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In reality-TV contests, ratings trump talent

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I don't like "American Idol," but I do like Vote for the Worst, which provides super snarky commentary on the show. Ardent "American Idol" fans hate the website as its purpose is to keep the most entertaining yet unstarlike contestants on the show to make it more amusing.

Two weeks ago, VFTW championed Heejun Han for his performance of Billy Joel's "My Life." I decided to check it out on YouTube, and it was quite entertaining. Heejun doesn't have a great voice but, thanks to Auto-Tune, that hardly matters in the music industry anymore. What he did have was great energy, showmanship and a sense of fun. I posted the clip on Facebook and commented, "I would vote for him."

One of my friends definitely did not feel the same way. He felt it was insulting that Heejun survived when Erika Van Pelt, who he thought was an excellent singer, got the boot. Whether she is or not, though, doesn't really matter, because "American Idol" is only marginally about the singing.

Go ahead, "Idol" fans, get mad if you want. But it's true.

Like all reality competitions, talent -- be it as a singer, dancer, clothing designer or what have you -- is secondary to the real purpose: getting ratings. It doesn't matter how good -- or bad -- the contestants are. As long as the ratings are there, the networks aren't going to care.

For instance, Heejun could have gone all the way (not that he would have), and they wouldn't have cared. I'm sure they weren't bothered by Sanjaya Malakar's baffling run in season six, either. Heck, William Hung could have made it into the Top 10 in season three, and they probably wouldn't have minded. All that matters to them is that people are watching so that they can rake in the cash from advertisers.

The producers of a show like "American Idol" might not be all that thrilled with this because they do have to work with the winners for at least one album. But again, does it really matter that much? If they're terrible, the label can drop them after that first release. (Just ask season nine's Lee DeWyze.)

Most of the Idols fade into relative obscurity after that. The first season of "Idol" was subtitled "The Search for a Superstar," but in 11 seasons, it hasn't been too successful in finding that. Very few Idols have lasting mainstream success, and only two -- Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood -- have transcended the Idol title to become bonafide superstars.

What "Idol" has been successful in, though, is drawing ratings: last year it was the most-watched network primetime program for the eighth straight year. As VFTW says on its "About Us" page, "'American Idol' is not about singing at all; it's about making good reality TV and enjoying a guilty pleasure." Whether you like the site or think it's evil, you can't argue with that. Like it or not, viewers, not talent, are what ultimately matter.

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Scripted series premieres: "Scandal," 10 p.m. today, ABC (D.C.-set drama about a political crisis management firm); "The Client List," 10 p.m. Sunday, Lifetime (Jennifer Love Hewitt drama about a woman working in a spa/brothel); "Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23," 9:30 p.m. Wednesday (a naive Midwesterner moves in with a party girl con artist in NYC).

Reality series premieres: "Southern Nights," 10 p.m. Saturday, CMT (10 singles live in a Savannah mansion); "The Pitch," 10 p.m. Sunday, AMC (ad agency competition); "Mama's Boys in the Bronx," 10 p.m. Monday, TLC (men still living with their parents): "Jesse James: Outlaw Garage," 10 p.m. Monday, Discovery (custom bikes and cars); "Hotel Impossible," 10 p.m. Monday, Travel Channel (hospitality expert helps struggling hotels); "Shannen Says," 10 p.m. Tuesday, WE (Shannen Doherty's wedding); "Dream Machines," 10 p.m. Tuesday, Syfy (recreating vehicles from movies and TV); "Big Easy Justice," 10 p.m. Tuesday, Spike (bounty hunting); "Sold!," 9 p.m. Wednesday, History Channel (auctioneers).

Season premieres: "Shark Men," 8 p.m. Saturday, National Geographic; "Texas Women," 9 p.m. Saturday, CMT; "Man vs. Food Nation," 9 p.m. Wednesday, Travel Channel.

Returning: "The Finder," 8 p.m. Friday, Fox; "Glee," 8 p.m. Tuesday, Fox; "Law & Order: SVU," 10 p.m. Wednesday, NBC.

Special time: "GCB," 9 p.m. Sunday, ABC (two hours).

Season finales: "CSI: Miami," 10 p.m. Sunday, CBS (possible series finale); "Being Human," 9 p.m., and "Lost Girls," 10 p.m. Monday, Syfy; "Justified," 10 p.m. Tuesday, FX; "Body of Proof," 10 p.m. Tuesday, ABC (possible series finale); "Psych," 10 p.m. Wednesday, USA.

RMS Titanic specials: "Titanic: The Final Word with James Cameron," 8 p.m. Sunday, National Geographic; "Save the Titanic with Bob Ballard," 10 p.m. Monday, National Geographic; "The Titanic with Len Goodman," 8 p.m., and "Saving the Titanic," 9 p.m. Tuesday, PBS; "Titanic Belfast: Birthplace of a Legend," 8 p.m., and "The Iceberg that Sank the Titanic," 9 p.m. Tuesday, PBS2.

Of note: "Revenge: From the Beginning," 10 p.m. Wednesday, will catch you up before new episodes return April 18.

West Virginia alert: "Toddlers & Tiaras" is at Charleston's Southern Celebrity Winter Fairytale Pageant, 10 p.m. Wednesday, TLC. St. Albans' Ava Warner is one of three out of 96 contestants featured.

Reach Amy Robinson at flipside@wvgazette.com.


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