American Idol

The TiVo’s barely gone cold on the second episode of American Idol, and already, a scandal? OK, it’s not quite on the level of Corey Clark producing Paula’s receipts from Fred Segal, but for the die-hard Idolizers out there, this is legit. Should the competition be open to semi-professionals? Like contestants who’ve had previous major label recording deals, were managed or produced by a big-time music industry name, or have even been nominated for a Grammy? The intrepid sleuths at blew the lid off this story, listing no less than 13 alleged top 50 contestants with a not-so-amateur past. Singers like Philadelphia auditioner Kristy Lee Cook (pictured), who, back in 2001, was signed to Arista Nashville and repped by LeAnn Rimes’ former manager, or Australian import Michael Johns (formerly Michael Lee), who fronted a band called The Rising and was set to release a debut on Maverick Records in 2003 (back when Madonna still ran the label). And there’s another hopeful from across the pond, Irish-born Carly Hennessy, who in 1999, signed a six-album deal with MCA Records. She was the focus of a Wall Street Journal article detailing the high risk — and cost — of breaking a new pop artist. In the piece, it was estimated that the label spent around $2.2 million on Hennessy, pairing her up with proven songwriters and producers (like Gregg Alexander, who’s worked extensively with Simon Fuller clients the Spice Girls) only to see her debut album sell less than 400 copies.

That’s not to say that singers should only have one shot at making it, then hang up their hat if they don’t, but you have to wonder: do these contestants have an unfair advantage? After all, they’ve been coached by the best, not just on their vocals, but on imaging, public relations, and how to win over an audience. Or are they, as votefortheworst suggested, plants? Failed artists with connections looking to get them that coveted second chance? Is it favoritism when someone like Samantha Sidley, who’s appeared on stage with Katharine McPhee and attended a workshop taught by Kat’s mom, Peisha, makes it through? How about Jermaine Paul, who was apparently signed to Clive Davis’ J Records and appeared on a duet with Alicia Keys which was nominated for a Grammy? (Though, according to Joe’s Place blog, hosted by [registration required], he’s already dropped out of the competition.)

Now, you could make the same argument for former backup singers like Melinda Doolittle. And, in fact, Idol producer Ken Ehrlich acknowledged this when defending the Idol screening process. He told MTV News,”There are kids who are sufficiently good out there, that maybe shouldbe stars and the fact that they’ve been a backing singer to someoneelse in the past — if they were within the age limit and they meet allthe criteria that we set — then who are we to say, ‘No, you can’t haveanother go [at it]’? That’s ridiculous.”

But let me just say this, and then let you all continue the debate: on Fox’s Next Great American Band(which, judging by the ratings, none of you was watching), two acts hadprevious major label deals: Sixwire, who released their debut on WarnerBros. in 2002, and the Clark Brothers, who, in their prior incarnationas the Clark Family Experience, were signed to Curb Records and workedwith Tim McGraw on their first and only album (two of the threebrothers had also played in Carrie Underwood’s band). Guess what?Sixwire came in second, and the Clark Brothers (who happen to beawesome) won the whole shebang. Just saying…

Ultimately, who stays or goes is up to us, the voters, but what do you make of all this, PopWatchers?