Customer Reviews: American Idol: The Untold Story
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on March 11, 2011
Richard Rushfield's "American Idol: The Untold Story" is just OK as a general compendium of "American Idol's" first nine seasons for the casual fan. But most of the information contained within is easily found on Wikipedia or gone into more detail on dedicated "American Idol" websites, and will be familiar to true "Idol" die-hards. Apart from the frequently awkward syntax and occasional typos, the book relies far too much on interviews with the same few "American Idol" runners-up (RJ Helton, Nikki McKibbin, Brooke White, Kimberley Locke, Ace Young) who are quoted over and over again, without any interviews with the "Idol" alums who have gone on to the biggest success. (As far as the judges, the author does get an interview with Simon, but not Paula, Randy, Ellen, or Kara.) The photos are fairly boring, and nothing that can't be found easily online.

Plus the book is badly in need of a competent fact-checker! Fantasia was not in the original cast of "The Color Purple" on Broadway -- she replaced original star LaChanze, which rendered Fantasia ineligible for a Tony despite her rave reviews. Tamyra Gray guest starred on "Boston Public," not "Boston Legal." The name of the song is "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going," not "You're Gonna Love Me." And Nigel Lythgoe is quoted saying about Kelly Clarkson, "Then she did some stuff like that there, a big band number, a Bette Midler big band number, and her personality shined," without the editors realizing "Stuff Like That There" is the actual name of the song. I would guess that the book was rushed to publication, except it really stops at the end of season nine, without any discussion of the protracted drama over who would replace Simon and the eventual selection of Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez -- hence the untimely photo of Kara on the book's cover.

Most of the notable "Idol" scandals are covered, although a few are curiously left out (e.g. Mario Vazquez), and strangely there is no mention of the pre-"Idol" connections between Paula Abdul and Kara DioGuardi (Paula had let Kara stay at her house when she was a struggling songwriter, and the two co-wrote the song "Spinning Around," which was originally meant for Paula but became a big international hit for Kylie Minogue), which Paula discussed everywhere when Kara was first added as a judge. As a pretty faithful "Idol" watcher (I've seen every show), I did find the early chapters on the development of the show packed with info I didn't know, and the chapter on Leesa Bellesi, who became sort of the unofficial "Idol" pastor to the Christian contestants, was also info that was new to me. Surprisingly enough, the chapter devoted to Brian Dunkleman, who was interviewed for the book, is pretty fascinating and sad. (Unfortunately, his last name is misspelled at one point.) Rushfield's prose occasionally has sharp insights into "Idol's" popularity and place in pop culture, but is also given to hyperbole. Overall, a fair effort that would be of interest to those looking for a crash course in "Idol," or super-fans who are interested in all things "Idol." Hopefully a future edition will correct the mistakes and include new chapters on all the drama with Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez and season 10.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon January 19, 2011
Note: this review is based on a Kindle version of the book which contains all the same info as the other. I was able to purchase and read it before the book hit our local bookstore.

"American Idol: The Untold Story is a very detailed look at the genesis and success of American Idol (some might say too detailed with 20 very dense but well-written chapters). The early sections of the book focus strongly on background info about Simon Fuller, Simon Cowell and how they started American Idol type projects overseas before coming to America.

Listed below is a look at some of the various chapters and some info about what each chapter covers. I've intentionally describing only some of the bare bones info so readers will still be eager to learn more - and there is certainly much, much more described in the book! I couldn't cover all chapters or this review would end up being a book in itself!

Readers should find the writing style very appealing, with far more information, contestant quotes, revelations from Simon Cowell and more.. This isn't a light and easy read so potential buyers should be aware of that. It IS engaging but there is so much info in each chapter!. Also, American Idol and its first contestants aren't really described until Chapter 5.

Until then, readers learn about the background of the show, the personalities at play and background info about both Simon Fuller and Simon Cowell (who connected before American Idol came to America). Depending on your interest in an extensive chronology of the years before American Idol, you may get impatient to get to the heart of the book - American Idol, the contestants, controversies, successes, etc. So here is a look at some of the info contained in some chapters. Again, please note that American Idol doesn't really enter the scene (in full force) until Chapter 5.

Chapter 1: Creator. This chapter starts with a look at Fantasia Barrio, single mother and high school dropout and contrasts her with Diana DeGarmo, a former Miss Teen Georgia, well known as a performer in local pageants. American Idol is compared to reality shows and is seen to be far better than The Bachelor or Survivor, largely due to the lasting fame bestowed by American Idol, with the potential for mega record deals. Simon Fuller (not to be confused with Simon Cowell) and Spice Girls are a main focus of this chapter as well as the sudden termination of Fuller as manager of the group. Fuller is back to "square one" by the end of the chapter, beginning to envision a concept show with more potential for long lasting success.

Chapter 2: Lightbulbs - the history of the ideas and projects that led to American Idol and how Simon Cowell went from being a "little-known record label executive" to the "mean judge" of American Idol - and (according to one study) the most famous (British) person in the world.

Chapter 3: Enter the Dragon - Simon's take on things is quoted heavily in this chapter, including his reluctance to appear on television. He had a rocky road before appearing on Idol, at one point being completely in debt, forced to return home to live with his parents. Simon Fuller and Simon Cowell come together, culminating with the success of Pop Idol and Popstars in the United Kingdom. It isn't all easy and Cowell's earlier descent into debt, even forcing him to return to live with his parents, is also noted (in detail).

Chapter 4: Pop Goes the Idol - Believe it or not, Simon Cowell didn't always play the meanie. That role went to Pete Waterman on Pop Idol and Simon learned from him. Pete was the "bad guy" according to the quotes from the author of this book. As in Chapter 3, Cowell is heavily quoted, adding personality and liveliness to the book.

Chapter 5: The Crossing - FINALLY, American Idol finally enters the picture as a focus of the book. It is compared to the 1983 show, Star Search. Pitching the show was hard and every major network rejected it. Then Rupert Murdoch reputedly entered the scene, including his daughter's role in convincing him the show could be a hit in America. Much information about Paula Abdul's connection to American Idol is explained as well as the original network which accepted American Idol (Fox).

Chapter 6: Showtime - tension rises as there is anxiety about how many people will show up for the original talent competition. Each early contestant is profiled, from Justin Gurarini to Tamyra Gray. Critics pan the show. Things don't look good. But the ultimate judges of a show's television success, the viewers, top in at a very impressive 9.9 million people. The buzz builds and Kelly Clarkson is set to hit the spotlight.

Photo insert: includes photos of Simon, Randy, and Paula. Also included? Kelly Clarkson, Nikki Mckibbon, Justin Guarini,William Hung ("She Bangs"), Fantasis Barrino, Corey Clark, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Hicks, and more.

Chapter 7: Kelly Clarkson's rise to success and fame, her early life, and how she convinced the judges (later on) that she was a true contender. Lots of quotes from Kelly, Randy Jackson, Cowell. The first competition is the focus of this chapter and it is absolutely riveting, including fights between the judges, cohosts (remember Brian Dunkleman and the tension between him and Ryan Seacrest?) Flare-ups between the contestants, the other judges, and Cowell are covered.

Chapter 8: Brian Dunkleman is interviewed, giving his take on how he felt on being let go as a cohost of American Idol and how it affected his career for the worse.

Chapter 9: Even as Clarkson's song "A Moment Like This" becomes a major hit, scandals and rumors break out about the show. Things remain rocky - as well as exciting - for Season 2, with American Idol executives striving to keep the ball rolling. Ratings continue to soar. The show is tweaked. Clay Aiken enters the picture as a contestant. Controversy continues when Corey Clark's earlier life reveals some shocking incidents.

There are many, many more chapters in this book, each one full of quotes and info that create the sense that readers are back stage. Fantasia Barrio's rise to fame is chronicled in full glory, as is the debut of X Factor, tensions between Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell, the rise of "camp" websites devoted to some of the best - and worst -performers, and more.

There is also another photo insert featuring Simon with Jordin Spark and Carrie Underwood. There are also photos of David Archuleta, Danny Gokey, Adam Lambert, Matt Giraud, Crystal Bowersox,and more. At this point, I've covered some of the highlights of this book. As might be expected, a contestant named Sanjaya - and his wild hair - is included in the book (a plus for his fans and yes..he had fans) as is a look into the voting system on the show. Questions arise about whether the show is fixed, in spite of audience votes.

Much of the book's charm comes from the extensive quotes from various performers, with readers sure to select their favorites to learn more about them. It is made clear exactly how stressful the auditions and weekly performances can be - and what a toll it takes on each performer. There is even the description of the woman who killed herself in Paula Abdul's driveway (an obsessive stalker of Abdul). Abdul was unhinged by the incident (who wouldn't be?) and her contract negotiations and decision to leave the show are chronicled. If you've ever wondered what happens to the contestants are leaving the show, you'll also find some answers in this book, including both the best and worst case incidents.

Of course, the American Idol story wouldn't be complete without an update on Cowell's decision to leave the show. That info was up to date as of the book's publication.

There is a bibliography at the end of "American Idol:The Untold Story" as well as the typical acknowledgments section, with the author thanking those contestants who he interviewed as well as his editors and many others. Here are the titles of the remaining chapters:

Chapter 10: Divas

Chapter 11: The Anti-Christ

Chapter 12: De'tente

Chapter 14: Ponyhawk

Chapter 15: The Bubble

Chapter 16: Twilight of the Valkyries

Chapter 17: The Pastor

Chapter 18: Tweak House

Chapter 19: Leaving Idol

Chapter 20: The End of the Day

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on February 22, 2011
I enjoyed much of the book. There are some interesting behind the scenes tidbits from a few contestants the author interviewed, particularly Nikki McKibbin. Not sure I believe everything she had to say, but she was a great interview and is an interesting if sad story. But there aren't that many interviews with an array of contestants across several seasons which was disappointing to me. He talked to Nikki, Ace Young, AJ Helton and a few others, but obviously only a few cooperated.

There is less about the actual individual season contests than I expected, and more about the producers history and relationships. He also focused what I felt was an inordinate amount of time on Brian Dunkelman who is really a bit of a blip on the show's radar having only cohosted for one season. He's got a somewhat interesting story I suppose, but

The book was obviously rushed to market without a good editor vetting it. There are words that were out of place or used wrong, seasons incorrectly identified, whole paragraphs repeated verbatim in different parts of the book, and a basic disorganization in structure where the author would start on a subject, get sidetracked into another subject, and then return to the first one after the reader had long since moved on.

The book is mostly about Simon Cowell it seemed to me. He is an interesting subject, but I expected more about the contestants so I was somewhat unsatisfied when I finished it.

It's worth reading if you're a fan of the show, particularly if you watched since its inception. Season 1 is covered pretty thoroughly although the others are referenced much more perfunctorily.
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on October 22, 2011
Richard Rushfield is a good author. If you read any of the articles he wrote in the LA Times, you would find him funny, informative and interesting. But somehow expanding his talent into a 260+ page book, he becomes repetitive and boring. How can American Idol: The Untold Story be this dull?

He's writing about the most popular Television series ever and yet the most exciting part of the book is his description of the show forming in the UK and the explosion of it's first season in the US. After that, he *lightly* covers the following seasons - some getting as little as 2 pages. And he has notable holes in his knowledge. He may write 2 paragraphs about Randy, 1 page about Ellen, and what he knows about the cast members outside the top 3 of each season wouldn't even match the length of this review. But the Simon/Simon duo get half the book, Paula 1/5. I love American Idol and have faithfully watched all seasons. 95% of this book is available on Wikipedia or in Simon Cowell's biography. The rest comes from the few - very few - interviews he bothered to do with Megan Joy, Nikki McKibbin, Ace Young, & Simon Cowell or reading Idol chats.

If you're new to American Idol, this is a fair introduction but otherwise, save your money. Others have written this better on Wikipedia ... and with fewer typos.
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on May 3, 2013
This book made for a good read during my daily commute. It is like reading some extended magazine feature story, or an article from the Lifestyle / Entertainment section of the papers. It was definitely entertaining to hear the stories of the many people impacted by the show, AI, from inception through Season 10.

While I liked it, this is why I give it only 3 stars: For some reason, the writing style and tenor came across to me as some kind of PR repair to explain away negative press that involved the show through the years. While not obvious, if you read between the lines, speculations and ideas are subtly mentioned to explain away certain sticky legal, labor, or moral issues that the show faced. I could see the attempt to make it a balanced perspective, but at the end of the day, a lot of the insights were leaning more towards management's perspective. Promoting the thought that "the end justifies the means".

AI is part of America's culture. It has made an impact, and it will stay (or at least variations of it) for a while. It has produced good entertainment, and discovered good artists. But most fascinating of all, is how the concept evolved from just an idea. An insight. A "What if?" thought that is oftened shared by us common folks at the water cooler, over dinner, or at the local bar. AI is the result of a "What if?" pursued all the way to its execution. That to me, is the inspiration that the book has provided, on top of the star-evolution process that we see through the regular show.

Using this as perspective, I actually recommend the book. Enjoy!
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on September 13, 2013
I've been a fan since the first season so some bias here....but really interesting behind the scenes stories that I had never heard of....despite all the rumors and hype during the seasons. Sometimes got a little technical but interesting in the ways that they have adapted and some of contestant scoop we never picked up as viewers.
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VINE VOICEon May 24, 2011
For an author who spent 3 years "writing hundreds of columns and conducting thousands of interviews with cast and crew" this book is a disappointment. Mr. Rushfield mentioned at least on two occasions the seasons deemed as lackluster were the ones with no particular contestant resonating with the fans. That is precisely the missing ingredient in Mr. Rushfield's work - no particular character was delved into adequately to hook the reader. Much of what was covered could be found in popular media articles or interviews. For the amount of effort the author purportedly expended, one would have expected loads of dirt. The first 50 pages (approx. one fifth of the book) was a snoozefest filled with bios of Simon Fuller, Nigel Lythgoe et al.

I wouldn't consider myself a diehard fan, but I have watched almost all shows from semifinal on since season one - just finished watching the season 10 finale, and if Lauren wins, I win the office pool (dialidol has Scotty winning unequivocally... oh well). When Idol is in season, once a week I check for entertaining headlines related to the show or its contestants to include in my office pool weekly updates. I haven't voted in years, I don't read message boards or Idol blogs, and I rarely buy music by Idol contestants. Despite my relatively benign interest in the show, I had prior knowledge of many of the material Mr. Rushfield covered. There are still tidbits of attention-grabbing information such as how Colbie Caillat and Glee's Amber Riley failed to clear their first audition, but it would have been fitting to devote two of the thousands of interviews to these two outstanding singers on their reflections about their experience. This is an example of what could have taken this book from tolerable to great.

Regrettably, "American Idol: The Untold Story" was a mile wide but only an inch deep. You will not find an "X" factor here.
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This book was a quick and easy read, I was able to read it in a couple of evenings. The first five chapters cover American Idol idea conception and things that happen before the show began. It was an interesting look at the TV industry and the relationships between the major people behind the show. For example, the concept of the "mean judge" is not just a Simon Cowell personality. The concept was all carefully thought through and planned.

Starting with chapter 5 the contestants are introduced. Season 1 is given the most detail. The book covers Idol through season 9, which was the last season with Simon Cowell. The season 10 with Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler is not mentioned. I found it interesting to see some of the things I heard about from the other side. Kelly Clarkson story is quite fascinating, I did not realize they did not "notice" her right away, as I liked her best from the start. The book also contains 8 pages of photographs.

I enjoyed reading the behind the scene stories, secrets, rivalries, and mistakes. This is a fun read!

Ali Julia review
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on May 22, 2012
I really enjoyed going behind the scenes to the very beginnings of "American Idol." The history and developement of the show from the UK to the US was informative and interesting. Then the explosion of popularity thanks to the chemistry of the "AI" judges made this a fun and insightful read. If anyone is thinking about auditioning for the show - I suggest you read this book first. It will help you be prepared for both the good (you hope) or the bad (great TV - but hard on the ego).
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on March 15, 2011
This book is filled with simple factual errors and too many quotes from other publications, a disappointment since it was supposedly written by an author who had "insider" interviews with the major players in American Idol. Instead of it being something special, what could have been a great book ends up being a frustrating read because the guy didn't take the time to do it right.

The first 50 pages in particular are poorly written. The author depends way too much on other books as sources of information. Instead of taking quotes from Bill Carter's book or Simon Cowell's autobiography, why not talk to them directly about the details that are mentioned? (He apparently did talk to Cowell but barely quotes him.) The rest of the book sounds like a term paper, with a variety of print and online publications quoted but very little first-hand interviewing done. This makes for a very uneven book, with him writing a lot about Sanjaya, Ace and the little girl who cried in the audience when Sanjaya sang (since he interviewed them, I guess) but little about anyone of any importance. He just didn't do his homework and instead just did a lot of Google searching (even printing a section from an online Idol fiction site!?).

He fails to do what the book's cover says. The story he tells has been told many times before, there are few stars "in their own words," and there is virtually no "truth behind the voting" that hadn't been published many times before.

There's an entire chapter on a guy who runs a "vote for the worst" site and the guy gets mentioned again throughout the book--why? Then the spin-off American Juniors gets one paragraph while the after-show and repeat show just get single mentions. Some seasons gets a 20 pages, others get a couple pages. Where is this guy's perspective? Near the end he starts to quote more, but those are during the years he was on the Idol beat for the Los Angeles Times. The last section of the book seems to be taken straight from his newspaper articles.

On the other hand there are a couple bright spots in the book. His interview with Brian Dunkleman is fascinating and revealing in its depth. The chapter on the behind-the-scenes female "pastor" who has a backstage ministry to contestants is a surprise (as are the author's supportive asides such as "One can find more positive portrayals of Communist dictators, drug dealers, serial rapists and child abusers than conservative Christians" in Hollywood).

However, the main problem is that the author seems confused by some of the details about reality television and Idol's place in its history. For example he writes about the Fox network, "Throughout the 1990s, with shows like Temptation Island and Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire..." Not only were those shows not on in the 1990s (Who Wants to Marry was 2000 and Temptation Island was 2001!), but he states the name incorrectly multiple times of what was actually titled Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire.

He then talks about ABC saying, "In 1998, the network had scored a monster hit with the prime-time quiz show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire...the audience quickly overdosed on the novelty and turned away as fast as they had come." Of course the Regis-hosted hit started not in 1998 but in August of 1999 and was the #1 show on TV in 2000. During the 2000-2001 season, the show took up four of the top 11 slots in the Nielsen ratings.

If you can't trust a writer's basic "facts," how can you trust anything in the book? There are a number of errors and inconsistencies that will have you scratching your head, wondering if he didn't just contradict himself.

He throws in his skewed opinion about television shows and spins ratings information the way Hollywood writers do to make the network insiders like them. He makes ridiculous superlative statements about the show or people involved, as if they had world-changing impact or it were the most watched show in history (it isn't even close--yes, it's #1 in the ratings but compared to shows from 30 years ago it only has about 1/3 of the audience). He kisses up to almost everyone except Paula, who he seems to have it out for. Maybe because she wouldn't agree to a new interview for the book???

It's nice that someone wrote a book on the subject and got interviews with a few of those who started the show--but what this ends up being is a poorly-written rehash of material we mostly already knew, filled with factual errors that cause the author to lose credibility. It's worth reading for a fan (thus the 3 stars) but with a big caution to not believe everything he writes and be prepared to be disappointed due to all that's missing.
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