Many millions adore it, many others probably wish it was illegal, but there's no denying the magnetic pull of American Idol on television viewers. Maybe it's that we can't avert our eyes from the train wreck that comprises about 90% of the contestants, or that we appreciate the heart and soul of the ones who are genuinely talented; or maybe we just love to hate house villain Simon Cowell and his caustic put-downs. Good, bad, or whatever, American Idol really is the phenomenon it claims to be. And with some ten hours of material spread out over three discs--there's so much stuff here that even the bonus features have bonus features--this overview of the first four seasons will surely satisfy even the most ardent fans.
Disc One, The Best Of, takes us from the first step in the process (the cattle-call try-outs so popular they need stadiums to accommodate all the hopefuls) through the initial auditions and interviews with judges Cowell, Randy Jackson, and Paula Abdul to the performances seen on the telecasts themselves--including those by eventual winners Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard, Fantasia Barrino, and Carrie Underwood, as well as runners-up Bo Bice and Clay Aiken, among others. In other words, nothing unexpected.
Indeed, for many viewers, Disc Two (The Worst Of) will likely be the favorite. For it is here that the set focuses on our fascination with the profoundly clueless, those utterly untalented folks who make us squirm with their outlandish self-delusion and willingness, nay eagerness, to humiliate themselves on TV (epitomized by William "She Bangs" Hung, the so-bad-he's-good sideshow that’s depressing on so many levels), only to then find themselves genuinely astonished and angry when they fail to make the cut.
Finally, Disc Three includes an interview with Abdul, "homecoming" footage featuring Underwood and Bice, and additional interviews from the fourth season.
If American Idol has a dirty little secret (aside from Abdul's personal life), it's that the show hasn't produced a single artist with not just a good voice but an original one--a Norah Jones, an Alicia Keys, a John Mayer, someone can play and write as well as sing. But then, that's not what the show is about; we're frequently reminded that this is "a singing competition," pure and simple.
Which brings us to what may well be this exhaustive (and perhaps exhausting, too) set's defining moment: When a particularly awful "singer" begs to do another tune, Cowell says, "There's only so much punishment a human being can take." Replies the contestant: "No, I can take a lot more." --Sam Graham