Thanks to sources like JoesPlace, Vote for the Worst has been checking out the contestants who have allegedly made it to the top 24 of American Idol 7 and there's a disturbing trend. To try to combat Sanjaya fever from last year, American Idol producers have gone out of their way to place people into the top 24 who already had a shot at stardom in the past. It seems like a good idea at first- they’re stacking the deck with professionals to try to prevent a Vote for the Worst takeover. But then you realize- if these people didn’t make it big before, it’s highly unlikely that people will care any more about them now. And if all of these people with industry connections made it to the top 50, what about the average Joes who are looking for their shot at stardom? Were they just cast aside this year to make way for the plants? It’s likely that if you tried out for the show and failed, or if a friend with an amazing voice tried out and was turned away, it was to make room for the established professionals. This is not to say that these ringers are any less deserving of stardom, or any less decent or nice, but that the days of everyday people becoming the next American Idol are over.
The biggest offender by far is Irish singer Carly Smithson (formerly Carly Hennessy before she was married). During season 5, Carly was pimped by Simon Cowell before the show even started as “the only person I can genuinely remember from the auditions.” Simon said something similar about Carrie Underwood the season prior. Carly was fortunately dropped from the ranks for not having a visa. Nigel Lythgoe, one of the obnoxious executive producers of Idol, is already back to hinting about her even though she’s never said a word on the show. So why is Carly getting so much hype, and what happened in her past?
Carly Smithson is the epitome of a record industry failure. She was brought to America by MCA Records and recorded a bland pop album that sold only 300 copies (that’s not a typo). Then she faded into obscurity. Now, a mastermind behind the scenes at Idol has decided that instead of just signing Carly to an Idol-affiliated record label, she should be pushed down America’s throats as a contestant on American Idol. Back with brand new tattoos and an "edgier" sound, the record execs connected to Idol are probably hoping that Carly will finally catch on when she’s featured on the #1 TV show in the country. To make things even messier, one of the songwriters for Carly's album also wrote songs for the debut albums of Kelly Clarkson, Clay Aiken, and Kimberley Locke. There's a definite Idol connection here, folks.
So what’s wrong with this? Well, it’s forcing Idol to expose its hand as the premiere marketing tool for struggling artists. Instead of discovering the next big superstar, music executives are deciding who should be popular and getting them on to Idol. Many people watch American Idol because they think they can help make the next big music star out of an Everyday Joe or Jane. But Carly and her large number of has-been companions are merely failed artists who are being planted on the show by their sources to promote themselves. Would the hundreds of thousands of people who auditioned this year be happy to learn that their spot was given to someone who already had connections?
American Idol judge Randy Jackson was quoted in a Rolling Stone article as saying that people watch Idol for “the Rocky story in it…We're not out to find the poster kids and say, "Let's sign them." We're out to find the best undiscovered [talent] and really herald that.”
“The best undiscovered talent”, eh? Apparently that quote was only valid back when it was said to Rolling Stone in 2006. And when he said it here in 2005. And here. And about 1000 times on the show. Simon says it here, that they ask every contestant when they try out if they think they are the best undiscovered talent in America. What is someone like Carly supposed to say? “Well, I’m talented, but technically not undiscovered.”
The sad part is that Carly is not an exception this year. There are many, many more contestants who are supposedly in the top 50 and have failed careers. Michael Johns is another notable contestant. An Australian import, he was formerly the lead singer of a band called The Rising and a band called Film. He also changed his name from Michael Lee. Michael was signed to Maverick Records with Film, and they were supposed to release a debut album in 2003. But according to one of the group members, Michael allegedly screwed over Film by leaving the band and stealing their songs, claiming he wrote them. This guy sounds like a real winner. I wonder why he isn’t already famous?
It doesn’t stop there. Here are some more has-beens who have failed at becoming famous yet snuck their way onto the show:
Kristy Lee Cook was signed to Arista Nashville, had Britney Spears lined up to appear in her debut video in 2001, and is managed by Marty Rendleman, who previously managed Leann Rimes. She also apparently loves to alienate most of America by singing in front of a Confederate flag in a video. Looks like her connections may not help her after all...
Jason Castro was on the television show Cheyenne and played the love interest of the main character.
Robbie Carrico is a failed singer from the pop group Boyz N Girlz United (check out their terrible music video). The band opened for Britney Spears and LFO before disbanding, and he was even one of Britney's first boyfriends. Robbie now fronts the band Missing Picket that rocks just about as hard as Daughtryback.
Syesha Mercado was on the failed television show The One and is the daughter of a Motown backup singer.
Joanne Borgella is a plus sized model and won the televised beauty pageant Mo’Nique’s Fat Chance in 2005. She previously sang with Patti Labelle, Mary Mary, and American Idol's own Bo Bice for a Christmas special. Joanne also appeared on the Tyra Banks Show, Good Morning America, and Hot 97 with Miss Jones.
Amy Davis sang in a band with 2 members of Survivor and was a round 2 qualifier for 2007’s Nashville Star. She is also a fairly successful model.
David Archuleta won Star Search at age 12. During Idol's first season, he met all of the finalists and even sang for Kelly Clarkson and the gang. A few days later, David met with a host of record labels and producers with connections to the show.
Brooke White opened for Phil Vassar on tour.
Jason Yeager was a top 25 finalist on Making the Band.
Kady Malloy had a record out where she worked with famed record producer Nick Trevisick. Nick has worked with Mandy Moore and Natalie Imbruglia. Her record has disappeared from AmieStreet since her audition appeared on Idol.
Samantha Sidley, Shaun Barrowes, and Lorena Pinot are failed plants who did not make the top 24.
And last but not least, Jermaine Paul made the top 50, but according to JoesPlace, he smartly dropped out. The biggest plant of all, Jermaine was already signed to J Records (home of Clive Davis, he who signs most of the winning Idols) and was nominated for a Grammy for a duet with Alicia Keys on her second album. Alicia Keys is known as Clive Davis’s most recent pet project. Jermaine also appeared on a remix to Kanye West’s “Gold Digger” as a part of the group Focus. Jermaine’s website has mysteriously disappeared recently.
These are only the backgrounds we know of so far. As the season progresses, we'll find out more info, and we’re sure most of the other contestants have connections as well.
So were the auditions just a formality this year? Because we’re fairly sure that if you have a Grammy winning duet with Alicia Keys, a band that opened for Britney Spears, or a prior relationship in show business, you probably weren’t waiting in line like the rest of the people who mistakenly assumed American Idol was a competition to find “the best undiscovered talent in America”. Then again, we all know what happens when you assume.