"American Idol" judge Paula Abdul says it herself not long into the staggeringly comprehensive The Best & Worst of American Idol: Seasons 1-4 (Limited Collector's Edition) â€“ it's more than a TV show, it's a phenomenon. She then proceeds to reel off a staggering list of statistics that more than validate her claim; Kelly Clarkson wouldn't be in heavy rotation on MTV were it not for "American Idol," Clay Aiken wouldn't be a late night punch-line if not for the show and millions of Americans wouldn't have a clue where Checotah, Oklahoma was were it not for native daughter Carrie Underwood winning the most recent season.
With blow-dried metrosexual Ryan Seacrest serving as a non-threatening ambassador (oh, wherefore art thou, Brian Dunkleman?), music business vets Randy Jackson, Abdul and Simon Cowell (he of the withering criticism) pass judgment upon untold thousands of would-be contestants until a narrowed field emerges to duke it out over several weeks, eliciting an avalanche of text messages from the reality TV and pop star-obsessed nation we call home. Despise it though some may, it's hard to argue with the show's track record: Clarkson is a bona fide pop star now, Fantasia's touring with Kanye West and Underwood's generated some serious heat with her debut album (we'll skip over the rise and fall of Clay 'n Ruben).
At it's heart, "American Idol" is an interactive piece of theater that positions itself as an old-time "star maker," discovering some ingenue at the soda fountain on Hollywood and Vine. Expertly engineered by a team of drama-savvy producers to deliver thrills, chills and occasional off-key renditions of adult contemporary standards in equal measure, "American Idol" is junk-food TV to its core, but I dare you to try and stop watching.
It was inevitable that this smash show would appear on a deluxe, tricked-out DVD; after all, there is a nation of fiending "American Idol" junkies to satiate. Available separately as The Best of American Idol and The Worst of American Idol, the three-disc set collects those two volumes and adds a third DVD packed with supplemental material, housing the whole shebang in a fold-out keepcase that slides into a sturdy slipcover. Let's dig in, shall we?
Disc One: The Best of American Idol
Audition footage from seasons one through three:
--Justin Guarini, "Who's Loving You"
--Kelly Clarkson, "At Last"
--Clay Aiken, "Always and Forever"
--Ruben Studdard, "Ribbon in the Sky"
--Diane DeGarmo, "Chain of Fools"
--Fantasia Barrino, "Proud Mary"
Performances from seasons one through three:
--Kelly Clarkson, "Respect"
--Justin Guarini, "Get Here"
--Tamyra Gray, "Feel The Fire"
--Kelly Clarkson, "A Moment Like This"
--Ruben Studdard, "Breakin' Up Is Hard To Do"
--Ruben Studdard/Clay Aiken/Kimberly Locke, "Medley (Solid As A Rock/Reunited)"
--Clay Aiken, "Bridge Over Troubled Water"
--Ruben Studdard, "Flying Without Wings"
--Fantasia Barrino, "Summertime"
--La Toya London, "Don't Rain On My Parade"
--Diane DeGarmo, "Enough Is Enough"
--Fantasia Barrino, "I Believe"
Only seasons one through three (in chronological order) are covered in the main section of the disc; season four's auditions and performances (detailed below) are tucked away as the "bonus" portion of the first disc. Also included are brief interview segments after Bo Bice and Carrie Underwood's auditions, an aggregate 56-minute recap of seasons one through four (playable together or separately), with introductions by Abdul and "Paula on Tour with the Idols - San Jose," a featurette running an aggregate of 49 minutes (playable separately or all together) where Abdul catches up with Constantine Maroulis, Underwood, Anthony Federov, Jessica Sierra, Nikko Smith, Scott Savol, Vonzell Solomon and Anwar Robinson, backstage at the San Jose stop of the "American Idols Live!" tour.
Under the heading "Special Features" on The Best of American Idol is a grab bag of "American Idol"-related clips, playable separately or together â€“ from Underwood belting the National Anthem in her hometown, to a June 2002 interview with Clarkson and presentation of Clarkson's platinum disc for "Thankful," "Changes," a five minute, 30 second featurette detailing (and I quote) "how the top two from each season changed during their stay on 'American Idol,'" photo galleries and anamorphic widescreen trailers for Double Dare and Really Bend It Like Beckham.
Bonus audition footage from season four:
--Bo Bice, "In a Dream" and "Whipping Post"
--Carrie Underwood, "I Can't Make You Love Me"
Bonus performances from season four:
--Bo Bice, "Whipping Post"
--Carrie Underwood, "Alone"
--Constantine Maroulis, "My Funny Valentine"
--Bo Bice, "Vehicle"
--Vonzell Solomon, "On The Radio"
--Bo Bice, "In A Dream"
--Carrie Underwood, "Inside Your Heaven"
Disc Two: The Worst of American Idol
Wow â€“ this one's for diehard fans only. Some of these vocal performances will haunt me for the rest of my life; Abdul pops up at the very beginning of the disc to let viewers know that what's about to be unleashed are some of the more ... colorful moments that transpired during seasons one through four. "Best of the Worst" is a 57 minute odyssey that delivers exactly what it promises â€“ heaps of cringe-inducing moments from all four seasons of "American Idol" while the extended audition footage (detailed below) offers masochists more of the same. Under the heading "Special Features" is another grab bag of clips, playable together or separately - gut-twisting montages of "Proud Mary" and "America The Beautiful" being mutilated; "Dance, Dance, Dance," two minutes and 30 seconds of tortured human gyration; "Fashion Faux Pas," three minutes of contestants attired in some questionable outfits: "Christmas Songs," four minutes and 30 seconds of mangled carols; a live performance of William Hung's grotesque cover of Ricky Martin's "She Bangs" and trailers for Double Dare and Really Bend It Like Beckham. The Worst of American Idol, as a disc, is playable in chunks or as one whole eardrum-shredding, stomach-churning piece.
Extended audition footage:
--Tamika Bush, "Audition argument"
--Mary Lacarelli, "Unchained Melody"
--Jacquiline Roman, "Route 66"
--Keith Beukelaer, "Like A Virgin/I Wanna Dance With Somebody"
--Tara Daddona, "Against All Odds/Chain of Fools"
--Patsy Charles, "Unchained Melody"
--Karmen Varjabedian, "Strong Enough/Unbreak My Heart"
--William Hung, "She Bangs"
--Leandra Jackson, "Star Spangled Banner"
--Daniel Blue-Anderson, "If I Ever Fall In Love/Star Spangled Banner"
--Jason Smith, "Papa Was A Rolling Stone"
--Christopher Noll, "Original rap"
--Fookling Lee, "I Can't Stand The Rain"
--Daron Beck, "Delilah/I Put A Spell On You"
--Leroy Wells, "I Get You (I Feel Good)"
--Aven Moore, "Tomorrow"
--Danny Parker, "God Must Have Spent A Little More Time On You"
--Stephanie Sugarman, "Audition argument"
--Adam and Dirk, "Current of Love (Baywatch Theme)/This I Promise You"
The Best & Worst of American Idol is offered in 1.33:1 fullscreen, as originally broadcast and as befits a recently created program, it looks vivid and crisp, with no visible defect. A very clean, sharp image.
Again, as originally broadcast, The Best & Worst of American Idol is presented in robust Dolby 2.0 stereo that, as expected, gives considerable oomph to the musical portions â€“ applause, vocals and teary exclamations of "OhmiGodItotallywonandIdidn'texpecttoATALL" are heard clearly and free of any drop-out or distortion.
Bonus features included on the first and second disc are detailed above, so I'll discuss the third disc here â€“ made, as Abdul explains in her introduction, "for the hardcore fans." Playable separately or all together, the third disc features "Season 4 Idol Interviews," 106 minutes of Underwood, Bice, Solomon and Maroulis chatting about their lives and experiences on the show; "Carrie Returns Home" is a 12 minute featurette detailing Underwood's trip back to Checotah earlier in 2005; "Bo Returns Home" is a 23 minute featurette detailing Bice's trip back to Birmingham, Alabama earlier in 2005 and a 52 minute interview with Abdul â€“ who's literally all over each of these discs. As stated earlier, this is tedious stuff unless you're an "Idol"-head hungering for every last scrap of show-related footage.
If "American Idol" isn't your bag, then I'd suggest picking up only The Worst of American Idol â€“ if nothing else, it'd be a perverse pick to put on during a party. For those who live, breathe and text message their fingers off during the 10 week plus run of each "American Idol" season, this is the definitive DVD presentation of the show you've been waiting for. Rent it if you're indifferent, highly recommended for the diehards.