It’s safe to say that by titling their next album American Idiot, Green Day are taking a jab at that little singing contest on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.
It’s even safer to say Green Day are not the first band to attack the show.
However, after three seasons on air, “American Idol” is starting to win over the respect of celebrities. One of the cooler guys in Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino, had no qualms about taking a seat between Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell and proudly displaying his knowledge of each contestant. And it turns out he’s just the beginning.
Legendary singer/songwriter Bob Dylan has expressed interest in appearing on the show next season, according to producers, who are also talking with former Beatle Paul McCartney. And this year’s guests, including Elton John and Gloria Estefan, have continued to express their fascination with “Idol” in interviews.
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Off camera, even more celebrities are debating the exit of La Toya London or weighing the chances of Fantasia Barrino against Diana DeGarmo.
“Fantasia’s ‘Summertime’ was the most amazing performance I’ve ever seen on television,” Jason Mraz said recently. “It was stunning to watch.”
Celebrities are attracted to “American Idol” for the same reasons as the 15 million other Americans who watch each week, with some added bonuses, like being able to relate.
“I just think those girls and guys that get up there are so brave,” diehard fan Hilary Duff said. “I could never do something like that. I think they’re really talented and I like the show a lot.”
“I like to see people just going for it and just getting on that stage and being in front of millions and millions of people and not being afraid,” Fefe Dobson added. “That’s always fun to watch.”
Dobson shrugs off the argument that “Idol” makes superstars out of singers who never paid their dues. “Everyone gets there in their own way and we don’t know what went on before the cameras got there,” she said. “They could have been struggling.”
It makes sense that Duff and Dobson would watch religiously, since both fall into the show’s targeted demographic, but as Tarantino proved, “American Idol” is not just for young girls.
“I didn’t miss one last year, but this year, because I’ve been working on so many nights … my daughter keeps me up to date,” said Peter Gallagher, whose “The O.C.” followed the Wednesday episodes for most of the season. “I grew up a huge fan of ‘The Dean Martin Show,’ so I love the notion of a variety show with real people actually singing and performing. This is kind of like that and a gladiator event all rolled up into one. Somebody’s gonna get thrown to the lions, you just don’t know who it’s gonna be.”
“I never got into it until this year and it just happened by accident, but it is some compelling television,” Rooney drummer Ned Brower admitted. “Simon is hilarious. I love that guy.”
Simon, and all the judges for that matter, are part of the appeal for celebrities, either because many have met them and have personally fallen for their distinct characteristics, or they just enjoy their banter on-air.
“I like [Simon's] brutal honesty,” said Navi Rawat, who plays Theresa on “The O.C.” “I’ve watched it from the very beginning.”
“I like Randy,” Nicole Richie said. “He’s a happy medium. He gets to the point, he’s honest, but he’s nice about it.”
“Paula’s so cute,” Dobson added.
For the contestants on “American Idol,” making celebrity fans is one of the most fascinating parts of the process
“Because we stay in a little bubble, we don’t realize that we’re celebrities now, too,” ousted finalist Jennifer Hudson explained. “And when they’re excited to see us, it’s like, ‘Oh my God.’ That’s when you know that you’ve arrived. It makes you get smacked in the face by reality.”
Kimberley Locke, the third-place finisher last season, remembers the first time it dawned on her that celebrities had been watching her perform each week.
“We were on the CBS lot, and ‘The Young and the Restless’ tapes in the studio next to ours, and we all walked over to the little cafeteria for lunch one day and I saw them and I was starstruck,” Locke recalled. “And then they saw me and they were starstruck. And I was like, ‘You gotta be kidding, right?’ And they’re like, ‘Oh my God, we talk about “Idol” every Thursday and every Wednesday at the water cooler.’
“It’s weird, ’cause here I am, this small-town girl who’s been a fan of theirs all my life, and I pop on TV for a few weeks and they’re my fan?”
Although he was honored, contestant Jon Peter Lewis was certainly intimidated by the celebrities he crossed paths with on “American Idol,” including Tarantino and Elton John.
“Hollywood is such a world away from our world, you never really plan on associating with them,” he said. “And when they are talking about you and you become a subject or topic of conversation, it’s really surreal.”
For Simon, it’s not a surprise that celebrities like Tarantino obsess over “Idol.”
“It’s a weird show with so many strange things [like Hudson's surprising departure], and that in itself makes it interesting,” he said. “And, I mean, I watch it.”