November 12, 2008 at 12:00 PM EST

Condolences go out to the family and friends of Paula Goodspeed, the former American Idol hopeful who was found dead in her car near the home of judge Paula Abdul on Tuesday night; People.com reports that police are ruling Goodspeed’s death by drug overdose as a suicide.

Goodspeed’s 2005 audition is currently streaming on the Internet, and it’s a typically depressing case of a troubled young woman bringing delusions of singing grandeur into the bright and unforgiving spotlight of a nationally televised talent contest. I know there’ll be that knee-jerk response from some circles that the cruelty of the Idol machine — in particular the point-and-laugh-at-the-weirdos vibe that pervades the show’s audition rounds — is at least in part to blame here. But I think that oversimplifies the heartbreaking reality of severe mental illness. Sure, Simon’s repeated jabs at Goodspeed’s braces seem almost barbaric now, in the immediate aftermath of her suicide, but the sad truth is that even without Idol, even without reality TV in general, ridicule always has a way of finding the outcasts and misfits and oddballs of the world — especially those who mistakenly think they’re destined to be the next celebrity sensation.

Sure, it’d be great if the folks inside Idol‘s audition rooms were perhaps a little more careful with the feelings of its wannabes — especially when those of us watching from our couches can spot the occasional cases of mental instability as easily as one of Randy’s bedazzled skull shirts — but at the very least let’s hope that Idol‘s editing staff honors Goodspeed’s memory in season 8. After all, will any of us be worse off if, say, Idol managed to entertain while dialing back on the mockery of and gratuitous fascination with braces and bulges and other physical imperfections?

More on Paula Goodspeed, ‘American Idol’
A recap of the 2006 ‘American Idol’ episode featuring Paula Goodspeed, criticizing Simon’s ridicule of her braces
EW’s ‘American Idol’ headquarters
People.com: Paula Goodspeed Went to Abdul’s House Before

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