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A must for those who can't get enough of American Idol info
on 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