worse than that. What made this situation different was the fact that Kenneth was even in the room to begin with, seeing as how he didn’t — and I’m trying to be gentle here — appear to possess the highest IQ.

Which brings us to Jonathan Jayne. Jayne is a perfect example as to exactly why the judges are not to blame. For those who don’t remember, Jonathan was the large guy who crooned ”God Bless America.” Turns out he is a former Special Olympics participant. Paula was typically kind after his somewhat excruciating performance, but it should be noted that Simon was as well, even saying ”You’re a nice guy. I like you, but this is not the career path for you.” Randy then thanked him for showing up. So why again are the judges under fire? Heck, even Special Olympics International praised them for being ”gracious and very encouraging.”

Yet the judges are still catching the heat, when it was the field producers who put Jayne in the room to begin with. If it was to see him mocked, then they are evil. If it was to chalk up an easy and compassionate story line, then they are merely shamelessly exploitative. Either way, it’s pretty classless. Now, let’s move on before I emotionally shut down over the realization that I just wasted almost 700 words defending Paula freakin’ Abdul.

OBSESSION OF THE WEEK

Most of VH1’s celebreality shows either bore (Hogan Knows Best), confuse (Shooting Sizemore), or depress me (anything involving Flavor Flav). But The White Rapper Show is a refreshing blast. Of course, I suppose that opinion would be somewhat obvious coming from someone who once presented a list on the Five Worst White Rappers of All Time. Now, see, these are the people that should be being mocked on American Idol, especially the self-proclaimed ”king of the ‘burbs,” John Brown, who keeps going on and on about something called ”ghetto revival.” If you can explain to me how the king of the ‘burbs is in any position to be saying anything about the ghetto, I will give you my signed copy of Vanilla Ice’s Extremely Live CD. In any event, big…uh, props (I guess?) to this show for truly putting the honkey in phonkey.

THE FIVE

I was going through a bunch of my crap recently when I uncovered something. It was little. Blue. Annoying. I speak, of course, of Hang Glider Smurf. Why I still have a Smurf, much less one that is hang gliding, remains open for debate, but it did confirm that yes, at one particularly sad point in my life, I did collect dorky blue dolls. And I even know enough about them to come up with this week’s list of The Five Most Memorable Smurf Figures.

1) Guitar Smurf
Not only is this Smurf rockin’ like Don Dokken, but he has a truly incredible guitar face — open mouth, closed eyes. He’s feelin’ it, man.

2) Astro Smurf
It’s basically just a regular Smurf with a big bubble over his head and a funny look on his face, as if he’s been deprived of oxygen for too long. Who knows, maybe Guitar Smurf got him high.

3) Smurfette
I thought she was hot when I was a kid. Sue me.

4) Angry Smurf
Memorable for all the wrong reasons, seeing as they regrettably decided to make the scary, enraged Smurf black instead of the traditional blue. Could make for an interesting topic to be discussed on The White Rapper Show.

5) Beer Smurf
Hey, after being chased around by Gargamel and Azrael all day, who doesn’t want to sit back with a tall, cool one? As much as I loved Beer Smurf, I can’t help but be disappointed Hangover Smurf never saw the light of day. Where are the consequences, people?!?

READER MAIL

Judging from most of the comments in letters this week, you all seemed to agree with my assessment that the Golden Globes were less than Golden this year. You also delighted in both the joy that is Carllewis.com, and the joy in informing me that I don’t know Rick about Springfield.

Just a clarification. Rick Springfield is a musician-turned-actor to pay the bills. His first hits were in the late ’60’s with Zoot in Australia and early ’70s here. When money got tight he turned to acting. He signed on to do GH right as RCA picked up WCD. Luckily they both hit big. And BTW he sings ”I’ve Done Everything For You” better than Sammy Hagar ever did! :) —Kim Distin

Either there are far more Rick Springfield fans out there than I previously believed possible, or he has a small yet very vocal fan base. I received a bunch of letters informing me of my gross negligence in ignoring the Rickster’s early music career and listing him as an actor-turned-musician instead of the other way around in last week’s column. Although judging by his acting work in Hard to Hold, I suppose I should have known that acting was not his forte.

What Warren Beatty might have actually rambled on about at the Golden Globes was nowhere near as entertaining as watching the nearly 70-year-old man try to anticipate and comprehend what Tom Hanks was saying about him. I thought he was going to suddenly have a heart attack, only every star in the room was going to forget how to do CPR (especially the cast of Grey’s) because they were too liquored up to remember how to perform it. Luckily for us, Mr. Beatty is OK. —Nikki Metzger

You know, I remember Beatty doing the same thing a few years ago when the Oscars gave him a similar tribute. I didn’t understand him then either, but then again I am probably not the right person to judge Beatty at his best and worst. After all, I like Ishtar.

In defense of Milo Ventimiglia’s ”emo” hair: he hates it too. Apparently there’s some sort of World War III between him and the Heroes producers over said hair. On the plus side, there’s some kind of a drinking game here — every time Milo pushes aside a wayward strand, you take a shot. — Kelly Bashine

I wonder: Could the hair be tied into his power? Maybe there’s a Samson thing at play here. Well, only one way to find out. Okay: First person to infiltrate the set of Heroes with some clippers and cut Milo’s hair wins a Rick Springfield box set. Kim Distin can tell you where to get one of those.

Regarding Kevin Kane’s $1,200 price tag for listening to country music, I’m just waiting for my paycheck, and that’s not Johnny I’m talking about. I sing the white girl blues all the time around our household. Tough talk, pimp, now pay up. Dalton, any leverage you can provide in this deal would be greatly appreciated. —Laura Kane

Well, the real problem, Laura, is that your husband said he would have to be paid $1,200 to listen to country music, meaning that you actually should be the one forking over the cash. I doubt that was quite the leverage you were looking for, but I imagine you can come up with your own ”leverage” if you know what I’m sayin’…which, on second thought, you probably don’t, since that didn’t make a whole hell of a lot of sense.

Carl Lewis auf Deutsch ist ausgezeichnet! So much to say about the magnificence that is carllewis.com, but a few notes: 1) LOVED his private pictures, especially the one where he’s rocking the Kid ‘N Play-Eraserhead hairdo in the family portrait, 2) When I going through the slide show of his modeling pictures, I was half expecting some house music to start playing and people with glow sticks to appear, 3) Carl Lewis with moustache = porn star (see ”Actor Photos”), and 4) my favorite line during his acting reel (”Filmspule” auf Deutsch), comes at about 1:19, “…I’m talking about the court of LUUUUUUVE.” Mr. Ross, you brought sunshine to my cold day. Bless you… —Jen Bowman

Wish I could take credit for it, Jen, but the credit belongs solely to the man himself. That is pure, unfiltered Lewis you are getting there on carllewis.com. And consider yourself warned: Should you choose not to give him full credit in the future, he may ”smack you like I smacked my ho.”

Okay, that’s it for this week. Is American Idol too mean this season, and if so, who is to blame? Have a favorite Smurf? And where do you stand on the crucial issue of Milo’s hair? Send your questions, comments, and quibbles to theglutton@ew.com, or simply fill out the handy-dandy form below. See ya next week!