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Idol Thoughts - February 3

As I have been watching the past 3 weeks of American Idol, I am noticing a disturbing trend. It has to do with the singers that we all laugh and make fun of. It’s not this group, which this year is particularly off the wall. It’s not about Randy Jackson making fun of them. It’s not about Simon Cowell making fun of them. It’s not even about the groups that are going after Simon Cowell for making fun of them.  

It’s about the fact that some of them, as bizarre as they have been, are getting tickets to go to Hollywood.

In Idol’s defense, I’m sure that they have a powerful Top 24 that they will be showcasing in front of us in a matter of weeks. It shouldn’t be that hard to find 24 voices that are good enough for us to judge. Out of the thousands and thousands of people who have auditioned, they should have found 24 good people…or have they? According to the numbers, only 175 people got a ticket to Hollywood. And you can cut that number even lower than that, as people have been booted due to felonies, contracts already in place with other music companies and other violations of the standard American Idol agreement. The 175 is the second lowest number in the history of the American version of the program – only the 117 in Series 3 was lower. They had 200+ in the first 2 seasons, and last year’s number was 195. None of those 195, by the way, included people who talked to animals.

Obviously, all 100,000+ potential wannabes don’t audition in front of the judges. Perhaps only 1,000 and change do. The rest of them are all screened in advance by the producers of the show, and they only allow the people who they think are the best (or in many instances, the worst) to audition in front of the judges. Those people get to sing for the judges, and those judges not only decide who gets in, but they also decide the total number of people to do so. 

Of course, you can’t invite everyone to Hollywood, but why are the producers only sending enough to the judges that not only less than 200 get in, but in certain cities, less than 15 get in? I’m not buying that there are only 12 good singers in Austin, so let’s look for another reason. Every year, the people who audition and who don’t get past the producers (and yes, we speak to many of them) have their own theories. One of which is that the producers aren’t looking for the best singers; just the more marketable ones with a better storyline and charisma. Another is that they are looking for raw talent and not a polished voice so they can mold them. Yet another reason is that they want to get the not-so-savvy people to sign ridiculous contracts. A fourth reason would be that people that sound too good would have a ridiculous edge in the Top 24 – or they would never get that far, and after they get their free publicity would pull out and pull a Mario Vasquez.

In most years, I would discount those theories, but this year, I may not. The producers have been creating more of a backstory for people than they have in other years, as they are trying to connect the singers with an audience early. It seems like in many of these cases that it’s the back story that’s getting the singers in and not the singing itself. I’m not saying that they can’t sing – most of them can. However, I am not getting that American Idol 2 vibe, where I thought Ruben Studdard – great voice for a big guy from the South, or Clay Aiken – nerdy guy but wow can he sing. For the first time, I remember these people because he is a mortician or he talks to the animals and with the exception of Ann Nesby, Mandeesa Hundley and Ricky Hayes, I couldn’t begin to tell you how they sound. That’s not how you want to market your talent show. Even with the forgettable Idol 3, I could give you a good 8 or 9 voices that I loved hearing, but I’m hearing less melody line and more story line.

Of course, Idol still has another grouping of shows where we can find and fall in love with the talent, but they have a lot of ground to make up. I want to know the personalities of the top 24 singers, and I hope that American Idol is savvy enough to realize that the last 3 months of their show (including the lucrative May Sweeps) is all based on their ability to convey that to us. As of right now, they have failed to do so. Miserably. They still have time to showcase their talent properly, but we will be returning to this topic again if they can’t do so.


There was another topic that I was reflecting on this week. As we all know, Clay Aiken has been accused of having sex with a man in a hotel room as his life has been exposed for all of us to read on page 6.  The news has exposed us to a volley of emotions – from the people who are disgusted by his actions, to his fan club who are disgusted with his accuser. No one really knows how – or if – it will affect his sales, but it does make us look at ourselves as a country.

How is homosexuality taken in the American culture? In some areas, it’s considered a sin. In another section, it’s considered a disease. Some people consider it as something that they were born with and deal with on an everyday basis. In another place, it’s a matter of choice. Where I was growing up, in Greenwich Village in NYC, while working at my father’s nightclub The Bottom Line, it was just there. People were gay, and I wound up working with them while working for my dad during the summer. Big deal. It didn’t matter much to anyone on a sexual preference – people were people, and when artists of various sexual preference were performing at The Bottom Line in NYC, whether is was a big name straight group like Bon Jovi, an all-gay band like Gotham or an ambiguous group such as a troupe led by Richard O’Brien, it didn’t really matter what the preference was. If the music was good, then it was good. People bought their CD’s, and where the origin of the person who sang it was irrelevant.

Most places, however, aren’t NYC. You hear about gay crimes in various parts of the country (and yes, NYC included) on a daily basis. You see music stars brought down and their shine diminished after any sort of gay expose. How many Top 40 hits has George Michael had after he got caught with his boyfriend in a public restroom? Plenty in the UK, but none in the US, the land that’s always been conservative in their religious views.

Let’s take it one step further and put ourselves in the eyes of Clay Aiken. Let’s say that you were a famous person who liked people of your own sex – and now add to it that you are living in one of the most staunchest areas of conservativism. You’re not in LA anymore – you’re in North Carolina. And you’re single. And you’re probably very, very lonely. In order to continue to live the quality of life that you have been living and enjoying, you have to make the ultimate sacrifice – you have to sacrifice being yourself on a 24/7 basis. Many gay people stay in the closet to begin with, but this is someone who by coming out, can not only lose millions and millions of dollars but can also wreck any chance of occupational wealth in the future.

Then one day, you see someone who you are attracted to and you decide to take a chance that this person will not only see you for who you are, but will also gain your trust enough that he won’t expose you for who you are and cause your world to shatter around you. Unfortunately for Clay, the chance blew up and he ran into someone who in a premeditated fashion tried to exploit the situation that he found himself in.

I am not saying that what Clay Aiken did was smart. I thought he was very, very foolish. However, I can understand why he did it and I can feel sympathy for what he is dealing with. I believe that at least 15% of you agree with this as well. Why 15%? In many different demographic reports, It’s been reported that approximately 15% of people who regularly watch game shows consider themselves gay. I’m guessing that with American Idol, with it’s roots in the entertainment business (a business that has always been a gravitational magnet to gay people), that number is probably going to be significantly higher.

In this column, I traditionally like to finish it with what I think should happen or what people should do. For this topic, however, there is no easy answer. I can’t put myself in anyone’s shoes or try to project my beliefs based on how I was brought up. We always end WLTI with the phrase ‘Spread the Love’, and we always welcome readers to our site and ask them to be comfortable with us, regardless of orientation. I can’t tell you who to like or hate, but all I can do is attempt to show you how it feels to put yourself in someone else’s position, and I hope that this column has done that.

Spread the love.

Gordon Pepper would like for you to have him be remembered as a kind caring individual who can bowl a 235. E-mail him at


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2006 Game Show NewsNet