What’s Up With Super-Short Hollywood Round On ‘American Idol’?

Compelling contestants got the ax after mere seconds of airtime — or none at all.

For all the hideous singers “American Idol” aired over the past month, the show also introduced dozens of talented, likeable contenders.

People like Jenry Bajarano and Chris Richardson, the young standouts from the New York auditions, or Denise Jackson, the self-described “crack baby” from Minneapolis. These were people the show’s 30 million-plus viewers were eager to cheer on when the Hollywood round began Tuesday night.

The only problem was that Bajarano, Richardson and Jackson were never even shown, nor were at least 10 more of the most talked-about singers from the initial auditions. And most of those who were shown, like the bearded Sean Michel, were on for only seconds.

Altogether, after spending four weeks narrowing down the thousands who auditioned to the 172 who were sent to Hollywood, “Idol” spent an hour cutting those singers to 40. The hourlong show Wednesday (February 14) will trim the herd to the final 24.

“It makes me mad that now that everybody can sing, they breeze through the entire Hollywood process in a one-hour show,” one angry viewer wrote on the official “Idol” Web site’s message board. “They did not show a single piano and backups audition. WRONG!”

“Last night’s show was the worst Hollywood episode ever,” wrote another. “I simply do not understand why they highlighted certain contestants during the auditions and then cut them without a mention during Hollywood.”

In past seasons, “Idol” has spent at least three one- to two-hour shows on the Hollywood rounds, but added the “Best of the Rest” show to focus on more auditions last week instead.

“There wasn’t that much that occurred in Hollywood that warranted more than two episodes,” said “Idol” co-executive producer Nigel Lythgoe. “We normally stretch it out too far. Because this year’s auditions were so strong, I wanted to introduce [more] of the contestants … and it’s far better that we look at the good parts, as well as the fun and the silliness of ‘Idol.’ ”

If the same singers are featured throughout an entire “Idol” season (like Kellie Pickler a year ago) it’s not intentional, as Lythgoe said he looks at “Idol” as three different series.

“The audition process is one part — that’s its own little series, as far as I’m concerned,” he explained. “Moving through to the top 24 is its own series — it’s a different set of rules for the kids that are involved in it — and then going into the top 12 is yet again another series, and that is where the star is born.”

As an example, Lythgoe pointed to Akron Watson, who was put through in San Antonio after singing Sam Cooke’s “Change Is Gonna Come” and Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” only to be later informed by Fox that he would not be allowed to compete. (Watson claims he was given no reason and that he fully disclosed a prior marijuana arrest before the initial audition, but that’s another story altogether.) Lythgoe knew Watson had been booted before the San Antonio episode aired but kept his audition in the show regardless.

“Being asked to continue in Hollywood has got nothing to do with his story and his performance,” Lythgoe said. “I don’t want to cut out what is a good story for that show. As far as I’m concerned, investing in that boy at that point was what I’d like you to do, but I would have liked you to have done that with a lot of other people that are going to disappear in Hollywood week. That’s just the way the show goes, and it’s been like that for six seasons now.” (Lythgoe did note that if Watson had “murdered somebody we would have thought twice.”)

The bottom line, the producer said, is there will never be enough television time to give viewers everything they want.

“I cannot show you 172 people’s stories,” he said. “If you just do the math for yourself of what the show would be, because you’ve obviously got to have comments, we’ve got to show you what they’re doing and the stress and trying to understand the stress so it’s not just a complete series of people singing, and multiply it by 172. And most of the time the people that do come are lost on the first day. And it’s boring, to be frank. At this point we’ve got to almost follow the people that we know, that we care about and are going through to the rest of the series, because otherwise we’re just investing in people we’re never going to see again.

“Give me another 48 shows and I’ll show what actually happened in Hollywood,” he added.

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