'American Idol': Did Show Producers Plot the Jermaine Jones Scandal in Advance? (Opinion)
Ask skeptics why the "gentle giant" is being sent home, and plenty smell a classic reality show ratings ploy.
It had the makings of a Greek tragedy: Jermaine Jones, “the gentle giant,” as Ryan Seacrest dubbed the six-foot-eight-inch bass singer, was handed a much coveted second chance to compete for a spot on one of the world’s biggest stages. He was hoping to be American Idol’s answer to X Factor’s Melanie Amaro -- herself a finalist sent home after auditions who was asked back and went on to win the show’s inaugural season -- motivated in large part by the rejection. And like Amaro, Jones had a big name on his side, judge Jennifer Lopez, who gave him a standing ovation at the end of his Top 25 performance of Luther Vandross’ “Dance With My Father” -- 90 seconds of song that would usher him into the Top 13 the following week. Ironically, it may have been Jermaine Jones’ father who would ultimately lead to his hasty dismissal from the show.
The controversy started in the early hours of Tuesday, when TMZ reported on the contestant’s alleged “Daddy issues,” calling into question the 25-year-old’s “sob story” -- that he and his mother were abandoned by his father a decade earlier. Following an earlier story that his father had shown up to the March 8 show out of the blue, and that Jermaine was said to be “extremely upset about it,” the site spoke with Kevin Jones who said he actually had an ongoing relationship with his son and the two had gone to dinner only days earlier, on the same nights when he was seated in the audience.
Fast forward some 15 hours later and word leaks, through the ever-reliable Idol faucet, that Jermaine Jones was concealing a criminal incident that pre-dates his Idol run: that he may have been arrested twice, involved in a violent act and gave a fake name to cops. Moments after, Jermaine tweeted, "Awww I will no longer b on the show." Later that night, his Twitter account was deleted.
Naturally, Jermaine’s purported lies were said to have incensed Idol’s “production people” and triggered further digging into his background, but here’s a thought: maybe they planned his exit this way all along. The whole 25th candidate was weird to begin with and got sprung on the audience with absolutely no warning, not typical of how Idol operates. And why Jermaine? Chatter among Idol fans and pundits had pointed to Johnny Keyser as the more likely second-chancer. Even if he did continue singing while his Hollywood Week group partner passed out, he had the looks, an athlete’s body and a good voice. You might call that a winning combination.
Jermaine’s style of vocals was 180 degrees from any of his fellow finalists, but there’s no doubt he had talent -- and attitude. Viewers at home saw the latter firsthand when Jermaine was asked about Jimmy Iovine’s sometimes harsh assessments of season 11’s Top 13 and told Seacrest he "kind of disagreed" with the Interscope chief's comments. He was basically repeating the judges’ own opinion of the Idol Iovine, but perhaps it was a case of “Er, we can say that, you can’t.”
Then there was the deluge of negative stories on Tuesday, which came so fast and furious, it was starting to feel a little like a calculated campaign, capped off with the dramatic news: it would be the end of the road for Jermaine. It’s believed he’ll say a final goodbye on the show Wednesday night, and that in itself is worth tuning in for.
Which brings us to another reason why producers may have purposely set in motion a cruel charade: ratings. For the first time, the ratings powerhouse is getting beat in TV’s key demo -- and to make it sting that much more: by another singing competition, The Voice. Granted, the two won’t be up against each other on Wednesday, and Idol’s ratings were up a healthy 12% last week to 18.5 million viewers when the Top 13 kicked off, but there’s no doubt momentum is on NBC’s side, and with that, a healthy mid-March boost for Idol on the back of a nasty mini-scandal may be just what the ratings doctor ordered.
Lastly, what are the chances that Idol’s producers, team of background checkers and lawyers would miss two arrests, possibly as-yet-unresolved? As we’ve heard about the process from insiders and former contestants, it’s not only an incredibly long procedure, but one that has been described certainly as thorough and often as “invasive.” All potential contestants are warned that if they do not divulge everything, they will be disqualified. Jermaine received fair warning too, no doubt, but it’s also possible that the producers knew of his criminal past and chose to keep his history secret -- a card stowed in their back pocket to be pulled out only in case of emergency (or if he’s eliminated, whichever comes first).
So what happens now that they’re a week short of a pre-Memorial Day weekend wrap? Will the judges’ save result in the loss of one finalist, not two the following week, as in years past? Or will they bring back another contestant to up the drama, however manufactured it might be? (Our vote is for Creighton Fraker!) Fat chance, but maybe they’ll consider ending the season one week earlier and allow their judges and hundreds of staff some much-deserved time off? Finally, three words: Idol Gives Back. We’ll find out soon enough.
It’s believed Jermaine will say a final goodbye on Wednesday’s show, but in that moment -- whether live or pretaped -- it’s important to remember the human element in this story and how difficult it is to go from being on top of the world one minute and vilified the next. The emotional impact it can have on even a giant like Jermaine must be an incredibly heavy burden to bear, even if he did do something very wrong in his past. Here’s hoping there’s enough in the show’s budget to at least cover some psychotherapy.
What do you think, Idol Worshipers? Could Jermaine’s disqualification be a premeditated ploy or was the show really deceived and caught off-guard?