Often terrible but still strangely involving, "American Idol" was a much-needed hit for Fox this year as the show's concept (brought over from Britain) hooked audiences into following the possible stardom of one singer hoping for stardom (read: a million dollar recording contract at the end of the series). Still, the fact that the ten finalists would likely recieve their own recording deals anyway (along with the fact that there is currently an "American Idol" tour with the 10 finalists), meant no one exactly went home empty-handed.
However, the show's entertainment often came from the judges instead of the contestants. Judge Simon Cowell (also one of the show's creators) remained delightfully mean-spirited, but his comments were refreshing in comparison to those of co-judges Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson, whose often praise-heavy efforts occasionally gave a pass to performances that were not what the performers had showed they were capable of. There's also the fact that the judges were almost made unnecessary by the show's odd rules, which required the audience to phone in and have the final decision. The eventual sequel - a given - should allow for at least partial judge input on who should move on each week. While a "fight" between judges Jackson and Cowell on the first episode seemed laughably staged, the in-fighting between Cowell and Paula Abdul, which seemed to escalate as the series went on, provided some of the funniest moments.
There were some bright spots scattered throughout the show. Ryan Starr (who changed her name from Tiffany Montgomery before the show began) seemed the most likely to succeed, combining a great presence with soulful vocals. Runners-up Christina Christian and Tamyra Gray also provided highlights, as did Nikki McKibbin when she was paired up with an appropriate song for her voice. The look of pure anger when 3rd place McKibbin was told by Cowell that the other two should be the ones to advance and not her was also priceless. Then there was Clarkson, who certainly had some of the most impressive vocal moments, but occasionally didn't have the kind of presence some of the other contestants had.
However, there's a lot that desperately needed to be fixed. Co-hosts Brian Dunkleman and Ryan Seacrest often seemed like the most irritating duo on television, providing remarkably unfunny commentary instead of moving the show along. During many of the episodes, the group of remaining finalists also got together to sing songs - rather than providing anything modern, the group often came together on what seemed to be the most perky, happy, smiley 60's/70's tunes the producers could find. During these sequences, I was often reminded of a "Simpsons" episode where the characters were watching a football game where the halftime show was a teen singing group called, if I remember correctly, "Hooray For Everyone!". These sequences started to become rather cheesy and either didn't provide much of a showcase for the finalists or seemed like filler to get the show to the hour mark. Last, but certainly not least, the finalists were occasionally shown starring in their own blandly filmed commericals, which were either embarassing, cringe-worthy or both.
Lastly, I find it doubtful that "American Idol" will provide any assistance to the currently struggling music industry, which is already overloaded with pop stars who are at the end of their fifteen minutes of fame. While providing passable entertainment and admittedly finding a few strong talents, none of these singers seem to be writing their own songs or really trying to further their career on their own talents and ideas. Instead, they're currently being marched around the country in a plastic pop tour that seems like an attempt to get a few more miles out of the popularity of the show than to actually have the finalists work on their own material and build what talent they have.
I'll admit, I was entertained by aspects of "American Idol" and found it to have a few highlights, but it's disapointing that there's a potentially better show to be found, if some of the problems were just worked out. Possibly a "Project Greenlight" approach, where we follow a winner/winners - who were voted on by their fellow contestants or judges - throughout the recording process, touring through small clubs and eventually working up to bigger and better things, there might be a more meaningful and involving show. Above it all, getting rid of the two hosts would be a fine way to start.
The documentary included on this "official DVD" is a decent presentation for fans of the series, as it provides a series of highlights from the various weeks. Other, shorter featurettes that detail some of the backstage moments are also included. "The Idol Makers" offers amusing (and sometimes quite irritated) moments from rejected contestants, insult highlights and what to do/not to do for "American Idol 2" potential contestants. "American Idol Finalists" shows the ridiculous $6m house the finalists stayed in and gives some footage of the journey to Hollywood, while "Behind The Scenes" offers more background information and some bloopers.
VIDEO: The "American Idol" material throughout this DVD is presented in 1.33:1 full-frame. Image quality is generally good, if rather inconsistent. Sharpness and detail were fine throughout, with respectable clarity and detail. However, artifacts were visible during several moments throughout the program. While they never became hugely bothersome, there were a few moments where they were visible enough to be distracting. On a positive note, colors were well-rendered and no edge enhancement or other flaws were seen.
SOUND: "American Idol" is presented with the show's stereo soundtrack. While it would have been nice if the soundtrack had been repurposed in 5.1, the broadcast quality audio here is passable.
MENUS: The main menu begins with a ridiculously loud version of the theme song, so be sure to keep the volume low when you first turn the DVD on.
EXTRAS: The featurettes - which were discussed above - are the only supplements.
Final Thoughts: A show that veers from being cringe-worthy and unintentionally hilarious to passably entertaining, "American Idol" could certainly be a better - and hopefully a lot less cheesy - show if some of the faults were worked out for any future seasons. While I'm not a fan of the series, those who are will likely enjoy this DVD edition, which provides a decent highlight reel along with some additional behind-the-scenes material.