By Kimberly Potts
Exhaustion, frustration, lack of sleep — along with inevitable personality clashes — they’re always a part of Hollywood Week, the most stressful portion of “American Idol‘s” audition rounds.
But a rampant bout of the flu also traveled through the contestant pool in Season 11. The result: less singing and more fainting.
One contestant, Imani Handy, collapsed twice in Wednesday’s episode — once in rehearsal, only to be sent back on stage by her mother where she collapsed again. Thankfully, she was eliminated by the judges, despite her pleas to continue.
Also during Hollywood Week we got Symone Black tumbling off a stage and Christian Lopez vomiting into a trash can — one of a number of contestants who fell victim to “Idol” flu. One contestant, Skyler Laine, was taken to the hospital with dehydration, then returned to the stage with what looked like the white hospital band still on her wrist.
But instead of offering the freaked out wannabes — many of whom are under 18 — a sick day to recover, “Idol” kept the competition churning, even as the singers were literally working themselves sick.
We’d almost think it was staged if it were a lesser reality show, couldn’t, or rather, shouldn’t, have producers at least put the production on hold to let the young and afflicted get their groove back?
No. Instead, they seemed to revel in it, replaying the hurling and collapsing over and over hoping to keep viewers glued to their sets.
“Idol’s” response to complaints last week — before the full extent of damage to contestants was seen in its fullest Wednesday night?
“I’m shocked that they still don’t realize how tough Hollywood Week is,” said executive producer Nigel Lythgoe in a media conference call. “A lot of it, I think, is to do with geographic circumstances of being East Coast kids coming to the West Coast … not realizing how dry it is and especially with our winter this year, it’s been so sort of hot, that they’re just not drinking enough.
“And most of our people passing out … they were dropping like flies. There’s no question about it … but they just weren’t drinking, and it’s all dehydration, basically.”
Well, dehydration and the flu.
“Amy Rumsfeld became ill, and she certainly passed a bug around, which didn’t help,” Lythgoe said. “People were vomiting. But the passing out was purely down to either stupidity or dehydration. When I say, ‘stupidity,’ if you drink five bottles of (5-Hour Energy), the vitamin thing that keeps you awake for five hours, if you have five of those and don’t eat, it’s not going to help. And that was just one of the parents, for God’s sake.
“I mean, it’s just a surprise that people don’t realize what they’re going to be put through, because we haven’t changed it, and yet it’s still that sleep deprivation the night that they’ve got to work. The best ones were going to bed by 11:30, 12 o’clock, and the ones that sucked when they started and sucked when they finished were going to bed at 3:45, 4 o’clock in the morning.”
Fox had no comment for this story.
Not everyone sees it like Lythgoe.
“‘American Idol’ looks benign, because people think of it more as a talent show than a reality series, but they have a responsibility to the contestants,” Dr. James Huysman, a psychologist who specializes in the aftercare of people who’ve appeared on reality TV, told TheWrap. “These shows earn millions of dollars, and it’s these people, the (contestants), who are responsible for that, for creating all those jobs. And when these contestants are under 18, you have a special obligation to them, to make sure they’re OK.”
So, flu or not, that’s how Hollywood Week goes — especially since the Hollywood episodes have led “Idol” to higher ratings than it was earning earlier in the season, it’s a safe bet that it will continue to be one portion of the “AI” season that doesn’t undergo any major reshuffling.
So what’s a future “AI” contestant to do when heading into that nerve-jangling, immune system-testing part of the “Idol” process?
Steer clear of fellow singers who live in tents in the woods?