For past seasons of “American Idol,” MTV News has shared a number of secrets from the show in anticipation of the finale.
In 2004, for instance, you might remember reading that the contestants are never interviewed specifically for the reflective commentaries that accompany what have become known as the farewell packages (see “Think You Know Everything About ’American Idol’? Think Again” ).
And a year ago we revealed that, in choosing the semifinalists, the three judges each get one vote and the show’s executive producers get a fourth. Simon Cowell makes the decisive choice when it’s a tie (see “Think You Know Everything About ’American Idol’? Part 2″ ).
Well, believe it or not, in our steadfast coverage of this season, we’ve managed to turn up even more things you probably didn’t know about America’s top-rated TV show. And, as Seacrest would say, “It starts right now” …
- Although plenty of nutty auditions are featured in the first three weeks of the show, the truly crazy ones never make it to air. “If a kid genuinely has mental problems, we won’t show them,” co-executive producer Ken Warwick said. “And I can honestly say we pulled two of the most entertaining auditions this year. One wasn’t offensive in any way and was probably the funniest audition I’ve ever seen, but we found out afterwards that the kid had had a history of mental illness. And there was another situation where there was a background scenario that is not illegal or unwholesome, but it wouldn’t be in the kid’s interest for us to show it. The truth of the matter is we do care about these kids.”
- Producers care so much, in fact, that they bring in psychiatric help for the round of the auditions when the singers first perform for Cowell and company. “We do realize it’s very stressful and nerve-wracking,” Warwick explained. “So we try to be as super-sensitive as we can and we openly admit we are going to make mistakes.”
- When those who auditioned in Austin, Texas, this season made it to the judges, the performances were actually not held in Austin — the contestants were flown into San Francisco without any mention on the show. “It’s all to do with Katrina,” Warwick explained. “Usually when we descend on a town, we take up every single hotel room for miles around, and it just wouldn’t have been fair to the [hurricane-aid workers] who needed those hotel rooms, so we pulled out. It was just one of those things that we didn’t think was a big deal. As far as we were concerned, that was the Austin audition. There was nobody from any other city there.”
- Meanwhile, Katrina was the reason Taylor Hicks was able to audition. “I was [visiting] New Orleans the night before Hurricane Katrina hit. I had my flight back to Birmingham [Alabama, his home] Sunday night, so I called the airline and told them I was in the eye of the storm and was driving instead, so they gave me a voucher to fly anywhere in the country. I used that to fly to Vegas to audition.”
- “Idol” is not the first reality show Chris Daughtry tried out for. “I actually auditioned for ’Rock Star: INXS,’ ” he revealed. “It didn’t go too well, obviously. I didn’t make it and now I realize it was because I was supposed to be on this show.”
- Each of the “Idol” judges has dabbled in scripted television. Cowell voiced a character in a 2004 episode of “The Simpsons,” Paula Abdul has starred in a few made-for-TV movies (such as 1997’s “Touched by Evil” and 1998’s “The Waiting Game”) and Randy Jackson has appeared on “Dr. Vegas,” “General Hospital” and “Kevin Hill.” “I look at every experience as a good time, but I’m not trying to be an actor,” Jackson said, to the relief of armchair television critics across the globe.
- Before “Idol,” McPhee had small parts in an indie film called “Crazy” and the hair-metal musical “Rock of Ages,” starring Tenacious D’s Kyle Gass. “It was all this ’80s fun music that I actually didn’t know and got to learn,” McPhee recalled. “People were like, ’Oh my gosh, you can belt, you should totally audition for “American Idol.” ’ ”
- Warwick and fellow executive producer Nigel Lythgoe, on the other hand, got their starts in the movies, as dancers in the cult sci-fi musical “The Apple.” “It was a dreadful thing,” Warwick said. “But you’re a working dancer and you don’t know what the job is going to be like when you get into it.”
- Contrary to Ryan Seacrest’s comments about what’s in the judges’ Coke glasses, no alcohol is permitted in the studio where “Idol” is filmed (which remains a CBS, not a Fox, studio).
- “Idol” producers quietly release the voting totals after the finale, but never during the season — and for good reason. “If you knew, for instance, that Clay Aiken was so far ahead every week, it would be a waste of time watching,” Lythgoe explained. “You wouldn’t vote for anybody else because you would think, ’Well, [my choice] is never going to win, Clay is so far ahead of the game.’ ”
- Although Paula was never found guilty of having an affair with second-season finalist Corey Clark (see “Corey Clark Says Paula Abdul ’Told Me She Loved Me’ “ ), his allegations last year inspired a new rule regarding the judges’ interaction with the singers. “After that little escapade we have a nonfraternization agreement, so there is no contact outside the show between any of the kids and any of the judges,” Warwick said. “The judges turn up on the day of the show for the dress run and the show — that’s it. The first time they really talk to [contestants] is after they’ve been kicked out and they get up on the stage and talk to them properly.”
- These days “Idol” producers no longer have to go out searching for celebrity coaches. “There’s a [waiting line] from the record companies, as you can probably imagine, because with 30 million people-plus each week tuning in [it’s a great booking],” said Warwick, who added, without naming names, that the show even had to turn down a superstar this season. “The time is not right, and we’ve said next year, if she’s free and she still wants to do it, then we’d love to have her and we’ll build a big show around her.”
- However, there was one act that actually turned down “Idol” this season. “We wanted the Eagles on the show because their songbook defines an era,” Warwick said. “That country rock is just fabulous. And they said no to us. So there are still people around who say, ’No, get lost.’
- Queen guitarist Brian May complained that “Idol” producers made him look mean when Ace Young told him he wanted to rearrange “We Will Rock You,” but Warwick said it could have been worse. “Look, if a kid goes out and takes one of the greatest rock anthems of all time and says, ’I want to make a march out of it,’ you can understand how Brian’s going to say, ’Hang on a second, no way, mate,’ ” Warwick recalled. “You can’t get pissed off at something that you actually said. He did say it. Now, knowing that Brian didn’t want to be too abrasive … we actually split the comment in two so that it didn’t look like Brian was being too nasty in one lump. We never, ever, would try to manipulate something so it looked worse than it was.”
- Warwick and Lythgoe decide the performance order each week. “Generally speaking, there are two criteria,” Warwick said. “One, I would never put somebody first or last two weeks running. And if someone’s first, then generally speaking, they’ve never been first before or they’ve been first like, seven or eight weeks ago. And, secondly, I would never start with someone doing a really slowed-down ballad; I’d start the show with something up, if it existed. And I finish with something up, if I can.”
- Each judge actually has a TV monitor located under the glass table the trio sit at. “And what appears on that monitor is what appears on TV,” Elliott Yamin explained. “Simon’s real infamous for watching that; he just wants to see how we’re being portrayed on TV. So if it looks like he’s not paying attention, that’s not the case.”
- There are few monitor speakers [enabling the singers to hear themselves] on the stage and singers are not allowed to use earpiece monitors, although the show made two exceptions this season: When Taylor started a song from the back of the room, and when Katharine began a song a cappella. Fans who watched closely could see McPhee remove the earpiece once the music came in.
- Ace Young’s real name is actually Brett Asa Young. “My great-grandfather’s name was Asa and he went by Ace his whole life,” Young explained. “But my parents wanted my initials to spell something since everybody [in my family’s] initials spell something. There’s a J.O.Y., there’s a R.A.Y. So I got the name Brett from George Brett; he was a baseball player for the Kansas City Royals. They put Brett first so my initials spelled B.A.Y. I didn’t know my name was Brett until I was about 6. I read my birth certificate and I said, ’Who’s this?’ ”
- The final 12 contestants, who get about $450 to spend with the stylists each week, also get to keep all the clothes they wear. “They really take good care of us,” Kellie Pickler said.
- Once the field is narrowed to four, finalists actually stop having the traditional eliminated contestant dinners each Wednesday night (see “Ousted ’Idol’ Contestants Share Emotional ’Last Supper’ Ritual” ). “I went through the Taco Bell drive-thru,” Elliott said of one of his last weeks on the show.
- After reports surfaced in season two of voters using modem dialers that could make thousands of calls per minute, producers invested in “really expensive equipment” to prevent such tactics. “But the truth of the matter is, in the whole time that we’ve had that apparatus in, not once has it ever needed to be used,” Warwick said. “Which leads me to believe the whole thing is a fabrication in the first place.”
- Despite its massive commercial success, “Idol” has never won an Emmy. “Every year we sit there, and every year ’Amazing Race’ wins,” Lythgoe said of the Outstanding Reality-Competition Program award. “And the trouble is, it starts with the same vowel, and the minute they go, ’And the winner is “Ah …,” ’ I think it’s going to be ’American Idol,’ and I stand up and everyone yanks me back down because they just said ’Amazing Race.’ ”
- Producers are considering bumping the age limit for contestants up to 30. “The dance program that I’m involved in [’So You Think You Can Dance’], we moved that to 30,” Lythgoe said. “So there’s a possibility in the future we could go to 30, but after that you have to say, ’Who is buying the records?’ And I’m not sure that you want to begin at an age older than 30. [People do find success after age 30], don’t get me wrong, but ’Idol’ is about trying to make young people’s dreams come true. I don’t want anybody that is too locked into their ways. They have got to be fresh and open to ideas.”