Drudge is going ga-ga over the fact that famously acerbic American Idol judge Simon Cowell rolled his eyes after contestant Chris Richardson — fresh off a notably bad performance of the Rascal Flatts song Mayberry — offered his condolences to Virginia Tech last night. Here’s a video of the incident. Here’s another.
I didn’t notice Simon’s eye-rolling when I was watching live, but my initial reaction to Chris’s statement of condolence was: “while I have no doubt that his Virginia Tech comment was genuine, I think it will hurt him with the public. People are cynical bastards, and some of them will see that as an attempt to shore up votes by exploiting a tragedy to change the subject after a bad performance.”
Simon Cowell, of course, is the most cynical bastard of them all, and his reaction was precisely the one I anticipated, according to a Fox executive: “Simon felt Chris was cynically deflecting his criticism. It was unfortunate… he clearly was unaware the camera was on him when he rolled his eyes, and he was hardly making a rude gesture to the victims.”
Look, on the one hand, I think Simon’s cynical reaction was uncalled for. Chris is a Virginia native, and there’s no reason to believe he was being anything but genuine. Unless you’re the sort of person who always ascribes people the worst possible motives for their actions, you gotta believe that Chris’s decision to extend his condolences immediately after the judges’ criticisms wasn’t an attempt to deflect those criticisms — it was simply a consequence of the fact that that’s the only opportunity he has to speak directly into the camera during the show. (Ryan Seacrest awkwardly opened the show with a statement of condolence, and Simon added his own, equally awkward statement later — perhaps in reaction to the first wave of complaints about his eye-rolling earlier in the show — but Chris was taking advantage of his only chance to personally say something about the tragedy.)
But on the other hand, I can easily see this erupting into a massively exaggerated Imus-like controversy — Drudge is obviously pushing the story, and I expect the 24-hour news networks to pick up on it throughout the day, because Drudge moves stories and because Idol is a cultural phenomenon and this is a topical angle on today’s dominant story that’s easy to punditize about — and the fact is, it shouldn’t. Simon wasn’t rolling his eyes at the tragedy or disrespecting the victims, he was rolling his eyes at what he saw (wrongly and unjustifiably, in my view) as a cynical ploy for votes by an American Idol contestant. That’s unfortunate, but it’s also vintage Simon, and it certainly isn’t a national news story, nor worthy of the top line on the Drudge Report. Anyway, I wonder if tonight’s Idol results show will address this issue, in order to try and make it go away. And if they do, I wonder if that will just add fuel to the flames.
Some good may come of all this, though. Immediately after Chris’s performance, I thought he was doomed to be voted off tonight (in spite of Sanjaya’s bloody awful attempt at faux-karaoke) and that his condolence statement would only hurt him. Now, though, I think he’ll be saved — not so much by the statement, but by Simon’s reaction to it. If it’s true, as Drudge says, that “fans were enraged and FOX affiliates were fielding complaints” about Simon’s reaction, I suspect a fair number of those fans will have voted for Chris in defiance of Simon. So the end result of all this may be that Sanjaya actually gets voted off tonight. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?
UPDATE: More from an update to the Drudge article:
Nigel Lythgoe, Executive Producer of ‘IDOL’, says Simon was not reacting to Chris.
In a statement given exclusively to the DRUDGE REPORT, Lythgoe explains:
“This is a sad time for everyone, so it is especially disheartening that a quick camera cutaway could have been misinterpreted. We’re sorry for any grief caused by this misunderstanding, but Simon was not reacting to Chris at that point. He had turned to speak to Paula and didn’t actually hear Chris’ final comments.”
Lythgoe continues: “Everyone at ‘AMERICAN IDOL’ feels compassion for those affected by this tragedy. We opened the show with those thoughts and Simon later expressed sincere condolences on behalf of the judges, recognizing the challenges we all face in dealing with this horrible event.” …
A backstage source defends Richardson: “Chris decided earlier in the day that he was going to give a shoutout to his friends.. he is hurting.”
UPDATE: Simon defends himself on the air.