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A talk with Shirley Halperin, author of ‘American Idol: Celebrating 10 Years’

American-Idol-Halperin-Shirley-9780810998308Shirley Halperin has been writing about “Idol” since season one, just like me. The difference is she’s truly itinerant. While I’ve been doing it here at The Atlanta Journal Constitution since June, 2002, she has been doing so for seven different publications: Us Weekly, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, Billboard, Teen People, and the Los Angeles Times. She’s now music editor at the Hollywood Reporter.

She had just finished up her stint with the L.A. Times when she pursued the deal to do this FremantleMedia/19 Entertainment-sanctioned book about “Idol” to celebrate ten years.

In other words, you won’t be seeing inside accounts about the Paula Abdul/Corey Clark scandal, the Frenchie Davis problems, voting controversies or how absolutely blood awful season 9 was. You can get that in the blogs or read Richard Rushfield’s book “American Idol: The Untold Story.”

But if you want a somewhat sanitized but still enjoyable ride through the first nine seasons of “Idol” with plenty of photos, this one’s for you.

“This is a book for ‘Idol’ fans who worship the show,” Halperin said.  As for wanting to do the book: “I’ve invested so much time and so much of my brain space. I wanted to have something to show for it. I do feel  like an expert on ‘American Idol.’ ”

Halperin knew a book was coming and through some fortuitous connections with editors and publishers, she was picked last year to be the author. She spent several weeks watching every single episode of “Idol” from season one to season nine, feverishly jotting notes along the way. “It as insane,” she said. “I had an Excel spreadsheet to keep tabs on things. I never have to watch those seasons again!”

The book, set up like a yearbook (Halperin’s idea), includes pages on Ryan Seacrest’s shifting hair, Randy Jackson’s glasses and Simon Cowell’s limited wardrobe. She interviewed seven of the nine winners (missing only Kelly Clarkson and Fantasia). There’s an essay written by Anoop “Noop Dawg” Desai about Jackson.

She did a summary of  all 107 finalists, tracking down about 85 percent of them and using the Web, gleaning at least some information of a post-”Idol” life for every single one – except one.  (Where are you, Jorge Garcia????) She was also exceedingly kind to the contestants who have done nothing notable musically since the show ended (e.g. she referenced how season 3’s Amy Adams was a narrator on the national tour of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”) In other words, if someone went back to becoming a hairdresser or was waiting tables, she didn’t mention that.

She plucked out the best performances of each year and broke them down. (No, she didn’t get into the worst performances. That’s for Vote for the Worst to do.)

She summarized some of Cowell’s best putdowns – and there were a ton more that landed on the cutting floor,  she said.

Some of my favorite putdowns she included:

“If you lived 2,000 years ago and sang like that, you would’ve been stoned.” – Simon to Chris West, season 2

“Let me use a horoscope analogy… you and your suitcase will be on a plane within 24 hours.” – to Janay Castine, season 4

“I think it had all the joy of someone singing at a funeral parlor. It was completely and utterly gloomy and slightly dark.” – to Phil Stacey, season 6

“You sounded like Dolly Parton on helium.” to Kristy Lee Cook, season 7

“You sucked the soul out of that song. Sucked it out and tortured it and ruined one of the greatest pop songs of all time.” – to Andrew Garcia, season 9

She included a small sampling of Paula Abdul’s oddest comments – though the time she commented about two songs when the singer had only done one was ignored.

My favorite of all time: “David, you are ridiculous. I wanna just squish you, squeeze your head off, and dangle you from my rearview mirror.” – to David Archuleta after his rendition of “Imagine.”

Halperin had hundreds, if not thousands of photos to sift through starting season 3. The problem from the first two years: it was pre-digital and there were limited photos from the film archives. She was diligent: for nearly every single singing performance she referenced as the  “best,” she matched the proper photo. And for the last seven seasons, there are dozens of back-stage shots of the contestants goofing around.

She regrets not giving props to folks like voice coach Debra Byrd (who helped her track down a lot of the “Idols”) and former music director Ricky Minor. She said she ran out of space.

The hardcover book is currently priced at a reasonable $15.61 at Amazon. Not a bad gift idea for an “Idol” addict.

10 comments Add your comment

Deirdre

March 22nd, 2011
4:12 pm

Idol in yearbook form…that seems like a good idea. Is it like a coffee table book?

Sam-A

March 22nd, 2011
4:46 pm

Funny she didn’t interview Kelly – she’s always seemed so accessible.

Rickster™ © ®

March 22nd, 2011
5:09 pm

Have a great evening everybody. (And a good day to Sakura.)

Shane

March 22nd, 2011
5:26 pm

She didn’t interview any of the really good ones.

Mercedes S.

March 22nd, 2011
6:26 pm

Nobody seems to interview “the really good ones”…does Idol have a stranglehold on them?

Sam-A, previous thread abt not getting accepted… if you take too much time, the blog gremlin kicks you out.

lking

March 22nd, 2011
6:37 pm

It is a nice book. I enjoyed it. It is more a coffee table book than a novel type book, but has some good information throughout. Well worth the price. I have read it several times and find I have missed something worth reading.

Helen

March 22nd, 2011
7:29 pm

Sam A – Kelly was on her world tour for the first half of last year and busy recording for the rest of it, maybe that’s why? Just a thought.

Rodney Ho

March 22nd, 2011
10:26 pm

Sam A– Shirley did say Kelly was in the studio and was probably too busy while she was working on the book.

Rodney Ho

March 22nd, 2011
10:27 pm

And as noted, it’s a coffee-table style book. Should have clarified that.

Rickster™ © ®

March 23rd, 2011
10:45 am

What song was Simon critiquing Andrew’s performance?