'American Idol' producer: Carly Smithson controversy not logical
By Christopher Rocchio and Steve Rogers, 02/15/2008
Although it has yet to be mentioned in any of the show's broadcasts and also wasn't noted in the biographical information Fox released after the season's semifinalists were formally revealed on Wednesday, American Idolexecutive producer Nigel Lythgoe insists the show isn't trying to hide the existence of seventh-season Top 24 semifinalist Carly Smithson's previous big-budget recording contract.
"We're doing everything about who they are and what they are," Lythgoe told reporters during a Friday conference call.
"We're not ignoring anything -- we never do," Lythgoe said while failing to explain why, despite not ignoring the previous experience of some of the season's other semifinalists, American Idol has done just that with the heavily-promoted Smithson so far.
"We have never not shown their past when we can," Lythgoe insisted later in the call. "There is nothing wrong with saying she had a deal and she didn't get anywhere in that deal and now here she is. I've got no problems with that whatsoever."
According to Lythgoe, the fact that a major record label once reportedly spent more than $2 million producing a 2001 debut album for a then teenage Smithson isn't more noteworthy than the prior experience some of the season's other semifinalists are bringing to the competition.
"[Fellow American Idol 7 Top 24 semifinalist] David Archuleta won [the CBS Star Search revival] Arsenio Hall [hosted] when he was 11. That's fantastic. That's all part of their careers," said Lythgoe. "I'm not worried about that. I don't honestly know what the angle is, because all we're saying is this girl is extremely talented. It's within the rules of the competition. What's wrong with it. She's not broken any rules."
Smithson, a 24-year-old from San Diego, CA who was born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, released her debut album "Ultimate High" as a teenager. Although Vivendi Universal SA's MCA Records reportedly spent two years and around $2.2 million producing and promoting it, the album (which was released under Smithson's maiden name of Carly Hennessy) failed to sell more than 400 copies -- a failure so abysmal The Wall Street Journal eventually did a feature story about it.
"Carly has been around," acknowledged Lythgoe. "She's had a recording contract in the past, she came to us a couple of years ago [and auditioned for Idol's fifth season]. We thought she was terrific... [and put her through to Hollywood Week] and then we lost her because of getting her visa. She's overturned that now and here she is. I think she stands a very good chance this year. She's already quite known by the public, which always helps a little bit. She's got a talent."
Although a significant portion of the backlash to Smithson's American Idol inclusion seems to center around the size of her previous recording deal and the show's to-date decision to exclude any mention of it and not her mere presence in the season's Top 24 -- after seven years, most Idol viewers and critics are well aware the show only requires contestants to not have any current recording or talent management agreements -- Lythgoe says he's not concerned about the negative reaction it's receiving.
"This is something that comes up for some reason every year," said Lythgoe. "This year [it is], 'Oh, they're all professionals!' Kelly Clarkson had [previously had] a contract [before Idol]. From Year 1, all we say is you've got to be out of contract now. But every year there's been somebody that's had a professional contract or even had an album out there. So no it doesn't bother us in the slightest."
Lythgoe -- apparently ignorant of the fact that numerous newspaper and magazine outlets have also reported on Smithson's past in recent weeks -- also attempted to discredit the negative reaction by positioning it as a limited Internet phenomenon.
"It's an online backlash. We talk about getting between 35 and 65 million calls [for viewer votes]. I really don't think online -- even when you have complete online focus like Vote For the Worst -- has an affect on the show. There are too many people who vote," said Lythgoe, adding it's up to viewers to determine if Smithson is presently talented enough to continue in the competition.
"They're going to have to decide, 'Is she good enough to be on the show?' It's not what's happened in her past. She's not breaking any rules of the competition. I don't see the logic. I don't see any logic in there," he continued.
"The rules of the competition state it's if you do not have a contract now. Goodness me, if Elvis Presley came back and was out of contract -- and was able to participate through [Idol's] age [restrictions] -- then he would be in the competition. Nobody said this is an amateur competition. This is something that people are making up for themselves. It doesn't matter if you've had a professional contract. Kelly Clarkson had a professional contract. Bo Bice had a deal. [Taylor Hicks] has got records that are out there. This is nothing new."