Ten years ago today, “American Idol” debuted as a fill-in Fox summer TV reality show.
I read some of the stories from the time. Expectations were modest. “Idol” did not send out an advance copy of the first episode, which made TV writers at the time instantly suspicious.
The Chicago Tributne: “American Idol” (8 p.m., WFLD-Ch. 32), copied from a British hit called “Pop Idol,” operates under the flawed assumption that this nation wants or needs another treacly pop star. Don’t the producers know that Celine Dion is back from exile and only one of the ‘N Sync boys is planning to go to space?
The Cleveland Plain Dealer: How bad is “ American Idol“? Well, we learned long ago not to ask how low Fox will go.
The Salt Lake Tribune: Fox mailed a short clip of the program to television critics, and, oh daddy, the cringe factor is really high — for the viewer, too. This is the show for those who truly love the sight of someone making an unintentional fool of themselves.
And it’s interesting to hear how Nigel Lythgoe spun the show before it first aired to the Los Angeles Times:
Lythgoe maintains that “American Idol” is less a talent show and more a slice of human drama, “like the kid who turned up and said to the judges, ‘Both my parents are deaf and they’ll never hear me sing.’ And he sang ‘When I Fall in Love’ and signed it at the same time. It was just beautiful.”
I recall the two TV writers at the AJC at the time passed on covering the show so they handed me some early advance tapes (in VCR form!) Fox did send out in June. Believe it or not, I still have them.
The PR person at “Idol” also informed me of five folks who were from the Atlanta area.
So I started tracking them in Peach Buzz.
Here’s the very first thing I ever wrote about “Idol,” which ran in Peach Buzz June 17, 2002:
‘Idol‘ has five Atlantans
Atlantans heavily populate the Fox television show “American Idol, ” which seeks to find the “best” singer/performer via popular vote. Of the 30 semifinalists, five are from the Atlanta area.
So far, the twice-weekly summer replacement series has done well amid a sea of repeats. Tuesday at 8:30 p.m., the first group of 10 will sing individually, and viewers will vote whether they’re worthy of moving to the next round.
Among the 10 will be Christopher Aaron, 23, of Duluth (a fan of Brandy) and teacher Tamyra Gray, 22, of Norcross (who loves Prince). R.J. Helton of Cumming, Melanie Noelle of Atlanta and an Atlantan who goes only by Jamar are the three other competing locals who will be shown on later episodes.
On my 33rd birthday, June 21, 2002, I wrote about Gray, who would ultimately finish fourth:
Norcross’ singing ‘Idol‘
Norcross resident Tamyra Gray blew away her crooning competitors in the first semifinal round of “American Idol, ” a twice-weekly Fox show that takes elements from Ed McMahon’s old “Star Search” and adds a dollop of edgy nastiness (or simple honesty) from a panel of judges.
Gray (left), competing for one of three finalist slots along with nine others, including Duluth pal Christopher Aaron, pulled in the most votes out of 3 million cast by the viewing public. The results were announced live Wednesday night.
To get to the finals with gorgeous Ryan Starr and sentimental pick Jim Verraros (who has deaf parents), 22-year-old Gray sang an inspiring version of “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going, ” made famous by torch singer Jennifer Holliday.
Gray told Buzz that she chose that song because her mother, Rita Preston, loves it. When Gray reached her mom on the phone, “all she did was scream and then hang up the phone.”
The judges all predicted Gray would be the top vote-getter. “At the audition in Atlanta, I described her as having the X factor with a capital X, ” said the usually snide British record executive Simon Crowell, one of three judges that culled 10,000 contestants down to 30. “This girl is a star.”
Gray, unlike many of the jilted contestants, of course has nothing bad to say about Crowell. “I’m just a girl from Norcross being who I am. I’m so grateful people actually support me, ” she said.
The ratings for the first episode were solid and away the show went until Kelly Clarkson beat Justin Guarini before more than 23 million viewers, a huge number for a summer show. (I remember being at a Star 94 viewing party at Dave & Busters for that one.)
For folks who watched the show from 2002, what are some of your memories?
For nostalgia’s sake, here’s the first few minutes of episode one from a decade ago:
And check out this story on Billboard.com: “Idol” contestants have had 345 separate titles from 29 different “Idol” contestants reach No. 1 on one of its charts over 10 years for a total of 1,142 weeks. Kelly Clarkson has the most No. 1’s (73), followed by Carrie Underwood (62), Daughtry (38), Fantasia (31) and Ruben Studdard (16).
By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk