“You will never, ever, ever, ever have a career in singing,” Simon Cowell once scowled at a contestant. “There are only so many words I can drag out of my vocabulary to say how awful that was,” he said to another. “Who’s your vocal teacher? Get a lawyer and sue her.”
Those words hit Kelly Clarkson hard. “I was just so happy because the British man didn’t make me cry” were the relieved words the then-unknown singer uttered after nervously completing her “forgetful” American Idol audition in May of 2002. That “British man” was Simon Cowell, the tough-as-nails Idol judge from across the pond who seemingly didn’t get excited for anything or anyone. In fact, by the second round, Simon didn’t even remember Clarkson, who just sang Aretha Franklin’s signature rendition of Otis Redding’s “Respect.” “I honestly don’t know what to say. You have a good voice, but I couldn’t remember you from the previous rounds,” he said. That would soon change.
American Idol debuted June 2002, which was odd back then because most new shows premiered between the traditional television season period of September and May. However, Idol was a reality show and Fox needed cheap programming to fill up both their summer schedule and their pockets. Idol perfectly fit the bill because reality TV is cheaper to produce than scripted shows. Upon airing, the U.S. version of the British smash Pop Idol series was tuned into by nearly 10 million people who wanted to see bad guy Cowell mercilessly crush the dreams of America’s most talentless and mediocre bunch.