(Copyright 2002. The Tattoo. All rights reserved.)

Making a permanent impression since 1994

June 20, 2002

-- Television review --

Superstar or stinko: the choice is yours on American Idol

By Mike Nguyen

Watching the Fox's new American Idol is like watching a conveyer belt of pop star wannabe's go through one door all shiny and giggly, and out the other tearful and in obvious emotional distress.

But, hey, it's the most entertaining conveyor belt I've ever seen.

The show's premise is half Big Brother, half Popstars.

Take thousands of tone-deaf idealists and crush them into depression with the most unsympathetic and witty British person since Anne Robinson from Weakest Link. His name is Simon Cowell.

Remind me never to live in Britain. I think I see a pattern appearing.

Anyway, back to the show, where Cowell and his two other judges, producer Randy Jackson and 90s pop icon Paula Abdul, go city to city searching for the next big thing.

They're in search of the next solo artist that will hit it big in the States instantly.

But very few are singing the tunes of Christina and Britney. Most of the songs are classics and are older than the young teenage performers the show is looking for.

Cowell dispenses harshest judgments:

"You have no talent.

"Get a lawyer and sue your voice teacher."

"You're a loser.

And the crowd favorite: "That was just awful.

Those are only the kindest of Cowell's quips on the performers' appearance, voice and attitude.

Sure, it's harsh, but it makes for some great entertainment -- and never it's far from the truth.

That's the hook, but American Idol is so much more.

The judges, for the first few episodes, narrowed it down to 30 bright hopefuls, and ten by ten, they competed for a spot in the Final Ten.

How do they get it?

Well, by us, the viewers.

Each Tuesday, contestants sing their little hearts out for a minute or two, and then face the arduous task of facing the judges and taking their criticisms.

But the power is in the viewing audience, and at the end of each show, they vote for who they like the most.

Winners are announced on Wednesday.

The final ten will live together and again perform each week to beg desperately for votes, because the contestant with the fewest votes from viewers will be gone from the game each week until there's only one American Idol left singing.

Calls are toll free, so viewers can vote as much as you like.

The show is a copycat of the British show Pop Idol, in which Cowell was infamously involved as a judge.

Not only did the winner, Will Young, win the contract under Cowell's BMG record company, but so did runner up Gareth Gates.

Others from the Final Ten have been signed or are close to getting a deal themselves.

Both Young and Gates have giant record-breaking hit records in England .

Young received more phone votes in the short two hour span after his final performance than the Conservative Party received in England's most recent election, according to the American Idol website.

Fox is looking for the same success.

So far, American Idol is growing in viewership and it's only on its second week.

I mean, who wouldn't be entertained in hearing their favorite classics sung by some fresh young talent.

If you don't, you'll be sure to like "Nasty Simon's" remarks.

As the contestants get better, his mouth only gets sharper, critiquing everything from their choice of clothing, song and appearance, their singing ability, posture, breathing anything and everything he can get his mouth on.

It's funny, in a sad way.

You can't help but feel bad for some of the contestants, but, hey, it's brutal honesty.

There are no Survivor twists, or The Mole sabotage, just pure talent and looks.

And in the end, it not only going to be a great and successful series, but more than one successful recording artist will come out of it.

So if you have a slow summer night midweek, catch American Idol, airing at 9 p.m. on Tuesdays and on Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m. (both Eastern Standard Time) on Fox.

Watch it while it's still early, and don't miss any of the potential superstars, because if a ugly, no-talent kid becomes the next Madonna or Elvis, you have no one to blame but yourself.