'American Idol' and Special Olympics respond to cruelty allegations
By Christopher Rocchio, 01/22/2007
Commended, not condemned.
That's the message the Special Olympics International organization has for critics who feel that American Idol's producers and judges were unfair to Jonathan Jayne, a Special Olympics participant who's sixth season Idol audition aired on last Wednesday's broadcast of the Fox reality show's Seattle audtions.
"American Idol should be commended for providing Jayne with the same opportunity to succeed as any other contestant," Special Olympics International said in a public statement released on Sunday and published in Monday's The Washington Post. "Whether on the stage of American Idol or on the field of competition for Special Olympics, people with intellectual disabilities don't want pity or special treatment. They want to be judged for who they are and appreciated for what they can achieve."
The statement also noted that during Jayne's audition, for which he sang "God Bless America," Idol judge Paula Abdul "commented admiringly about [his] spirit and advised him to 'always believe in yourself.'"
"While polite isn't a word one would normally associate with [Idol judge Simon] Cowell and company, a viewing of the episode in question shows that the judges were in fact gracious and very encouraging to Jayne during his rendition of 'God Bless America,'" Special Olympics International said in the statement.
Responding to the growing controversy in a different way, the British-born Cowell opted to reference America's Bill of Rights.
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"To suggest that because somebody has done something like [participate in the Special Olympics] they shouldn't be allowed to enter the competition smacks to me of censorship, to be honest with you," Cowell told television critics at this weekend's Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour, The Post reported.
"I don't think that we should be censors on the type of people. And what we're trying to be, I think, on the show, more than anything else, is representative. A lot of the bad singers you are seeing -- trust me -- there are thousands that didn't make it through. And I think if you asked any of those thousands who didn't make it through, every one of them would say, 'I wish I had the chance.'"
In an article published in Monday's USA Today, Cowell said during un-televised meetings before the audition tapings occur, Idol contestants are offered a chance to leave.
"We tell them that they're going to get a hard time if they're not very good," Cowell told USA Today. "No one leaves the room." He added the most emotionally fragile cases "are simply not shown. Most of the people we show, we feel that they can cope with whatever is going to happen."
Idol executive producer Ken Warwick said there has been a disproportionate ratio of bad auditions to good in the sixth season's first two episodes, but added there's nothing that can really be done about it.
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"It's not a conscious decision," Warwick told USA Today. "It's just that the further we go in the series, there are less and less good singers, so the numbers are made up by more bad ones."
Warwick said that he thinks everyone has the right to audition, and added that in some instances when there are singers with certain disabilities who just want to meet the judges, the producers will "turn the cameras off and bring them in. We give them a good experience."
Jayne, a 21-year-old from Renton, WA, described his Idol experience as "absolutely wonderful" during a recent interview with The Seattle Times, and added he did it with the hope of eventually becoming a DJ or talk show host. In addition to an appearance on last Thursday's Access Hollywood, Jayne has also since appeared on Friday night's Jimmy Kimmel Live on ABC and Monday morning's broadcast of NBC's Today. Kenneth Briggs, a 23-year-old whom Jayne met in line while waiting to audition for Idol, also accompanied Jayne on the ABC and NBC appearances.
"They've become celebrities," Cowell told USA Today. "They wouldn't have changed anything."