On Tuesday night, "American Idol" audiences were introduced to Kristy Lee Cook, the winsome 23-year-old kickboxing cage-fighter from Oregon who purportedly sold her favorite horse to pay her way to the Philadelphia auditions. Following the two-hour, season-seven premiere, fans rushed to the Internet's various "Idol" forums and message boards, praising Cook's performance and declaring her an early favorite for the show's eventual title crown.
Others, though, went on the offensive to protest the comely blonde's "Idol" eligibility, considering she's not exactly the greenest contender in the running. Of course, there were a few others who just couldn't help but comment on the obvious: "That chick's so freakin' hot."
Cook, as MTV News reported Tuesday, is a country artist who was once signed to Arista Nashville and managed by Marty Rendelman, who counts LeAnn Rimes as a former client. Cook also had a deal with Britney Spears' production company, and the embattled pop star was set to appear in one of Cook's videos. Spears never did appear in the clip, which is probably a good thing, seeing as it featured a half-naked dude and images of the Confederate flag.
Cook is one of a handful of "Idol" hopefuls this season who can claim at least some music-industry experience. One contestant, Carly Hennessy, is an Irish singer who was signed to MCA Records and even released a solo record, Ultimate High, while another, Jermaine Paul, was nominated for a Grammy.
Will the onslaught of professional singers, some of whom have signed recording contracts and retained management, cheapen the "American Idol" experience for the general public? Maybe — if the online response to Cook's audition is any indication.
"Isn't this show [about finding] undiscovered talent?," asked one fan at the official "American Idol" forums, where several threads dealing with Cook's professional past seem to have been cleaned out. "That's a bit upsetting for me. 'Idol' has always been my favorite show. If I see anymore of the supposed 'chosen' ones making it through, I'm gonna throw up."
"It makes you not even want to watch," responded another fan. "It is to be expected though. With all the people being dropped from their labels [including Katharine McPhee, Taylor Hicks, and Ruben Studdard, who were all dropped from their labels' rosters within the last month], they are really out to get someone in that will sell."
"I'm not really liking how we know so much about her and that she has a manager," explained another fan. "I don't think I'm liking the direction 'AI' is heading. What happened to undiscovered talent like Kellie Pickler and Elliott Yamin, that are regular people with side jobs and school and stuff?"
"['Idol' producer] Nigel [Lythgoe], were you planning on concealing this and fooling your audience again?" asked another forum visitor. "Do you think people are idiots and wouldn't find this out? You couldn't find 50 American kids who need a break? America will just love your foreign imports. How stupid do they think we are? Don't [the producers] know we look around on the Internet?"
"['American Idol'] misleads by omission and editing, to present us with contestants who 'just drove down on a whim from their job at the local 7-11,' " reflected another fan. "This is a 'reality' television show, no? At the end of the day, if the artist truly has talent, hasn't been disingenuous about themselves (and their musical background), and has a sense of humor about themselves, then I'll buy their CD."
"At best, most or all of these [ringers] probably couldn't make the D-list — so, technically, they are 'undiscovered' or at least 'unnoticed,' " another argued. "The auditions are just a formality. The rig-job is being exposed."
Some came to Cook's defense. "There are plenty of contestants, winners and non-winners that have had careers in music, had representation and recorded music before 'AI,' " wrote one poster, adding that Cook's deal was seven years old: "If nothing ever happened with that, I would think she'd still be considered 'unsigned.' "
"I definitely think there are plants put into the show ... and probably Kristy is one," wrote another Cook supporter. "But that is OK. She is talented and has not become a huge star yet. It means nothing if she was signed seven years ago and nothing ever became of it. If she's unsigned now, she's eligible to be on this show."
MTV News hit the streets of New York on Wednesday afternoon to gauge the opinions and thoughts of the average "Idol" fan out there, amid the hustle and bustle of Times Square. Most of the folks we surveyed had no idea that this season of "Idol" boasted several semi-accomplished singers — but none liked the idea.
"I don't like that one bit," said Kristen, a 20-year-old from Atlanta. "The show should be for people who've never had a chance. I'd rather see people on the show who'd come from nothing."
Brendan, 21, from Southport, North Carolina, said the presence of ringers wasn't going to keep him from watching the show's first few episodes, "because those are the best ones. They're just so funny, and I never really watch beyond the ridiculous auditions. But, no, that's not cool that they've got people competing who may have already gotten their big break."
"They shouldn't be doing that at all," complained Jen, 19, who hails from Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. "The show needs fresh talent and undiscovered people to step in."
"When you hear something like that, it sort of makes you question the integrity of the whole 'American Idol' voting process," said Steve, 19, from New Jersey. "If they're going to suppress information like that, then how can we trust that this season's winner will be America's choice?"
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