No one eliminated as Idol opts for cruelty, deception after a world-record 70 million votes

At the start of last night’s special two-hour episode of American Idol, Idol Gives Back, after flubbing his cold open and redoing it, Ryan Seacrest said, “We’ve got the most shocking result in our history.” His special co-host Ellen DeGeneres mocked him, saying, “There’s six people; one’s going to get kicked off. What’s shocking?”

Later, he said, “The results, we promise, will shock you.” The show received “over 70 million votes. It’s a world record.” However, those votes were used not to eliminate someone, but to manufacture drama, as no one was eliminated. But since this is American Idol, the producers spent two hours pretending that someone would be eliminated.

Seacrest told Chris Richardson that he was safe, leaving only Jordin standing there, looking horrified and leaving the studio audience stunned. “I told you this was going to be shocking. Ladies and gentlemen, it is very shocking, believe me. Jordin, you are also safe,” Ryan said. That left Jordin in tears.

“Over the weeks we’ve asked you to vote for your favorites, and tonight, all your favorites are still in the competition. How could we let anybody go on a charity night? All of your votes are still valid; this weeks votes will be added to next week’s votes, and we will send home the bottom two next week,” Seacrest explained.

So, let’s get this straight: The subject matter is so serious that it’s not okay to eliminate someone, but it’s okay to lie to the audience and emotionally manipulate a 17-year-old? What sadistic assholes produce this show, and how can they continue to pretend that their show is so wholesome? And how delusional are they to think that that little trick will do anything but ensure that people don’t tune in if they ever do Idol Gives Back again?

The producers also thought it’d be fun to have Celine Dion perform with long-dead Elvis Presley. She was one of many singers who showed up to perform, but her duet with a combination of a stand-in and CGI Elvis was almost as offensive as it was strange and grainy.

Also filling the two hours was a segment during which 36 celebrities–including Hugh Grant, Dr. Phil, Blue Man Group, Lisa Kudrow, Helena Bonham Carter, Kevin Bacon, Miss Piggy, Twiggy, and others–lip-synched and danced to “Stayin’ Alive.” Other celebs, including David Schwimmer, Teri Hatcher, Forest Whitaker, Dr. Phil, and Hugh Laurie, stood in front of a blue screen and asked for donations. “If every person that ever voted for Sanjaya gave just $1, we could do so much good,” Eric McCormack said. Even Madonna, who previously called American Idol “bad”, did a segment from Malawi with HIV-positive kids to ask people to donate.

Ben Stiller and others did shtick. Jack Black sang Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose” and was judged by Simon, who said he was “better than Sanjaya,” and Seal, who said, “I thought that was the best rendition of ‘Kiss from a Rose’ I have ever heard.” A clever segment featuring The Simpsons serving as the judges ended with Homer releasing a trap door under an auditioning Simon Cowell. Bart Simpson looked into the hole and said, hysterically, “The lions haven’t eaten this well since Dunkleman.”

There was also plenty of sponsor-whoring; Tom Anderson, that annoying guy with the bad picture who forces you to be his friend when you sign up for the News Corp.-owned MySpace, was in the audience. Ryan Seacrest mentioned various sponsors who’d given unannounced amounts of money. At one point, he said that viewer donations plus corporate contributions raised “almost at $30 million.”

To remind the audience where their money would go, the show included a number segments with the judges visiting destitute communities and sick people. Ryan introduced one segment–set to Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars”–by saying, “The story you are about to see is very tough but it is real. This is what happened to Simon and me during our first day in Africa.” They met HIV positive kids and adults, some of whom died shortly after they visited. It’s just unfortunate that producers chose to combine such truly moving and important messages with their standard fare of audience teasing and contestant manipulation.

Review: Married at First Sight

Marriage At First Sight

In an era of Tinder and Grindr, instant acceptance or dismissal of a potential partner, or instant sex with another body, Married at First Sight offers the thrill of watching strangers deal with the very basics of relationships.

Beyond the headline-grabbing premise, the series has turned out to be a stripped-down, authentic exploration of something very interesting. Read the full review.

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.