On June 11, 2002, reality-television series American Idol made its debut on televisions across the United States. The show scoured the country looking for a diamond in the rough, a person who was a charismatic singer and incredibly talented who could be molded into a powerhouse in the music industry. The show’s attempt to level the playing field in the music industry culminated in the discovery of Kelly Clarkson, the show’s first-ever winner. Shortly after being crowned the first American Idol, Clarkson would embark on a highly successful career that kept her in the mainstream consciousness for well over a decade. Shortly after wrapping up its first season, fans were eager to see what the future held for the competition series, and few could’ve guessed that American Idol would become a full-fledged phenomenon in the United States. By the time the series ended in 2016, the show had crowned 15 winners, though their success in the music industry has been questionable.
Unfortunately, all was not as it appeared on the happy-go-lucky show, and buried behind the cameras were secrets that were never meant to see the light of day. These secrets run the gamut of potentially fixed decisions on voting to flat-out racism by the show’s executives. Of course, thanks to some investigative research, we’ve found 15 juicy secrets about everyone’s favorite reality-television series. With the show set to make its long-awaited return to television, it’ll be interesting to see if any of these problems continue to plague the series.
15. Voter Fraud
As you’re well aware, in order for competitors to continue their time on American Idol, they must receive a certain number of votes from the American populace. People have the ability to call and text specific numbers that are designated for each competitor, giving the fans a hand in keeping their favorite performers around for another week. While this seems like a good idea, in theory, there have been some major problems that have surfaced, beginning with the first season of the series. It turns out that around 100 hackers had found a way to rig the voting system by performing what they called power-voting. These people were able to patch through 10,000 votes each and every time that they went to cast their vote.
Producers worked diligently to ensure that software was implemented to prevent such a thing from happening again. The show’s first season came down to a tight race, and Kelly Clarkson eventually came out on top.
14. Racist Voting
Racism in the media has become a hot-button topic ever since Donald Trump became president, but let’s be honest: this is a problem that has existed for far too long. Not only can it affect everyday life for people, but it also can affect what happens on a reality television series. In season 3 of the series, there were 3 black women, Jennifer Hudson included, who made it all the way to the final seven contestants, and rightfully so. Each woman was incredibly talented, and from out of nowhere, they found themselves on the brink of elimination. Fans were outraged that less-talented performers were surviving on a week-to-week basis and that these women were singled out. It was also revealed that one contestant was able to have her fans vote early, giving her an advantage.
In the end, one of the women who were on the chopping block, Fantasia Barrino, ended up winning the season. As for that Jennifer Hudson kid, well, things turned out just fine for her. She would go on to win an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the film Dreamgirls.
13. Paula Abdul’s Alleged Affair
Who doesn’t love a story about fraternization and affairs that should’ve never taken place? In season 2 of American Idol, controversy ran rampant when it was alleged that Paula Abdul was having an affair with contestant Corey Clark. Being a judge on the series, Paula Abdul had no business engaging in such an affair, and the controversy sent shock waves through the media. Not only were these two allegedly having a sexual relationship, but Clark also alleged that Paula Abdul was aiding him in his song-selection process in an attempt to help him win the series.
Shortly after these claims were brought to the forefront, an investigation quickly got underway. Thankfully for Abdul and for the series, no foul play was found to have taken place, and Abdul was cleared of any wrongdoing on the series. Thanks to this controversy taking place, however, the show was forced to ramp up its fraternization rules with regard to judges and contestants.
12. Paula Abdul Drunk While Filming
On the surface, this entry on our list may seem like pure speculation, but for those of you who’ve actually watched the series, this has long been a problem for viewers, and it’s worth a discussion. Throughout the series, it appeared that Paula Abdul was either drunk or under the influence of drugs while filming episodes. She was often depicted as slurring her words and having very sloppy mannerisms while giving her critique of each performance. Of course, seeing someone under the influence is nothing to poke fun at, and that’s not our intention here.
On a show where being in the right frame of mind to accurately judge a person’s performance is of the utmost importance, it was pretty hard to watch Abdul seeming as though she was better suited for being in the privacy of her home. While we would never accuse someone of something that isn’t confirmed, go ahead and watch some clips of American Idol on YouTube, and you be the judge.
11. Contestant Suicide At Paula’s House
Each season of American Idol begins with contestants flooding various venues, hoping to get their chance to sing in front of the show’s judges to punch their ticket to Hollywood. These auditions range from jaw-dropping to downright disturbing, and half of the fun of the first several episodes of the series is watching the judges rip into to people who have no business singing professionally. Sadly, some people have very little tolerance for critique, and some of the things said by the judges can leave deep scars on people that they’ll carry with them until the end of their days. Paula Goodspeed was such a contestant, and she was humiliated on television after judge Simon Cowell ripped her to pieces.
What viewers at home didn’t know was that Goodspeed was a deranged fan of Paula Abdul and that things would take a tragic turn after her appearance on the show. Shortly after sending flowers to her home, Goodspeed committed suicide outside of Paula Abdul’s house, and the news of this tragedy quickly spread like wildfire. Despite the criticism that Cowell gave, it’s pretty evident that Goodspeed had a number of deep-seeded issues that led her to take such drastic measures.
10. Howard Stern Tries To Ruin The Show
As we mentioned earlier on our list, there are times on the series when less talented individuals are able to squeak by the voting process, inching ever closer to winning the show. In season 6 of American Idol, one such contestant, Sanjaya, was the subject of such controversy. For all intents and purposes, Sanjaya really wasn’t that talented of a singer, yet he was able to remain on the show for an extended period of time. It appeared as though there was a conspiracy to get Sanjaya to win, led by none other than Howard Stern.
Stern, of course, is perhaps the greatest radio personality that has ever walked this planet, and he has a massive following of listeners willing to do his bidding. Stern’s attempt to sabotage American Idol would eventually run its course, and Sanjaya would see his exit from the series. Howard Stern has never been one to shy away from doing things his way, and his pulling power in the media nearly made Sanjaya the season 6 winner of American Idol.
9. Risque Photos Of Contestants
My friends, before making the decision to appear on a reality series or doing anything to make a name for yourself in the entertainment industry, please keep in mind that the internet is forever and that your deepest and darkest secrets can and will be brought to the forefront for the world to digest. In the second season of the beloved series, Frenchie Davis was proving to be a force against her competitors, but a dirty little secret would surface and bring an abrupt halt to her time on the series. As it turns out, Frenchie Davis had posed nude for a website several years before her appearance on American Idol, and this was enough to get her booted from the series.
This would end up becoming a hot topic of discussion for fans of the series, and many were upset that Frenchie got the axe. In season 6, a similar situation arose for another competitor, but this time, the producers allowed her to remain on the series. Fans cried foul, but the damage had already been done.
8. Staged Singing
This entry here might be considered the oddest on our list, but it’s worth noting because of how ridiculous it is to see with each passing season. The hordes of people who converge in each city on the American Idol tour are always seen as zany, wacky individuals looking to get their big break into Hollywood. It seems that each town also has this incredible bond, and contestants waiting in line are all seen singing along to the same song to fill time for a montage put together by the producers.
While the show would lead you to believe that this performance was “spur of the moment,” we’re here to let you know that this couldn’t be further from the truth. People who show up to compete for a spot in Hollywood are instructed to download the lyrics to each song that’s being performed. It’s a touching moment for fans of the series, and this moment of solidarity between contestants is little more than a farce used by producers to please their respective audience.
7. Judged Before Seeing The Judges
From the outside looking in, it would seem as though any person on the planet with the ability to speak is able to make his or her way in front of Simon Cowell and his fellow judges, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, you have to audition before you audition, and most people are turned away before making it inside the building. That’s right, folks — in order to actually perform in front of the judges, you have to get past a panel of individuals who deem you worthy enough to be featured on television.
Not only is it insanely hard to get your ticket to Hollywood, but apparently, it’s just as hard to get the opportunity to perform for your ticket. This is understandable, considering the high volume of entrants who are looking to make their way into the competition, but it’s also incredibly deceiving to the audience at home. We see these huge crowds of people who all appear to be heading for their spot on American Idol, but this isn’t the case.
6. Judged By Producers
So, you took your talents to your nearest city that’s hosting American Idol auditions and you made it past the initial screening process. You may be giving yourself a pat on the back for accomplishing a feat that most people aren’t able to, but then, reality hits you in the face like a sack of bricks. This was only your first audition, and before you even think about seeing the judges, you now have to audition in front of the producers of the series. That’s right — instead of just walking on up and doing things the way they appear on the television show, you’re now forced to go through a second audition in an attempt to appear in front of the judges.
We hope you brought your “A game” because the producers are going to be much tougher to get past than the initial people you sang in front of. Assuming that you’re talented enough to get past this round, you’ll finally make your way inside the building, getting your chance to audition for your ticket to Hollywood.
5. Terrible Auditions Are Scouted Out
With the stringent audition process that we’ve covered in our last two entries, you have to be wondering how it’s remotely possible that these ridiculous contestants who have no talent are able to make their way onto the show. Well, folks, the name of the game in television is ratings, and let’s face it: seeing people get humiliated on national television is more likely to draw in an audience than a show where everyone is amazingly talented. So, it should come as no surprise to anyone that these awful singers are actually scouted in advance of the show’s arrival to various cities across the country.
You see, the show isn’t just looking for the best singers in the United States; they’re also looking for the worst singers in the United States who also happen to have a ridiculous personality to go with their lack of talent. Many winners of the series are nothing more than a footnote on a Wikipedia page, but for someone like William Hung, his embarrassing audition actually launched him to celebrity status. It may seem ridiculous, but the producers of the show obviously know what they’re doing.
4. Death Threats
The moment that you decide to pursue a career in the entertainment industry, you’re making the decision to expose yourself in front of the world. But what most people tend to forget is that the world is full of individuals who are truly deranged. We’ve seen unspeakable acts committed against famous people in the past, including assassinations. While people who participate in reality television aren’t considered your normal type of celebrity, they’re still in the mainstream consciousness, and they’re at high risk of being harmed by a total stranger.
Unfortunately, it’s been reported that contestants and judges alike who’ve appeared on American Idol have received death threats from people throughout the country. Keep in mind that this series is simply a contest to aid a person’s development in the music industry. Being passionate about something is never a bad thing, but reaching a point where you issue someone a death threat because of something you don’t like on a television show is ridiculous.
3. The Feud
American Idol initially began with three judges who ended up becoming household names, and, as the series progressed, these judges would eventually have to take their leaves, allowing established names in the music industry to participate on the show. American Idol has boasted some big names judging the contestants of the series, and many were excited to see two names, in particular, on the show. When it was announced that Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj would be participating on the show, fans were eager for the season to get underway. No one could’ve predicted that these two women would end up hating each other, and that tension you saw unfold on screen was, in fact, real.
With reality television, everything that you see unfolding before your eyes is questionable, but it’s been revealed that these two women cannot stand each other. While Mariah Carey’s career isn’t quite what it was in the 1990s, she remains one of the most popular entertainers of all time. Nicki Minaj has had a red-hot career since debuting, so maybe the tension between them stems from Carey’s jealousy.
2. The Forgotten Host
After 15 seasons, Ryan Seacrest became one of the most recognizable figures in Hollywood, and his time spent on American Idol aided him in becoming one of the most famous people in the world. In fact, you could argue that Ryan Seacrest became bigger than any contestant who ended up winning the show. However, most fans tend to forget that during the show’s inaugural season, American Idol actually had two hosts. Unfortunately, Brian Dunkleman, the co-host of the show’s first season, departed American Idol, and his career went virtually nowhere.
Watching old clips of the series now, it’s apparent that Dunkleman was an odd fit for the show, so it makes sense that he wasn’t renewed for the show’s second season. While Dunkleman is more of a cautionary tale for those looking to become famous, Ryan Seacrest is the benchmark of what people hope to become when getting into show business.
1. Ryan Seacrest Almost Blew His Chance At Hosting
Given the level of celebrity that he’s achieved over the course of his career, it’s hard to imagine a world where Ryan Seacrest isn’t among the most famous faces on the planet. Whether he’s hosting a television series or a radio show, Ryan Seacrest has become a fixture in the media, and back before the first season of American Idol premiered, Ryan Seacrest almost declined to participate in the series. He had a job elsewhere at the time, but the producers of American Idol were keen on having him host the show.
Eventually, Seacrest was coaxed into taking the job at American Idol, and the rest, as they say, is history. Maybe things would’ve worked out better for Brian Dunkleman had Seacrest never taken the job in the first place. Thankfully for Ryan Seacrest’s wallet, he’ll never have to look back and regret not taking the opportunity of a lifetime.
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