American Idol: The Untold Story

Book by Richard Rushfield

American Idol: The Untold StoryFor the contestants and the viewers, American Idol is all about fame. For creator Simon Fuller, it’s all about control. As Rushfield explains, the British pop entrepreneur came up with the Idol franchise in frustration after his biggest discoveries, the Spice Girls, dumped him as their manager. He wanted to create a star-making machine that “wouldn’t be based on the unpredictable talents and personalities of a group of performers.” Though Idol became the ultimate expression of the belief that anyone can be a star, it’s really a show that’s bigger than any of the so-called stars it creates.

Drawing on his years of experience covering Idol for publications like the Los Angeles Times, Rushfield recounts many of the famous stories about the show, like the time it had to re-tape a scene because Simon Cowell called Randy Jackson a “monkey.” Sometimes it can seem like the book’s getting bogged down in a sea of anecdotes; it’s fun to be reminded that Paula Abdul “felt like American Idol‘s poor step-cousin,” but readers may get tired of the play-by-play recaps.

Still, the recaps put the emphasis where it really belongs in Idol: not on the hosts and judges who get a lot of the press, but the contestants, who come off so charmingly on the screen and whose lives are so completely controlled by the producers. Ace Young complains to Rushfield that he and another contestant “were grown-ass men and we had an 11 o’clock curfew, and we couldn’t have family in the room with us. It was weird.” When Rushfield tells us, near the end, that Fuller’s ambitious Internet star-making projects are intended to put “power back in the hands of the people,” we can be forgiven for wondering if that’s true; it may mostly put power in the hands of Simon Fuller.

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