NYT critic insists Ellen DeGeneres “hijacked” Idol, “finds a way to remind” us she’s gay

Alessandra Stanley writes some clueless, hilariously error-ridden stuff for The New York Times, pieces that transcend disagreement and a difference in perspective and just seem like she’s watching an entirely different television or not watching at all. Her latest column on Ellen DeGeneres’ role in American Idol is no exception.

In the piece, she claims that “midway through her first season Ms. DeGeneres has all but hijacked the show, playing second fiddle to no one, not even the overbearing Mr. Cowell.” Hijacked, really? If anyone has hijacked the show this season, it is Ryan “look at me, I’m a fucking jackass” Seacrest, not Ellen.

Ellen has been a solid judge; she’s funny and actually can offer praise without sounding like Paula Abdul and criticism without imitating Simon Cowell. If anything, her presence on the panel has caused some minor chaos, as there’s sometimes significant disagreement, which you can criticize because it reflects her lack of knowledge about music or praise because she’s responding like an observant, well-informed fan.

Stanley also praises Ellen’s “fresh, incongruous metaphors,” which are great, but also the way Ellen “is effusively kind to contestants.” What? Ellen is not mean, but she’s not overly kind at all. Actually, I think one of her greatest strengths as a judge is that she can switch between being jokey and being serious, and sometimes she just tells the contestants like it is: their performances were not good.

Alessandra Stanley also insists that Ellen has “stature” on the show and “is increasingly the only grown-up in the room,” but remains “as clownish and self-deprecating as ever” on her talk show. Sure, Ellen’s not in talk show host mode on American Idol, but she’s been nothing if self-deprecating all season, and sometimes clownish.

Finally, Alessandra Stanley argues that Ellen “finds a way to remind audiences of her sexual status on almost every episode of ‘American Idol'” and that “suggests how hard she works to seem effortlessly funny and how determined she is to be openly but unthreateningly gay.”

Ellen has made jokes about being gay, but the only reason they stand out is because she’s the only out gay presence the show has ever had. (Even flamboyant Adam Lambert, who didn’t think he’d surprise anyone by coming out, still did because there are delusional and/or naive people.)

The show has always been full of references to sexuality, from Ryan Seacrest and Simon Cowell’s middle-school homophobic taunting to Randy Jackson’s gay panic to the sexual tension between Simon and Paula. This season, a judge all but humped a contestant on stage. I don’t want to minimize Ellen’s impact on making gay people more visible and less threatening to those who are incomprehensibly freaked out about such things, but if anything, Ellen is less direct and less obvious.

It’s only because she’s gay that this seems odd to Alessandra Stanley.

Ellen, ‘Idol’ and the Power of Niceness [New York Times]

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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.