Last week, Jennifer Lopez had barely tried her tears after having to emotionally eliminate "American Idol" sympathy case Chris Medina (the contestant with the disabled fiancée, aka the sobbiest "Idol" sob story ever), when it was announced that a rush-released single and music video by Chris would actually be available in just the next couple of days. The song, "What Are Words," turned out to be a composition by superstar producer Rodney Jerkins (Britney, Janet, Beyoncé, Gaga, J.Lo herself), reportedly written specifically for Chris after Rodney was inspired by Chris's life story. (Some of the lyrics, like "what kind of guy would I be if I was to leave when you need me most," even seemed directly lifted from sentences Chris uttered during his first "Idol" interview/bio piece.) Soon Chris was hitting the promotional trail hard, with a series of interviews and performances on "The Tonight Show," "Regis & Kelly," and the like.
This is all fine and good. Some proceeds from "What Are Words," which came out last Thursday, will go to the Laurus Foundation to help pay for the medical costs of Chris's brain-damaged, paralyzed fiancée, Juliana Ramos. And that's wonderful; that poor girl needs all the help she can get. But this whole situation still seems a little suspicious to me.
When Chris first auditioned for "Idol," cynics accused him of exploiting Juliana's situation to further his "Idol" chances. I was never willing to go there, and I still am not. I believe Chris's intentions were, and are, honorable. But it's pretty obvious to me by now that the "Idol" powers-that-be are exploiting Chris and Juliana's story for their own gain.
Allow me to explain. See, Jimmy Iovine, the Universal Records honcho who is now "Idol's" in-house mentor, and whose record label will now put out albums by future "Idol" finalists, has spoken repeatedly about immediacy. Under Jimmy's rule, there will be no more six-month lag-times between an "Idol" season's end and the contestants finally putting out their records. So here is my theory: I believe Jimmy didn't think Chris was good enough to win "Idol" in the end--or maybe he just didn't want another nice guy with a guitar to prevail for a fourth season--but Jimmy knew that if Chris struck while the iron was white-hot, RIGHT NOW, capitalizing on the momentum of both that emotional first audition and equally tearjerking Green Mile elimination, Universal could sell some records. Probably a lot more records than if Chris had continued on the show and started to get upstaged by more dynamic contestants.
I'll even go so far to say that Chris was eliminated on purpose, with an ulterior motive, just to set up Jimmy's marketing plan. And I must say, it's a pretty brilliant marketing plan--if a very, very transparent one. In this Iovine age of immediacy, I honestly wouldn't be surprised if we see post-elimination singles from several other handpicked "Idol" castoffs before this season is over. Imagine if such a strategy had been in place when past talented sob-story contestants like Angela Martin (the girl whose father died and whose mother went missing) or Josiah Leming (the kid who lived in his car and whose mother had terminal cancer) had been granted such opportunities immediately after they'd been controversially cut from the competition.
But overall, this manipulation on "Idol's" part leaves me feeling a tad uneasy. I don't like the idea that the emotions of Chris, J.Lo, viewers, and even Juliana herself might have been played with, with a fake cliffhanger elimination, just to shift some units. Perhaps it's naive of me to react this way, considering that emotional manipulation is nothing new on "American Idol" or any other reality show...but this time it just seems too blatant.
I wonder if Chris himself feels a little toyed with. I suppose it doesn't matter. Now it's just time for him to grab this opportunity and RUN with it. And who can blame him? Although it would have been nice if he'd been able to release one of his many own compositions (like "What Has Become Of Me," which he wrote for Juliana while she was still hospitalized in a coma in 2009) so he could collect full songwriting royalties, I'm glad some good can come of this and he can earn some money for Juliana, and possibly quickly kickstart his post-"Idol" career. I just hope Universal doesn't drop him after one quickie single as Iovine moves on to other pet projects. Chris and Juliana deserve better than that.