LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The suicide of a former “American Idol” tryout contestant has raised questions about the humiliation dealt out by the popular TV talent show to aspiring singers, some of whom may be emotionally on the edge.
Early audition episodes of “American Idol”, the top-rated show in the United States, feature as many terrible singers as talented ones to the delight of its 30 million weekly viewers.
Tone-deaf and eccentric performers often find themselves on the blunt end of ridicule from the show’s judges, especially British record producer Simon Cowell.
Paula Goodspeed, 30, was one of them. Goodspeed auditioned in 2005 saying she was a big fan of “Idol” judge Paula Abdul. On Tuesday night, she was found dead in a car of an apparent drug overdose outside Abdul’s Los Angeles home.
Some psychologists said this week that her audition — in which Cowell commented on her braces and asked how she could sing with “that much metal”— should never have been televised.
“For someone that may have an unstable personality or not a clear, solid sense of themselves or self-esteem, that can really destroy them,” said therapist Julie Albright, a lecturer at the University of Southern California.
“These are young people that are hanging their hopes on being accepted,” Albright said.
On her MySpace page, Goodspeed later wrote about Internet comments “bashing” her for her braces and her singing. “I have to believe there is something good about me,” she wrote.
After her body was found, authorities said she had a history of mental illness and an obsession with Abdul.
“What happens is these shows attract and choose the people who are most psychologically vulnerable,” said Dr. Carole Lieberman, a Beverly Hills psychiatrist. “Because their meltdown is more likely to be fascinating on camera.”
“A good psychiatrist would have screened out this woman, Paula, who ultimately killed herself, because they would have seen how over-involved she was, how over-enmeshed she was with Paula Abdul,” said Lieberman, who has worked on TV talk shows.
“American Idol” screens and counsels contestants who are chosen to advance to the Hollywood stage of the competition, industry sources said. But the first, open auditions attract tens of thousands of performers hoping for their big break, making screening out the emotionally unstable a daunting task.
Fremantle Media, the company that produces “Idol,” declined to comment. Abdul said in a statement she was “shocked and saddened” by Goodspeed’s death. “My heart goes out to her family,” she said.
Goodspeed is not the first former reality show participant to commit suicide.
In 2004, Kellie McGee killed herself after making disparaging comments about her sister’s looks on the former ABC show “Extreme Makeover,” which had participants undergo plastic surgery. McGee’s family have said the shame of her comments lead to the suicide, especially since her sister’s planned makeover was canceled.
Andy Dehnart, who runs the Web site Realityblurred.com, said many television reality shows offer counseling to help participants deal with wrenching moments.
“The best shows are concerned about their cast members, because they’re only as good as their cast members,” he said.
Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Jill Serjeant