Tuesday night's episode of "American Idol" began on a somber note as Ryan Seacrest sent out condolences to all those affected by Monday's Virginia Tech shootings. But by the end of the night, people accused the show's most famous face of making light of the tragic events.
After "Idol" finalist Chris Richardson sang what judge Simon Cowell deemed a "nasal" version of Rascal Flatts' "Mayberry" (see " 'Idol' Recap: 'I'm Officially Over Sanjaya'; Phil Actually Pulls Off Country Night"), the Virginia native shot back: "Nasally is a form of singing, I don't know if you know that or not." Before Cowell had a chance to respond, Richardson added, "My heart and prayers go out to Virginia Tech. I have a lot of friends over there. ... Be strong."
The cameras then focused on Cowell, who was rolling his eyes and tapping his hand impatiently.
On Seacrest's radio show on Wednesday morning (April 18), Cowell insisted that his reaction was misinterpreted, and that he was responding to the "nasal" comment. "I was saying to Paula, 'What does he mean, he sang nasally on purpose?' " Cowell told Seacrest. "I didn't understand what he was saying. So I hadn't even heard what he did. Then my eyes rolled, given what I was saying to Paula."
"American Idol" co-executive producer Ken Warwick immediately came to Cowell's defense. "Chris was talking about singing through his nose, which Simon hates with a vengeance," Warwick said. "And for Chris to say, 'Oh, it's a deliberate way of singing and I did it on purpose,' Simon just kind of turned off and was reacting to that. He didn't hear."
Warwick said producers plan to address the gaffe in Wednesday night's recap of the show before the elimination.
"If you actually watch it, [Chris] says [his Virginia Tech comments] very low, and even at home you've got to strain to hear it," Warwick said. "In the [studio], with all the audience, Simon just didn't hear it. It's as easy as that. He turned around and he was rolling his eyes at the fact that Chris had come back with such an inane [response]. That was it. [Simon] was mortified afterwards. He actually didn't get it. He goes, 'Oh my God, no.' "
After the final performer on Tuesday, Cowell made sure to send his own thoughts out to the Virginia Tech students and family members of the victims. Warwick said that had been the plan all along: Seacrest would address the issue at the beginning, and the judges would say their piece at the end.
Cowell said on the radio show that he wanted to immediately set the record straight and that he completely supported Richardson's remarks. "This is a very, very sensitive subject," Cowell told Seacrest. "The irony is that we did want to try and set the right tone on the show. And then something like this happens, and it just starts fanning the flames.
"And people need to understand, there are families involved. It's not right."