At first brush, after reading comments from American Idol Season 5 runner-up Katharine McPhee, whose second single “Love Story” we actually didn’t mind, we wondered, “Has this girl ever met Adam Lambert?” That’s because she was there, in an interview with a chintzy nightlife magazine, going on about how gay Idol contestants should stay in the closet if they have any hope of advancing. And that’s when we read her subsequent remarks, about how contestants should keep almost all of their personal lives locked up from the audience.
Idol, which after this season says goodbye to Simon Cowell, is the rare reality show that actually hides most of what goes on backstage and in the personal lives of contesants. In the era of Real World and Survivor, Idol helped shape the American reality singing contest marketplace, and did so by keeping the cameras rolling only during the live broadcast, letting viewers see the stage only. (Okay, rehersals with celebrity guests are also aired.) Unless a contestant’s personal life winds up leaking via MySpace or YouTube (as it did with McPhee and Lambert), there is never much personal information released outside Idol‘s very, very carefully manicured image making. That’s why we knew through the show that Idol winner Kris Allen was married, but not that Adam Lambert had a boyfriend (that, we learned on MySpace.)
So when McPhee says to NightTimez magazine (via) that, despite Ellen DeGeneres joining the show, Idol isn’t about to become the most gay friendly environment, she also argues it’s not the most friendly environment for any personal details that might distract fans from the singing. Revealing your sexuality on the show is “a tricky thing I can only compare to someone who’s really spiritual or religious: You don’t need to wear your religion on your sleeve. The competition is not about your faith or your sexuality but about you as an artist.” She adds: “Look, I think everyone knew Adam Lambert was gay. I don’t feel it was a big surprise, and I think Adam did the right thing by coming out with that Rolling Stone cover. He was just as flamboyant on the show as he is now, but anytime you say too much about your personal stuff, it can hinder you in the competition. If people saw the pictures of me being crazy in college with my gay friends and my girlfriends, they’d probably think differently of me on the show. So it’s a fine line you have to follow on a reality show competition when all of America is voting.”
It’s not about being the gay one on the show. It’s about being the anything one on the show, where any personal allegiance or identity can be a liability. McPhee’s argument: Sing your songs, and let your talent stand for itself, and don’t go confusing the voting audience with your personal life. Choose your American Idol, then, based on who’s the best singer, not who’s overshared on the Internet.