American Idol’s fake apology gets indignation from people still surprised at its insincerity

Last night, American Idol 10 opened its Austin audition episode with an on-screen apology. It said, “American Idol would like to apologize for last week’s outrageous behavior by Steven Tyler. Mr. Tyler has been warned and assures us it will never happen again.”

Then the show began with an auditioner named Jake Muck, who Steven asked, “You know what ‘Muck’ rhymes with?” and then said, “read my lips.” Get it? His name rhymes with fuck!

This juvenile, elementary school-style name-calling aside, I actually like Steven Tyler as a judge because he’s good television, even when he’s disturbing, such as when he makes lascivious comments to teenagers. And anyone who’s offended by the majority of what he’s said is apparently unaware what show they’re watching, because American Idol has always had a mean streak and dark humor underneath its veil of shiny happiness. That’s why it works on Fox–and works, period, and why attempts at similar shows have failed; the relentless positivity needs a counter-balance. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t.

My only issue is that the show never really cops to that, and always wants to pretend it’s “fun” even when it’s not. Tuesday, executive producer Nigel Lythgoe told The Hollywood Reporter, “But Idol has gone dark over the years. When we started being mercilessly cruel and saying things like, ‘Give up, don’t ever sing.’ Even the banter between Ryan Seacrest and Cowell got quite dark, and I think people just went with it. We just needed to bring back the fun to it, and that’s what’s happened now — it’s fun again.”

It may not be as “dark” now, but even then, it was always still framed as good fun. As a result, this fake apology caused a minor uproar from people who still don’t quite get what they’re watching, and apparently expected a genuine apology for something, although who knows what, exactly.

Last night, on Twitter, Lythgoe responded to that by echoing Steven Tyler’s “fuck a duck” comment when he wrote that “there is a huge lack of humor out there!! Hey you guys, don’t take things too seriously, especially my shows. Smile or ‘Go **** a duck.’”

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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.