Idol awkwardly addresses the Virgina Tech tragedy, and Simon and Ryan fight over Sanjaya

Ryan Seacrest opened the country music-themed episode of American Idol 6 by saying, “Good evening. At this difficult time, we want to say to all those affected by the terrible tragedy at Virginia Tech, our thoughts and prayers are with you. This is American Idol.”

It’s certainly nice to acknowledge Monday’s horrific events. But paired with the typical show opening, which was followed by an otherwise regular show, the statement seemed somewhat perfunctory and superficial.

So did the other references to the murder of 32 students and teachers at Virginia Tech, however well-intentioned they might have been. For example, after being criticized by Simon, Chris Richardson decided to pick a fight with Simon and mention the Virgina Tech tragedy, all in the same sentence.

Referencing Simon’s criticism, Chris said, “nasally is a form of singing.” Simon said, incredulously, “So it was intentional?” Chris replied, “If I’d done it every single week…” And Simon asked him if he “intended to sing nasally?” Then Chris interrupted and switched to the shootings: “But I do, I do, my hearts and prayers go out to Virgina Tech, I have a lot of friends over there and I just — be strong,” he said.

The camera cut to Simon, who was looking toward Paula and half rolled his eyes, lifting his eyebrows and looking straight up. Perhaps because of that expression, which at the very best seemed insensitive despite Chris’ bad timing, Simon later interrupted his critique of Blake to comment on the tragedy.

“I’m with Randy in so much as, maybe it was a wise thing to not go down a route that didn’t suit you,” he said. “I would like to say, on a more serious note, just to pick up on what Ryan said, on behalf of the three of us, that we would also like to offer our best wishes in support of the families of this tragedy as well. And it’s been a tricky week for you guys, but it was okay, yeah.”

Again, sandwiching a reference to the deaths of 32 people within the critique of a performance was awkward and, even if it was genuine, didn’t come across that way.

Meanwhile, everyone’s favorite headline wore a bandana, sideburns, and hoop earrings. Sanjaya also sang “Something to Talk About” so poorly that Randy Jackson said it “was really just like karaoke, dude.” Simon, of course, was more critical, calling it “utterly horrendous.” When he said that, half the audience actually seemed to be cheering and laughing. “It was bad as anything we see at the beginning of American Idol,” Simon said.

That’s when Ryan rushed on stage and confronted the judge. “Even if it wasn’t his best performance, you’ve really never liked this guy,” he said. “So was it the song, or you just don’t like Sanjaya?

“Excuse me, who rattled your cage?” Cowell replied, trying to shoo Ryan off the stage. “To the left, to the left … oh shut up, Ryan. What I was trying to say is, I know this has been funny for a while, but based on the fact that we are supposed to be finding an American idol, it was hideous. I mean, the ridiculous choice of song.”

Ryan turned to another judge. “Randy, if Sanjaya nailed it, would Simon would ever really like it?” Simon said, “I liked it last week, big mouth. … You weren’t watching last week. Watch the show last week.”

Meanwhile, the judges liked Phil Stacey as a country singer; Randy told him, “You’re going to have a career in country music!” And Simon had a big complement for Jordin. “This is the first time since we have met where I actually believe, based on that performance, you could win American Idol,” he said.

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.