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YMMV / American Idol

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  • Alternative Character Interpretation: Happens from time to time with the judges and contestants. Like Danny Gokey: genuinely Nice Guy or faking it for the cameras? (Doesn't help that behind the scenes leaves it rather ambiguous.) Another one is David Cook's behavior in the season 7 Top 2 performance: a good example of Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!? Or a case of making his opponent look like an idiot by saying "why do something I've already done before" just before Archuleta comes out to reprise "Imagine"?
    • Another opinion is that Simon didn't care about Season 9 and deliberately tried (and succeeded) to see if he could get the public to vote for someone who wouldn't sell records. His gambit ultimately failed because the first season of The X Factor failed to produce a star.
  • Awesome Music: Why does this need to be mentioned again?
  • Base-Breaking Character: Nicki Minaj is either the best or the worst judge in the history of the show.
  • Broken Base:
    • Overall, season 12 is either the best season in a long time (for breaking the WGWG cycle and giving us an all-female top five) or the worst season (due to feuding judges and lack of focus on the contestants)
    • Most top 2 performances and finales turn into this, with each side arguing about how their favorite should/should have won.
  • Bile Fascination: Part of the show's charm is listening to how bad the rejects sing. This was exploited in later seasons (see Seasonal Rot).
  • Bizarro Episode: Season 6's Top 10 episode which was mentored by Gwen Stefani. It had no real theme since only three contestants sang Gwen Stefani songs. It seems like it was just an excuse to get her on the show.
  • Critical Research Failure: One contestant decided to impress Simon by singing a song that he co-wrote, but as Simon quickly pointed out, she got the title wrong.
  • The Cutie: Most of the younger contestants would definitely qualify.
    • Season 5 was full of 'em. One notable example being Will Makar, who was often compared to Bobby Brady (by both Paula and the audience), and for the most part, came across as very cheerful, energetic, and just about ready for anything.
  • Designated Monkey: Haley Reinhart in season 10, who endured a weekly onslaught of negative comments from the judges while everyone else was told how great they were. She also became a Woobie to those that felt the judges were being unfair.
    • John Stevens from season 3 qualifies. With a singing style comparable to Tony Bennett or Michael Buble, Stevens, while far from untalented, didn't really fit in with the pop-oriented nature of the show, and the judges, particularly Randy and Simon, did not hesitate to let him know it. Far from being a woobie, however, he would go out, perform, and listen to the critiques with an earnest smile and no complaints, something that Simon complemented him on. He would ultimately finish sixth.
  • Elimination Houdini: Has its own page.
  • Ensemble Dark Horse: In the early seasons of the show, some people watched it solely because they wanted to see Simon tear into people with no talent.
  • Fan Community Nicknames: Generated by the forums on the official site, ranging from the simplistic (Archies, shortened from Arch Angels) to the creative (Word Nerds, after David Cook identified himself as a crossword puzzle fanatic with this exact phrase in an early interview) to the just plain weird (Season 7's Ramiele Malubay's fans called themselves the Pikachu Posse — seriously). For the record, Cook was very accommodating of the Word Nerds, dropping random words (including "plethora") into interviews on the requisite TV talk show circuit after he won as a Shout-Out to his fans (they suggested words for him to work into the interviews, and he obliged). Of course, they first realized that he read what they were writing when one of the Word Nerds mentioned something they thought he'd look good in and he wore it on the show shortly afterwards.
  • Fanon Discontinuity: American Juniors, created and aired in between American Idol as a children's version with Gladys Knight and Deborah Gibson, along with a guest every week, as the judges. It was a complete flop, and quickly dismissed from all the traumatised fans who witnessed it. To be fair, it did introduce the world to Lucy Hale.
  • "Funny Aneurysm" Moment: Jermaine Jones was nicknamed the Gentle Giant. However, when he was disqualified for having a criminal record, this name became somewhat ironic... Following his disqualification, clips of his rehearsal performance of "Somewhere Out There" interspersed with the scenes of his arrest, which was more ironic now that his dreams of being "the next American Idol" would not "come true".
  • Growing the Beard: The show in regards to Season 10. After the disaster of Season 9, the show brought out true talent like Lauren Alaina, Haley Reinhart, James Durbin, and Pia Toscano. Scotty McCreery also made good success in the country scene as well.
    • Despite falling down behind Survivor in the ratings, season 13's Retool has gotten this reaction from critics, with an actually helpful judging panel (all of them will be critical if necessary) that isn't feuding, with limited antics, as well as a reworked results show (down to half an hour, with only occasional musical guests), more open-ended themes, more modern songs, and a decent crop of talent.
    • Though ratings have continued to shrink, reception to the show's reboot on ABC warmed in Season 17 due to the more developed chemistry of the judging panel and the very healthy crop of talent.
  • Harsher in Hindsight:
    • After he was reinstated as the thirteenth male participant in the top 25, Ryan gave Jermaine Jones code number 36 instead of 13 because Thirteenis Unlucky. Oops.note 
    • Also in Season 11, Elise Testone sang Queen's "I Want It All"; she was eliminated the next night.
    • The very next week Skylar Laine sang Creedence Clearwater Revival 's "Fortunate Son," known for its chorus of "It ain't me", and was also eliminated, meaning that the winner wasn't her.
    • During Beatles week in Season 7, Michael Johns sang "A Day In The Life" about a man who dies by "[blowing] his mind out in a car". Six years later, he would become the first finalist to die at age 35.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight:
    • In Season 7, after putting David Cook and Kristy Lee Cook in the same group, Ryan declared there were "Too many Cooks in the kitchen". Depending on how a certain [adult swim] infomercial/viral video affected you, this has either become funnier or just cringe-inducing.
    • Season 10 runner up Lauren Alaina's song "Georgia Peaches" uses the line "from Alan Jackson to Aldean." Later she went on to open for both.
    • Following Idol's channel hop revival from FOX to ABC in 2017, Fox Television Group head Dana Walden had some choice words for the series' production company Fremantle Media over their decision to take the show off of FOX. Later that year Disney (ABC's parent) announced that it would purchase most of 21st Century Fox (including the Fox Television studio) and that Walden would be named the head of the Disney-ABC Television Group, putting her once again in charge of airing Idol. Walden admitted that the irony of the situation was not lost on her.
  • Ho Yay: Harry Connick Jr.'s been making a number of comments towards fellow judge Keith Urban.
  • I Knew It! / Transparent Closet: Season 8's flamboyant runner-up Adam Lambert. While the show was still running, he never outright admitted that he was gay, but he didn't deny it either. At times, he seemed to be daring interviewers to ask about his sexuality, knowing that they couldn't bring themselves to do it. It was... quite amusing, at times. When he finally came out in an interview with Rolling Stone after the show ended, he said that he didn't think people should be surprised that he was gay, and that his parents knew about his sexuality since his early teen years.
    • The multiple online pictures of him kissing men didn't help, either.
    • Season 2's runner-up Clay Aiken, who finally came out after adopting a child, saying that he didn't want to raise a child with a lie. Nobody was surprised, mainly because the guy was in Spamalot.
  • Just Here for Godzilla: Many watch only the audition phase to see the candidates fail.
    • Additionally, more than a few people watch the show just to see their favorite judge.
  • Memetic Mutation: The aforementioned "Pants on the Ground". Simon even lampshades it by saying "I have the worst feeling that that song's going to become a hit..." after the guy is done. Became so much of a meme that Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings started singing it in the locker room after beating the Cowboys. Also, Country Music singer Eric Church references it in "Homeboy".
  • Never Live It Down: In Season 12, American Idol was beat in the ratings... by Duck Dynasty
    • Also, A The Big Bang Theory RERUN beat it out as well.
    • Come to think of it, all of season 12.
    • Season 7's Kristy Lee Cook once made a music video with a Confederate flag hanging in the background when she was a teenager. This got her the nickname KK-Kristy from Vote for the Worst.
    • Enter Season 13, which has the honor of being beaten in the ratings by Survivor: Cagayan, which is its 28th season.
    • On a far more serious note, fans are still angry at Simon for the infamous eye-roll incident from 2007. For those who either don't know or don't remember what happened, during season 6, the Virginia Tech Shootings occurred and contestant Chris Richardson, a Virginia native and VT alumni, made an impassioned plea for America to keep the victims and their families in their prayers, and at that exact moment, the camera cut to Simon, whose apparent reaction was to roll his eyes. He later said that he was rolling his eyes an unrelated statement that Paula was saying and not in reaction to Chris' words, and even though he, as well as the rest of the staff and producers, are sensitive to the tragedy and sorry for both it and the misunderstanding/poor timing, it still left a bitter taste in many fans mouths and cemented his reputation as a unfeeling and smug Jerkass. (Plus, it looks extra bad that seemingly neither he nor Paula were paying attention to a very serious, earnest moment.)
    • Quite literally with losing the Coke sponsorship, as the final season of the show was announced shortly afterwards.
  • Romantic Plot Tumor: The unconvincing Unresolved Sexual Tension between Simon and Paula, complete with badly-done skits on this subject (see the Season 2 finale)
  • Rooting for the Empire: The "Vote for the Worst" movement is an attempted to break the system by having the objectively worst competitor make it to the end. Given the number of entries in the Elimination Houdini section, this has had varying degrees of success.
  • Seasonal Rot: Once the producers decided to highlight the Dreadful Musicians during the audition round and push the contestants that actually make it through off-screen (unless they have an interesting story), everything went downhill. Part of it was because bad singers started to realize that, by pretending to be outraged when they're told just how bad they are, they'll get on television. Made painfully obvious in Season 7, when one of them almost forgot to feign outrage, going from taking it well to perhaps the worst rant ever.
    • Then again, that's also about when they split the guys and girls up for the Top 24, reuniting them for the Top 12. Rarely has that worked well, as Season 4 (the first season with this split) should've made obvious — after initially getting eliminated as the seventh-place male, Nikko Smith got into the Top 12 when Mario Vasquez left the show because he already had a record contract for personal reasons... and proceeded to outlast three of the top six females before again leaving before any of the other males. One week later, it was down to five males and two females. Not that this mattered in the end, as Carrie Underwood won out — rightfully so.
      • The "sudden disqualification due to a prior contract" struck again in Season 9, when the Hollywood Week episodes showed a contestant named Chris Golightly making the Top 24...and then when the Top 24 were turned over to America to vote on, Chris had been replaced by Tim Urban.
      • Then, in Season 7, they allowed the contestants to use instruments. This had two unfortunate side effects: Jason Castro staying on much longer than his vocal talent should've allowed because he was good at accompanying himself on the acoustic guitar, and Chikezie playing harmonica because it seemed as if everyone was using an instrument and he felt left out. Okay, his harmonica solo was kinda cool, but...
    • On the other hand, one possible reason for Seasonal Rot was that they got it right the first time. A bit too well, actually; by finding a legitimate talent in the form of Kelly Clarkson, they had a winner that wasn't going to be indebted to them for very long, and soon started battling against the terms of her contract and going off into her own direction. Hence, the gravitation toward failed artists looking for a second chance (almost everyone from Season 7), and the emergence of sites like VFTW.
    • It's heavily agreed upon that Season 9 is the worst season ever.
    • The wins of five straight WGWGs, short for White Guys With Guitars (though some people count out Scotty McCreery since he only played the guitar a few times. He's also not 100% percent, being Puerto Rican on his grandmother's side.) in the last five seasons.
  • Shocking Elimination: Every season has at least one that angers the fanbase:
    • Season 1 had Tamyra Gray, finishing in 4th place, who gave a well-received performance the night before. To this day, almost 10 years later, many people still find Nikki McKibbin undeserving of her spot in the Top 3 over Tamyra.
    • Season 2 didn't really have a shocking elimination per se, but Ruben Studdard's victory over Clay Aiken at the finale is still quite controversial, as executive producer Nigel Lythgoe revealed a few years later that Clay led the votes from Wild Card week onward.
    • Season 3 had two: Jennifer Hudson's infamous 7th place finish, which led to that week's mentor Elton John calling the show racist (due to J-Hud, La Toya London, and Fantasia Barrino, who were all African-American, being the bottom 3) since he thought America made a huge mistake. Speaking of La Toya, she found herself eliminated three weeks later in 4th place, over the widely-hated Jasmine Trias, who lasted one more week.
      • Elton's cry of racism was contradicted somewhat, since Fantasia ended up winning.
      • It can be explained due to Vote Spliting. All three of those ladies had, at the time, very similar styles and appeal, and thus, caught the interest of the same part of the public.
    • Season 4 had Constantine Maroulis, finishing in 6th place, who only two weeks before had delivered a show-stopping rendition of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody. He may not have been the most...liked by the fanbase, but it was hard to deny that he was at least more talented than a few of the singers who finished ahead of him.
    • In quite possibly the most well-known example, season 5 had Chris Daughtry's 4th place elimination. Even Daughtry himself was stunned. But, he has most likely gotten over it, considering he has been more successful than the entire top 3 combined.
    • Season 6 had nearly gone through the season with no egregious shockers, but then Melinda Doolittle inexplicably finished in 3rd place, despite being arguably better than Jordin Sparks and FAR better than Blake Lewis the previous night.
      • Sanjaya Malakar is arguably an inversion, in that most believe he should have gone home a lot earlier than his 7th place finish.
    • Season 7 had two as well, and it was twice in three weeks, no less. First, Michael Johns was unexpectedly eliminated in 8th place despite being a consistent performer. Then, two weeks later, Carly Smithson got the boot. She had not been as consistent as Michael, having been in the bottom 3 a couple of times (including the night Michael was eliminated), but she was still one of the early favorites. One can't help but wonder if the fact that Michael was Australian and Carly was Irish had anything to do with their elimination from AMERICAN Idol...
      • Some have theorized that their eliminations were the inspiration for the judges to introduce the "Judge's Save" in the following season, where they could save one contestant from elimination if they felt that he/she deserved another chance. It could only be used once, and couldn't be used after the Top 5.
    • Season 8 had a minor one with Allison Iraheta's 4th place finish, as Danny Gokey had delivered quite possibly one of the worst performances in the history of the show the night before; many viewers believe that his fanbase that he had built early on was the only thing that kept him alive. However, there was somewhat of a repeat of the season 2 finale, when early favorite Adam Lambert was beaten by Kris Allen, who hadn't received much publicity over the season.

      Three theories for Kris's victory emerge most frequently. The first was that it was homophobia from people who didn't want the flamboyant, obviously gay Adam to beat the country boy Kris. The second theory was that Kris's performance of Kanye West's "Heartless" from the week before was so strong, it carried over into the finale vote. Talk about peaking at the right time... The final theory (and also a conspiracy theory) is that AT&T (one of the show's sponsors) had helped rig the vote in Kris' favor by organizing parties for fans in Arkansas (Kris' home state) on voting night and teaching them how to "power-text", or send multiple text messages at once.
    • While in season 8, the Judge's Save was used on Matt Giraud arguably for no reason other than the judges wanted to use it before it went to waste, season 9 used it very justifiably when talented audience favorite Michael "Big Mike" Lynche ended up with the lowest number of votes at the Top 9. The judges easily chose to save him, and he went on to finish a much more deserving 4th place. This season did get an ACTUAL shocker though when Siobhan Magnus finished in 6th place, despite a number of factors seemingly working in her favor: she had performed last, which usually guarantees safety regardless of how good or bad the performance was; she had just received support from Vote For The Worst (Your Mileage May Vary on if this makes a difference though); and she had been struggling somewhat in the previous weeks but had arguably improved the week of her elimination. To many, the finale was controversial as well, as many believed runner-up Crystal Bowersox was far more talented than winner Lee De Wyze, especially on the final performance show.
    • Season 10 probably set a record for shocking eliminations. First was Casey Abrams earning the lowest number of votes at the Top 11, but he was cut off by the judges barely thirty seconds into his performance where he was attempting to convince them to save him, where he was told that they didn't need to hear him sing to decide to use the save on him. Casey is unique though, as he managed to get the lowest number of votes again only 5 weeks later in 6th place despite getting better every week and being far from the weakest the night before. In other words, Casey got screwed in the votes twice. Two weeks after Casey's first elimination came one of the most controversial results since Daughtry: Pia Toscano's 9th place finish, despite being hailed as an early frontrunner. It had come down to her and Stefano Langone, and his reaction to her elimination was priceless; he clearly thought he was going home. Many proclaimed the show to be rigged and sexist, because with her elimination, FIVE female singers in a row had gone home! Sexist, maybe, but when you think about it, it proves that the votes are 100% accurate, as no one in their right mind would rig it for five female singers in a row to go home. This was somewhat evened out however, as the next 5 eliminations were all men, and the last of which was another shocker: James Durbin, one of the most consistently strong performers of the season, delivering no less than five incredible performances, getting the Daughtry treatment and ending up in 4th place. The problematic part here was that the order the contestants performed the night before wasn't direct to their voting line: the first singer gets IDOLS-01, the second IDOLS-02, and so on. Everyone had two performances that night and while it went normally in the first round, it was skewed in the next round, with James having IDOLS-01 despite performing last. Some who weren't paying attention may have accidentally voted IDOLS-04 for him, which was actually for Lauren Alaina... who was in the Bottom 2 the previous week, and was considered by a good chunk of the audience to have been the weakest on the Top 4 performance show.
      • At the season finale, the contestants poked fun at this themselves: James and Casey argued with each other over whose elimination was more shocking, when Pia walked over to them, holding a scepter and wearing a tiara and a sash that read "Most Shocking". The guys instantly stopped arguing, realizing they couldn't compete with her (or, technically, she couldn't compete with them...).
    • Almost happened in season 11 with Jessica Sanchez, who nearly got eliminated in seventh place, but was saved by the judges. Considering that she ultimately got second place...good call by the judges.
      • A week later, however, the first Shocking Elimination of the season happened with fan favorite Colton Dixon, who had also never been in the bottom three before, getting the boot in seventh place, like Jennifer Hudson in season 3.
    • Season 12 had Angie Miller, but considering it was the top 3 YMMV whether it was truly shocking
    • Early in Season 13 the audience pegged Majesty and Sam tone the final two, only to both be in the bottom 2 by top 11,. it was justified by their poor performances that week.
    • Adanna in Season 14 because of performing excellently the week before elimination.
  • Strawman Has a Point:
    • Simon took a lot of flack for being caustic and brutally honest in his assessments of the hopefuls, but some of them are just terrible, and need to be told that.
    • With Simon gone, Randy has now been saddled with this. In Season 10 (and to a slightly lesser extent in Season 11), Steven and Jennifer have often seemed afraid of criticizing the contestants too harshly, with Steven telling virtually everyone "Your voice is beautiful!" and J-Lo openly weeping at every elimination, which leaves Randy to play the bad cop role and give the contestants some constructive criticism. Predictably, every time Randy begins giving some constructive criticism, the people in the audience start booing Randy and shouting "We love you, [Insert Name of Contestant Here]!!!" Randy then has to explain that he's just trying to be honest and give some helpful feedback to the contestants. However, Randy is still guilty of some of the ridiculously positive feedback that Steven and J-Lo are known for. Interscope chairman Jimmy Iovine has served as an in-house mentor to the contestants from season 10 on, and on the results shows, he gives his feedback, which is always more "harsh"—in other words, honest—than anything the official judges have to say. Needless to say, he's become the show's resident Jerkass...for telling the truth.
  • Tear Jerker:
    • Dick Clark died within hours of a live episode, leaving Ryan scrambling to compose himself. He barely held together.
    • Season 7's Michael Johns' death on August 1st, 2014, apparently due to a blood clot.
  • They Changed It, Now It Sucks!: Season six's format, which was to ass-kiss all of the celebrity mentors in lieu of letting the audience get to know anything personally about the contestants. Fans hated it and even Simon Fuller admitted that this was a huge mistake and changed back to its old, successful process by the next season.
  • Unintentionally Sympathetic: Season 9’s Andrew Fenlon is viewed as this by many. Sure, he came in sulky and a bit moody. But in comparison to other rude contestants, he was okay and came off more nervous. He also appeared to have a decent singing voice. But the judges, namely Kara, come across overly harsh toward Andrew. Kara went too far to judge him on his looks and for not having a girlfriend, but not on his singing. Even Andrew was confused by this. In the end, Kara comes off unprofessional and rude while Andrew comes off more confused and nervous.


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