With all of American Idol’s make-or-break changes this season, it’s a good time for a thorough assessment of the talent show’s first decade.
American Idol: The Untold Story (Hyperion; $24,99; 288 pages), by former Los Angeles Times and current Daily Beast writer Richard Rushfield, mostly tells the story from the perspective of Simon Fuller and Nigel Lythgoe, the show’s creators, and Simon Cowell, its most famous judge.
Rushfield is a longtime Idol authority, but it is hard to tell for whom this slim, shiny book is meant: It’s not flashy and photo-filled enough to be bait for core fans, who already know many of the stories here, and it’s not hefty enough to be the deep business dig the phenomenon deserves.
The first half is dedicated to the genius of the big three. Each is presented as a precocious hustler with a golden ear:
Fuller as the Spice Girls svengali, Lythgoe as the man who discovered Idol’s forerunner Popstars in New Zealand, and Cowell as the lowbrow genius behind TV/music crossover hit albums by Teletubbies and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
There’s no surprise in the Cowell that Rushfield presents, but he does bring him to life, by turns brilliant and exasperating, self-serving and disarmingly honest.
Rushfield sums him up well: “If ever a person could be prepared for fame and all that came with it, it was Simon Cowell . . . For 20 years, Simon Cowell had been involved in every aspect of the shadowy business of creating stars . . . He had seen how the magical alchemy could transform people into stars, and he had seen how it could go wrong.”
The book is not Fox-authorised, which may explain why the show’s other well-known personalities play only supporting roles. Paula Abdul is a wacky sparring partner, and Ryan Seacrest is Robin to Cowell’s Batman.
Never mind Randy Jackson; he gets less space than Season 1 co-host Brian Dunkleman, who receives a sympathetic retelling of the personal and career collapse that followed his did-he-jump-or-was-he-pushed exit.
Kara DioGuardi and Ellen DeGeneres get mere cameos.