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Scott D. Pierce: ‘Idol’ delivers the expected

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"American Idol" judges Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell argue about a contestant.

“American Idol” judges Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell argue about a contestant.

Michael Becker, Fox

PASADENA, Calif. — There's been more than a little criticism of "American Idol" this season. The judges are being taken to task for being just too darn mean.

To which I can only say — told you so.

And let me just say to the show's detractors — have you people never seen the show before?

I will not for a moment defend the level of cruelty exhibited by Simon Cowell and, to a lesser extent, Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul. "American Idol" has devolved into a 21st-century version of the Christians vs. the lions, with helpless idiots being ripped to shreds by Simon's sharp claws.

But, again — have you people never seen the show before? This has been going on since Day 1.

Four years ago I wrote, "Cowell's affected nastiness toward contestants who don't have talent has become so predictable, he's little more than a fourth-rate insult comic. And not even slightly funny."

And let me apologize once again for writing when the show began that the most entertaining part of "American Idol" was watching awful contestants who didn't know they were awful. Again, from four years ago:

"It just seems cruel. And Cowell reveling in that cruelty — saying horrific, hurtful things and then dismissing their effect — has gone from something that seems fresh and funny to something that just seems tired and mean."

I know that "American Idol" is the most popular show on television, but I can't stand it. And, if I think about it too hard, it worries me about what this says about American viewers, that so many of them seem to find humiliating others so entertaining.

Cowell is not just being cruel about the contestants' singing abilities, he's also been viciously cruel about their appearance. That's entertainment?

At the same time, though, this is the sixth time we've seen the Simon & Randy & Paula act. For anyone to act surprised by the mean-spirited nature of the show at this point is ridiculous.

"He says things that are shocking and funny," Abdul told TV critics. "You feel bad for laughing. but he's saying something that you're going, 'Oh, my (gosh), I can't believe he said that.' But the thing is, he's never changed."

"Yeah," Jackson agreed. "This is Season Six. It's no different than it ever was."


Tuning in to "American Idol" and complaining because Cowell is mean is like tuning in to "CSI" and complaining because they show an autopsy. It is what it is, and no one can really be surprised at this point.

WHICH DOESN'T MEAN I'm willing to let "Idol" off the hook altogether. "There are times, trust me, when I watch it back and I just think, '(Gosh), I wish I hadn't said that, and why do they put it in the show?'" Cowell said.

And executive producer Ken Warwick's response to a report that one of the contestants who was humiliated on the show has competed in the Special Olympics was that there was no way of knowing that before they put him on the air, because there are so many contestants.

"You can't look into the backgrounds of everybody who is on the show. It's just not possible," he said.

It may not be possible to screen the tens of thousands who audition, but how about doing some minimal background on those who get on the air?

BELIEVE IT OR NOT, Cowell actually did his best to act gallantly toward Abdul while taking questions from TV critics. As the subject of her latest round of bizarre behavior came up, he took the blame for some of her bizarre behavior last season.

"I can remember last year there was all this controversy, because Paula started talking about moths and melons," he said. "The truth behind that was, on the show, Paula said to me, 'I genuinely don't know what I should say.'

"So I said — I did make it up — "Use the Chinese proverb I use ... 'The moth who finds the melon will eat the cornflake."'

Abdul didn't catch on to the fact that Cowell was pulling her leg, and she made a fool of herself. (Again.)

"I publicly apologize," Cowell said.

Which is very nice. But, quite frankly, there's reason to doubt the veracity of Cowell's gallantry. The "American Idol" portion of the recent Television Critics Association press tour began nearly 45 minutes late, and Cowell took the blame for that, too.

"It was my fault. I flew in late from London, so I apologize," he said.

Again, very nice. However, according to people who were backstage during the long delay, Cowell was on time, and it was Abdul who was late.

E-mail: pierce@desnews.com