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STUDIO: Capital Entertainment
MSRP: $34.98
RATED: TV-PG
RUNNING TIME: 570 Minutes
SPECIAL FEATURES:
• Carrie Sings the National Anthem
• Interview with Kelly Clarkson
• Kelly Clarkson Platinum Disc Presentation
• Photo Galleries
• Capital Trailers
• Season 4 Idol Interviews
• Carrie Returns Home
• Bo Returns Home
• Paula Abdul Interview

I have made it through the last four years without watching one complete episode of American Idol. I have been okay with that. I might even feel better about myself if I could say I have never seen any part of this show, but I did turn to Fox at random a few times and caught snippets of it, usually when Ryan Seacrest asked viewers to vote for a contestant. Maybe I just don’t like Ryan Seacrest. It is with an intense fear of the unknown that I approach The Best & Worst of American Idol: Seasons 1-4 Limited Collector’s Edition. I have hated this show without even seeing it which, admittedly, is unfair. I want to know if the best and/or worst American Idol has to offer can change my mind.

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"For my next trick, I’ll attract a woman."

The Show

American Idol is a cast-off of a successful British show called Pop Idol. Simon Cowell, Britain’s most brutally honest citizen, had a hand in creating both shows. Behind the scenes, Cowell has produced albums for the shows’ top talent. In front of the camera he gets to vent whatever pent-up frustrations he brings to the enterprise on the more deluded, off-key participants. With him music producer Randy Jackson and former pop sensation Paula Abdul whittle each year’s entrants down from hundreds to a couple of dozen or less. The full casting calls attracted over 250,000 people in four years from all across the US. In each city that hosted auditions, young people waited in line for days, living in makeshift camp sites, just for the chance to show their stuff to the world. Those thousands of hopefuls initially performed for preliminary judges. When they passed the first phase, they got to audition for the three judges we see on TV.

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Leaving your hotel room in Hollywood without makeup – priceless.

Now you might think that only the best singers would pass the preliminary judgment, but in the world of reality TV, that kind of show is not entertaining enough. A show about young singers with moderate to high levels of talent battling it out for riches and fame might create a lot of drama, but it leaves out all of the sensation and excess that viewers have come to expect from their programming. No, no, no, you can’t have a successful carnival without a sideshow or two lurking around the fringes of the main attraction. So, a few truly horrific vocalists make it to the main audition. I think it would be fairly demeaning to find out that one of these “freakshows” (I’m not talking about the alarmingly-white Clay Aikens) made it on TV and you, with your many years of shower-singing and Friday night karaoke sessions, didn’t. Stardom can be a cruel mistress.

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7,000 people + 50 cheap laptops = 6,950 idiots.

So, the competing goals of the show are to find undiscovered “diamonds in the rough” and make them into pop stars while tossing aside cacophonous lumps of coal in the most inventive way possible. Cowell is a practiced spirit-crusher, and he seems to delight in telling every potential contestant exactly what he thinks of them. That doesn’t mean that he’s always negative. He clearly appreciates real talent, and he is not afraid to tell someone that they did a great job. Once the auditions are over, those who are selected move on to LA for the real competition. The crazy, confused or just plain mediocre participants that have been turned down go back to their lives of uncomfortable anonymity. Unless your name is William Hung, then you get to be a star regardless of your lack of talent.

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"I’m singing now, bitch!"

The Best of American Idol disc features highlights (and some lowlights) from all four seasons. If you’ve never seen the show this disc gives you a rundown of how the whole thing works. Seasons 1 through 3 are lumped together in one section, starting with clips and interviews describing what goes into drawing out those gifted diamonds. Plenty of the good and bad are on display. Then it’s on to the auditions of the two eventual finalists from the three seasons. A video montage and spoofy video segment with Simon and Paula romancing round out this part. The fourth season is given less background, but we get lots of up-close time with the two finalists from that season, Bo Bice and Carrie Underwood. It would have been nice to have more “best-of” material on this disc, since I don’t know what a lot of the other contestants sound like for the most part. I’d like to be able to judge for myself how well all of you voters did in picking the best singers. The performance section gives me a little bit of that, showing songs from at least the top three contestants of each season. As drawn-out and uninspiring as the rest of the seasons might be, the final performances from each American Idol winner turn out to be quite entertaining and soulful. Generally, I like it when people get to win, and it seems that each season (except maybe the fourth, which I was indifferent about) the viewers chose wisely.

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Sheila burst into song and a bowl of corn flakes.

If disc one represents the cream of the crop then disc two, The Worst of American Idol, is the rancid milk from a malevolent goat’s teats. It’s hard to believe that some of the people in these auditions are not deaf. I’ve heard better music coming from my stomach after a nice meal. What compels people to put themselves through so much agony, only to find out that they have been kidding themselves for too long? This part of the show doesn’t appeal to me much. I feel bad for these lousy singers. Not only because they are lousy, but because they needed to be humiliated in a televised audition to realize how lousy they are. Some of them are still so unconscious of their own wretchedness that they refuse to accept the judges’ decisions. These poor, touched individuals probably go straight home to perform in front of their stuffed animals as soon as the auditions end for a little positive reinforcement. As much as I feel sorry for them, I don’t really blame Cowell for being harsh with any of the participants, especially the truly horrible ones. Yeah, he does it to boost ratings, but he’s also performing an important service. People with little or no talent should be told how bad they are. That kind of directness either motivates them to improve their abilities or it makes them rethink their interest in being a performer. Either way, we all benefit from Cowell’s callous attitude. People who truly want to entertain others should be encouraged by every type of criticism, even the kind that reality TV has to offer.

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Seacrest would do anything to make this a solo hosting gig, even if he

had to eat the other guy.

After 9½ hours of American Idol’s best and worst scenes, I am surprised to find that I want to see some of the complete shows. Sometimes these compilation sets are put out to test the public’s interest in the material before complete season sets are released. I’m sure this show has been successful enough to support such releases. I’d like to see a lot more performances from the main contestants. I’d also like an apology for the misguided promotion of William Hung as an entertainer, but I don’t think that will be forthcoming. One glaring flaw of this collection is how often the same auditions are played over and over. Many times the season review segments repeat performances or auditions that appear in other sections. One of the most frightening auditions from a guy wearing a green sweater and singing “Like a Virgin” is shown three times. In fact, many of the crappy auditions are shown in short and long form. A lot of this material could have been tightened up quite a bit to reduce the running time.

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Steve started wearing the hat so people would stop thinking he was just

some random pervert.

American Idol could be described simply as a high stakes karaoke contest, a definition that both compliments and denigrates its best and worst features. I still haven’t seen a complete episode, but I find what I have seen to be a harmless and mildly entertaining entry in the grossly artificial world of reality TV.

7.0 out of 10

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Not only the Hair Club President. Also a mop.

The Look

The digital transfer is as pretty as any performance-based TV show I’ve seen. The show is presented in its original 4:3 aspect ratio. While I can’t take issue with the transfer, I will say that some of the videotaped auditions are sub-par. Some of the audition sites didn’t have the best environmental setups available, so the video quality varies more than one might expect. It’s in the final rounds that the show’s visuals really shine, especially as the seasons progressed and production budgets continued to rise.

7.8 out of 10

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"I’m Sweaty Hank, and I’ll be performing ‘Non Mi Tentar!
‘ from Pagliacci."

The Noise

While more audio channels may have increased the excitement of the live performances, the Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack works out just fine. But as with the video, some of the audition sites had less than stellar setups to work with, so the audio in some cases is poorly recorded or distorted by echoes. And while Paula Abdul is definitely easy on the eyes, her squeaky voiceovers gave my ears a little less to enjoy.

6.5 out of 10

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"Yep. Implants."

The Goodies

The way this collection is patched together makes the whole presentation feel like a long series of special features. However, there is a special features section on each of the main discs, with another special bonus disc only available in this limited edition set. Included on the first disc is an interview with Kelly Clarkson and the on-air presentation of her platinum disc. Another short video clip shows Carrie Underwood performing the National Anthem. There is also a video montage showing how some of the contestants changed in appearance over the course of their performances on the show. Photo galleries and some trailers finish off this disc. The second disc is full of its own special features, but it’s more fitting if you think of the term “special” used here as it relates to the Special Olympics. Several “singers” shred the songs “Proud Mary” and “ America the Beautiful”, as well as more than one Christmas song. We are also treated to some of the more interesting fashion crimes and unfortunate dance performances ever seen in public. Then William Hung gets to sing his rendition of Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs” on stage, complete with dancers. The third bonus disc features extended interviews and video footage with the four finalists from Season 4. We get to see Bo and Carrie return home to greet their families and local fans a short time before the 2005 winner is chosen. This disc also includes an interview with Paula Abdul in which she discusses the show’s amazing success and her involvement with it.

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"What do you mean no more super-sizing?!? Oh sweet Jesus no!"

Altogether, it’s not a bad package of extra features, although the extras seem to be overbalanced on the second disc. The first disc needed more songs from the show. The four season reviews could have easily been dropped in favor of extra performances.

7.0 out of 10

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Mel Gibson’s twin brother made a movie called The Pissin’ of the Satan.

The Artwork

You get a three-disc digipak in a cardboard sleeve. Besides the blue American Idol logo, the case is a putrid shade of grey. I don’t think this set would jump out at me from the store shelf. Inside the first flap of the case is a special note from Paula Abdul with her picture in the corner. Her face is one of the few splashes of color in an otherwise lifeless package.

4.0 out of 10

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The last moment of film recovered from the Pittsburgh auditions.

Overall: 6.5 out of 10