A comprehensive, unfettered history of one of the most popular shows in TV history.
Vanity Fair contributing editor Rushfield (Don’t Follow Me, I’m Lost: A Memoir of Hampshire College at the Twilight of the ’80s, 2009, etc.) demonstrates an uncanny ability to mix the distinctive history of American Idol with the show’s intricate machinations and juicy backstage bits. It was enterprising British media mogul and Spice Girls longtime manager Simon Fuller who first envisioned an audition-based singing competition, while Fuller’s fellow music producer, Nigel Lythgoe, brought the musical-group creation show Popstars over from New Zealand. Rushfield writes that Fuller, upon seeing his contemporary’s program, began marketing another “very young contemporary pop show” called Pop Idol. Enter Simon Cowell, a hardworking, outspoken, longtime record-label executive who Fuller strongly encouraged to become the antagonistic judge on his new endeavor—even though Cowell had limited on-camera experience. With the show’s immense success in Britain following its 2001 debut, Fuller and Cowell pitched the format to American TV networks. Fox chief Rupert Murdoch sealed the deal, and the stateside spinoff debuted in 2002, a splash of fresh material amid sluggish post-9/11 on-air programming. With Lythgoe producing, alongside judges Cowell, record exec Randy Jackson and singer/dancer Paula Abdul, the project soared despite an initial lukewarm media reception. Rushfield expertly condenses seasons one through nine with nary a detail overlooked, from newfound singing sensation Kelly Clarkson and troublemaking Nikki McKibbin to the spectacles of Clay Aiken, Sanjaya, Fantasia Barrino and Adam Lambert. The author also explores Cowell’s trademark “verbal assaults,” the infighting among the judges, varied controversies over Abdul’s deterioration and certain episodes being “retaped.” Rushfield overstuffs the final pages with play-by-play highlights, cast and crew opinions and personal perspectives from the great and not-so-great singers who braved the Idol stage.
A generous bird’s-eye viewpoint of the competition from past to present—supreme fodder for Idol buffs.