Fox exec overruled American Idol producers’ decision to condense judges’ feedback

American Idol producers’ decision to have the judges save their critiques until the end of each final five contestant’s second performance was overruled during the live show, according to host Ryan Seacrest.

Paula Abdul appeared on his radio show this morning to try to explain her gaffe from last night, when she commented on two songs after hearing just one. Ryan defended Paula and told her “accidentally you said ‘second song’” instead of something about the second contestant. Whatever.

Most interesting, though, was Ryan Seacrest’s explanation about what happened that led to what Simon Cowell deemed the show’s most “chaotic” episode ever. Specifically, Seacrest said (listen to the audio here) that Fox executive Mike Darnell told the show’s executive producer during the broadcast that the judges needed to critique the contestants after round one, leading to that segment, which no one expected. Here’s what he said:

“As she’s singing, Nigel, our executive producer, comes running out to me and says, Mike Darnell from Fox wants all the contestants to walk out quickly before the commercial break, and let the judges sum up round one, which was a curve-ball change, okay, and this was 10 seconds before Syesha finished. Now, I said to Nigel, Mike also said to me before the show, you can’t run late because Hell’s Kitchen’s got to start on time, and the local news has got to start on time at 10 o’clock in every city. I said, okay, cool.

Now, Paula, you don’t know this, but at the point when Nigel came running up to me, we were three and a half minutes over the hour. … So he looks at me and he says, ‘But we want to bring out the five kids and have the judges sum up round one.’ Paula, Randy, Simon unaware that this is going to happen. I said to Nigel, ‘I’m happy to do what you guys want, but if we do it, we will not be on time, we will be late.’ He said, ‘I understand, I have your back, the network wants it, do it.’”

Seacrest also said that the change irritated Simon Cowell. “No, he was pissed. I think he was kind of pissed at first that he wasn’t going to be able to judge after the first song because he learned about it. I saw him chuck the notepad at you and Randy,” Ryan said.

Paula Abdul [On-Air with Ryan Seacrest]

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.