American Idol was an international phenomenon. But, it has also been the center point for juicy gossip and sordid details. There was the sexual tension, battles of wills between Paul Abdul and Simon Cowell, and there was also a laundry list of controversies with judges, fans, singing stars, and everyone/everything in between.
If you thought it was all fun and games, or just a tame singing show (where nothing much happened), think again! There’s a whole lot of glorious gossip just waiting for you, with lawsuits, love spats, and much more. Take a look here for all the confessions, secrets, and lies.
What’s up with the Golden Ticket?
You’d think that the Golden Ticket was somehow a ticket to paradise, not a one-way trip to hard work and possible rejection. But, the Golden Ticket represents each contestant’s ONE shot to achieve stardom, so we could even liken it to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Contestants seem willing to do just about anything to get the Golden Ticket, but also they leave family, home, and everything to follow the call of the Golden Ticket inevitably to Hollywood, the big American Idol show, and (if they’re lucky) far beyond. For many, it became an obsession. They tried over and over again, all in the hopes that they would get that Golden Ticket.
One Contestant Returned the Golden Ticket
Since the Golden Ticket represents so much to every recipient, you’d probably think that it’s impossible that anyone would return their pass to fame and fortune, but one guy did just that. His name is Kohlton Pascal, and he had lots of very good reasons to walk away from Hollywood.
His uncle (a musician) gave Pascal a guitar, along with sage advice, “Keep a level head and don’t lie. Keep pushing your truth. Sing the songs you want to sing. It’s your music. It’s your name. It’s your voice. It’s your truth. Be real. Remember yourself and don’t get a big head.” So, when he was hit with the realization that he needed to get his life in order (DUI, family stuff, etc.), he told American Idol, “Yeah, but I can’t right now. I gotta wait. I gotta come back next year and do it, if that’s all right with you.”
Kelly Clarkson 9/11 Controversy
After winning the first season of American Idol on September 4, 2002, Kelly Clarkson was slated to appear at a commemoration of the September 11th attacks in New York. The appearance had been arranged by her management company, 19 Entertainment, but it immediately came under attack as a “giant promotional opportunity,” not in line with the national day of mourning.
Clarkson reportedly said, “I think it is a bad idea … If anybody thinks I’m trying to market anything, well, that’s awful.” But, she wasn’t able to withdraw from the event, and thus the show went on. Even if there was such controversy before the event, her performance was epic.
Lawsuit Against Sony Seeks Millions
According to court filings in 2014, Sony Music may be responsible for breach of contract and royalty payments. One of American Idol‘s producers, 19 Entertainment, had entered into an agreement with Sony for recording artists Kelly Clarkson, Kellie Pickler and Carrie Underwood, as well as a number of other artists.
In the court papers, 19 Entertainment claims that the royalties were incorrectly calculated due to “systemically incorrect calculations,” which makes it difficult to determine the true extent of the shortage. Of course, the success of the stars in question apparently have a way of further compounding the issues. No huge surprise there.
What would you do if you were publicly called to task (and SUED) over what they claimed was some improper accounting? Well, the cheapest (although “cheap” is such a relative term), and easiest way to knock out the fillings by 19 Entertainment is to not only deny all wrongdoing (those pesky “incorrect calculations”) and to further claim that Sony had actually overpaid artists and 19 Entertainment.
So, Sony sued for $2 million over compensation that was apparently miscalculated (in excess, of course) for “compilation albums, digital downloads, and a royalty advance.” It does rather sound like a playground game, “No, you owe me. I tell you, you owe me. No. No. No.” It’s probably unlikely that Sony and 19 Entertainment will come to any kind of agreement any time soon, but you never know.
Sexist and Racist Competition
American Idol is at the center of a maelstrom of debate over the gender and ethnic bias of the judges. Why? Because in five consecutive seasons (seasons 7-11), the winner was a “white guy with guitar” (or WGWG).
American Idol defended the top choices, claiming, “It’s no secret that most reality shows are female driven, either by moms or by young girls. It does mean we’re going to get a heftier amount of female votes and it’s always bent towards the boys, obviously, we are very much aware that the voting can be skewed towards the boys.” In subsequent seasons, there was talk of correcting for the apparent bias by the voters.
10 Black Men Challenge the Show
Yes, there were complaints of racism and sexism levied against American Idol, particularly through those five seasons, but 10 black men took those complaints and theories a huge step further, when they sued the show, claiming that they were eliminated from the competition because of their race.
The 10 men sued American Idol for $25 million, saying that the show dug up their past histories to paint them as, “criminals, liars, and sexual deviants.” According to the claims, only black contestants were ever investigated in this way, and none of the men had been convicted of any crime. Some reports even claim that divulging the details so publicly was supposed to boost ratings.
Paula + Simon
It really wasn’t a secret that there were some sparks between Paul Abdul and Simon Cowell. With all the shots of them kissing, hugging, and showing other forms of affection it was only logical that fans should start to question the legitimacy of their on-air relationship. Was it really hot, smoldering, or really NOT?
American Idol also fanned the flames, with an on-show skit that featured a romantic meal and lingering kiss. In an interview with Barbara Walters, Cowell admitted that he’d considered sleeping with Abdul saying, “I considered it, but then I thought, “I don’t think the after would be as good as the before.” So, are we to believe that he chose the friendship over the sex? Or something more? He does maintain friendly relations with all his old flings, or so the stories go.
Simon Throws Down with Paula in Auditions
The embattled auditions are sometimes epic to behold. Take the episode where Paul Abdul screamed at Simon Cowell, “Simon, I don’t have a problem saying anything in front of your face.” And, there’s another episode where she looked like she was ready to hit him.
Of course, most everything between these two has to be taken with a huge heap of salt (not just a grain). This is reality TV at its finest, and the audience loves the love-and-hate witty banter between these two. Plus, how can you help but love to despise Cowell for being so mean, and cheer on Abdul as she fights the good fight against the show’s bully.
Blatantly apparent in the American Idol controversies is the one serious double standard related to nude photos. Frenchie Davis was ejected from the show when nude photos surfaced online via an adult website. She’d been considered a favorite for the season. Then, just a few seasons down the line (season 6), naked photos of Antonella Barbra surfaced on the internet.
She was not disqualified because the judges said that the photos had been posted online without her knowledge or consent. Was this just another incident of undermining the success of one woman (Frenchie Davis) before she could become an even more serious contender? There have been rumors for years that 19 Entertainment manipulated results and leaked negative details just to facilitate the results they were after. Is this another example? Whatever the behind-the-scenes action really was, it didn’t seem to slow Frenchie down. She moved on with roles in Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Dreamgirls.
Justin Guarini Against the Judges
Early on in the American Idol show (season 1, episode 1), Simon Cowell praised Justin Guarini, saying, “Justin, you know, occasionally you’re very privileged when you do a competition like this to hear somebody undiscovered who has a voice like yours.”
Simon Cowell also criticized Justin (as he always does), but Justin was adept at pivoting the criticism to fandom. After receiving the expected beat-down from Simon, Justin replied, “I respect your opinion, but what did you guys think?” The audience loved him, and though he was an ultimately runner-up to Kelly Clarkson, he was the only star to be invited for a star-studded appearance on Oprah.
Justin Guarini’s Hook-Up with Kelly Clarkson
Anything is possible between fellow contestants (or anyone else for that matter), but (while they were friends) Justin claims that he didn’t get together with Kelly until after his stint on American Idol was over.
In his new one-man, biographical cabaret act, Lovesick, Justin tells all, or as near as we can hope to get (since nobody else appears eager to start talking). For him, Kelly went from that “little sister” he’d called her in earlier interviews to something more while filming From Justin to Kelly, and then it ended just as quickly apparently because she was so stinking successful. How many relationships have been killed by American Idol stardom? That is the question.
Elise Testone vs Jennifer Lopez
Just because you’re there, singing in front of a national audience, and supposed to be listening to the critiques by world-renowned singing professionals doesn’t mean you have to accept everything they say, right? Elise Testone’s consternation was evident, as she immediately shot back with a denial. She said she hoped the audience would see that “This girl is speaking up for herself, trying to figure out a clear answer.”
Elise reported that she talked with JLo about her “talk back,” and was told, “No, I totally understand. I like that you’re a fighter and you stand up for what you believe in. That makes me respect you more.” Just minutes after Elise was eliminated, JLo told a reporter: “We try to get as much in there as we can,” though she admitted her input could be considered “harsh.”
The Bickering of Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey
Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey were both judges on American Idol‘s season 12, but it didn’t turn out as well as the producers might have wished. With all the bickering, who could even get a word in edgewise? Carey even managed to call Minaj “fake.”
Minaj derailed the auditions in Charlotte, North Carolina when she started swearing and threatening Carey saying, “I’m gonna knock you out.” The bickering, snide comments, and even the facial expressions between these two really were beyond reason. Minaj even wrote songs about her time on American Idol, including a number of digs aimed squarely at Carey.
Michael Simeon Smith Sues over Eardrum Mishap
In 2014, Michael Simeon Smith sued the American Idol show in Los Angeles Superior Court, claiming that he’d signed a contestant agreement, but was then injured in a mishap with the microphone as he prepared for the competition.
According to the papers filed, Smith claims that the crew fit him for an earpiece, after which he immediately felt pain and saw blood coming out of his ear. The earpiece was “forcefully removed,” after which he was left in another room for “several hours.” Subsequently, he was forced to seek medical treatment, and he claimed that he was unable to “perform music to the same level.”
Phillip Phillips Sues to Get out of Contract
Phillip Phillips rose to fame as a winner of the American Idol season 11, but what came after was detrimental to his career. That’s why Phillips wants out of his contract with 19 Entertainment. In a statement to ABC News, Phillips said, “I look forward to being able to make my own choices about my career and to being able to make great music and play it for my fans.”
His lawyer, Howard King at King Holmes Paterno & Berliner, released a statement about how appreciative Phillips is for the opportunity. “However,” as King claims, “he never anticipated that the producers would favor their own interests above his career or commit egregious violations of the California’s Talent Agencies Act.” Of course, for their part, 19 Entertainment says all those claims are basically hogwash (though their legalese is of course much more technical), and that they’ve always acted in his best interest.
And Then 19 Entertainment Sues Phillip Phillips
It’s fair play, right? It’s not clear, though, whether anything fair could be associated with the plan of 19 Entertainment to sue Phillip Phillips for $5 million. When he filed the suit in 2015, he apparently also stopped paying management fees since he’d claimed that 19 Entertainment was violating state law.
One of his primary complaints is based on a fiduciary clause; Phillips alleged that 19 Entertainment violated state law, as well as the contractual agreement with him when they forced him to perform without compensation at scheduled events. He claimed that they acted in their own best interest, not his.
Filing for Bankruptcy
This could have had something to do with all of the legal cases. Or perhaps it was the fault of the American Idol show, which started to decline in 2012. Whatever the reasons, both real and imagined, 19 Entertainment (and its parent company, Core Media Group) filed for bankruptcy this year.
The filing ended up pushing off any further court hearings on the matters involving Phillip Phillips, but he can’t be very happy about that (it just leaves him in contractual limbo). Whatever the case, the company says it expects a speedy reorganization. According to their filings, they appear to owe an inordinate amount of cash to those of the legal profession.
With 19 Entertainment (and its parent company) all tied up in restructuring, and with every hope of the lawsuits moving forward, you’ve got to wonder when (or if) American Idol ever will make an appearance again. You must remember how huge and magnanimous it seemed when it first launched. It seemed like the next best way to become famous.
If you had a little talent (or a lot) you could try out, and see whether you had what it took to become a star. It’s not the first show to promise stardom, but it was spectacular in the way it allowed you to become a real-time part of the voting process via phone, the Internet, and SMS texts. Via that system (flawed or not), winners were chosen. These winners included Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard, Fantasia Barrino, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Hicks, Jordin Sparks, David Cook, Kris Allen, Lee DeWyze, Scotty McCreery, Phillip Phillips, Candice Glover, Caleb Johnson, Nick Fradiani, and Trent Harmon. Through the ups and downs of each season, the goal of each of those contestants was to become an American Idol. They wanted to be sought after, recognized for their talent, and (yes) to receive the money and fame. Even if the show never airs again, it catapulted some of the greatest names in contemporary music to mega-stardom. They’re true American Idols.
The Final Season
In May of 2015 the Fox Network, and producers of the show announced that American Idol would be in its final season in 2016. “You know, it was not an easy decision,” Fox chairman and CEO Gary Newman told Entertainment News ”American Idol has been such a vital part of Fox for its run, and we spent a lot of time talking with producers about the future of American Idol and collectively we arrived at the conclusion that it was time to bring the show to an end. But we wanted to do it in a way that felt special and celebratory and treated the show the way it deserved to be treated.”
The 15th and final season of American Idol ran from January to April 2016, and went out with a bang, bringing back former judges and contestants, and several surprises. Named “The Farewell Season” American Idol brought back Kelly Clarkson, and included a performance by Demi Lovato. While 15 seasons may not seem like enough to loyal fans, the curtain has closed on American Idol.