All day, the gossip has been unfolding about the woman found dead in her car outside of Paula Abdul’s house last night of an apparent suicide. As more and more details have made into the press, the sadder and sadder the whole thing has become. The young woman, Paula Goodspeed, was apparently obsessed with Paula Abdul to the point of stalking her, and when her parents reported her missing to the police they suggested that someone check Paula’s house. To make matters more unbearable, Paula Goodspeed appeared on American Idol as one of the unwitting contestants who’s used for comedic relief in the audition episodes because of how ashamed they should be to have such outsized dreams unbefitting their lack of talent. Inevitably, someone has dug up the video of Goodspeed on American Idol. It’s macabre.

As a website that spends most of its time heaping onto the humiliation suffered by reality TV participants, contestants, stars, and would-be stars, it’s hard to take the moral highground and criticize American Idol for its callous lack of respect for the sensitivities of human beings, but let’s.

The fact is that most reality shows, while definitely being aware of the potential for embarrassment that awaits their attention-starved casts–thus the copious amounts of free alcohol in every McMansion, not to mention VH1′s use of fart sound effects and MacPaint graphics–most shows nevertheless refrain from too much editorializing. Well, wait, let me be a little more careful, because obviously reality TV is nothing but one long editorial. We’re all well aware of the heavy handed editing to the point of fabrication used to create sentences, characters, feuds, and storylines. There is no such thing as a reality show that lets you be the sole arbiter of opinion. They all work hard to guide you towards the desired emotional response.

BUT, there is something particularly insidious about the audition episodes of American Idol that IS somewhat unique in the reality TV field. Because from the tens of thousands of people who audition to be on the show, a few are handpicked by producers FOR THE SOLE PURPOSE OF being pointed at and laughed at by a willing nation. They don’t even get to compete. To the best of my understanding of the American Idol process, by the time anyone actually sees Simon, Randy, and Paula, they’ve already been pre-screened in a preliminary audition by some sub-producers. So it was those people who decide which of the would-be contestants is so ridiculous as to be deserving of total humiliation and verbal degradation on national television.

Now, again, for the most part, anyone who puts themselves forward for a reality TV show knows what they are getting into at this point. This isn’t season one of the Real World. The rules are well known, and most people who participate in these shows get exactly what they deserve. And to be sure, the resulting competition of American Idol, with its focus on wholesome garbage pop and the supposedly meritocratic search for genuine talent, for however much it’s actually just a cashgrab of exploitative recording contracts and Coke endorsements, is still WAY more good-natured than, say, Celebreality. But it is precisely the dichotomy presented by American Idol that has made reality TV such a horrible and destructive force in our society. It holds out the promise of fame and fortune, encouraging people to strive for their dreams and insisting that anyone can succeed. But at the same time, it makes sure that the audience laughs at the frustration and fosters the humiliation that the average person often confronts just for trying. In reality, people get beaten down again and again, and it’s not necessarily true that anyone can succeed. Lots of people can’t. But if you didn’t keep that hopeful dream alive, then how would you get the sad ones to show up so that you could make fun of them?

What happened to Paula Goodspeed was obviously the result of way more factors than simply her uncomfortable appearance on the show. That was just a chilling sidenote. But her death is a painful reminders of how the pleasantly nasty thrill of schadenfreude that makes up so much of reality TV’s appeal is based largely on the pain and suffering of human beings. And that is sad. And that is our fault. Not hers.

Comments (28)
  1. Whoa. Seriousgum all up in this bitch. This essentially proves my theory that reality TV is what is ruining society. We are one step away from “Ow, My Balls!”

  2. Njoy  |   Posted on Nov 12th, 2008 0

    Wow this brought to mind the trial that will take place for the disgusting mother who posed as a child on myspace to harass and humiliate that girl who in the end committed suicide. Throw the producers of AI in jail.

  3. You know, watching that AFTER the story of her death is kind of chilling and depressing. Instead of laughing like I would have during the airing of said sad humiliation, I feel quite awful for this troubled girl. Wow. Sad.

  4. Simon is so mean, you guys!

  5. TC  |   Posted on Nov 12th, 2008 +5

    Ricky Gervais already said this much better last year in the Extras Finale:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffY73nkdrmM

    ?The Victorian freak show never went away,? Millman rails in a soliloquy that serves as a climax of the ?Extras? final episode and a moment of redemption for the character, whose life and friendships have been corrupted by fame. ?Now it?s called ?Big Brother? or ?American Idol,? where in the preliminary rounds we wheel out the bewildered to be snickered at by multimillionaires.?

    To the networks, he says: ?You can?t wash your hands of this. You can?t keep going, ?Oh, it?s exploitation, but it?s what the public wants.? No.?

  6. I feel that this is a very thoughtful and affecting essay, that is undermined by the apparent sensationalism of the title.

  7. Bryan  |   Posted on Nov 12th, 2008 0

    I feel divided, in that none of this reality show public humiliation would be possible without an audience to support it… but on the other hand this fact should not influence the decision of what’s morally right for a television station to do. It all comes down to money.

  8. Paul  |   Posted on Nov 12th, 2008 +1

    They might be sued for as much as an angry jury would be willing to award. I bet that Fox “solves” this liability issue by turing up the fake: getting actors to play the isolated, fragile people that AI likes to humiliate. That would be a good kind of fake.

  9. Zeno  |   Posted on Nov 12th, 2008 -9

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

  10. the one where you meet paula&simon&randy is audition #3. and you have to wear the same clothes in all of them so when they piece together the show it looks like one day [someone i know has tried out a few times]

  11. contestant  |   Posted on Nov 12th, 2008 -3

    I’M A CONTESTANT
    SON OF A BITCH RANDY
    AMERICAN IDOL IS PIG
    DO YOU WANT A SONG?
    DO YOU WANT A MOCKERY?
    AMERICAN IDOL IS PIG DISGUSTING
    SIMON COWELL IS A MURDERER
    FUCKING REALITY TV

  12. luke  |   Posted on Nov 12th, 2008 0

    simon was just plain rude,
    its disgusting he could humiliate someone like that knowong the world would see it

  13. This seems like something out of a George Saunders short story that would distress you. But in the back of your head you really didn’t think it could happen. But it has.

    There are so many fingers to point, stones to throw. But this is not just inherent to right now. This type of behavior has been going on for decades (just check out Chuck Barris’ resume) . I don’t understand how some people can sleep at night.

    Something is deeply wrong with the world when Simon Cowell can spit and tear someone’s dreams apart and he is rewarded by society and producers with millions of dollars and porn-star girlfriends (although here’s hoping some creepy-crawlies have wormed their way in).

    But just like Journey, don’t stop believing. Barack Obama is President Elect. Things can happen.

  14. I followed one of the links to TMZ for more info, and I noticed a comment under the article that said “WHACKO” and scrolled down some to read a few more. It made me very very sad.

    I see people talk shit on here about bands they hate or what have you, but these were just a whole other level of just….vitriol and just utter disregard. It’s unbelievable. I just can’t understand what would drive a person to say this kind of shit.

  15. indie500  |   Posted on Nov 13th, 2008 0

    “It holds out the promise of fame and fortune, encouraging people to strive for their dreams and insisting that anyone can succeed. But at the same time, it makes sure that the audience laughs at the frustration and fosters the humiliation that the average person often confronts just for trying. In reality, people get beaten down again and again, and it’s not necessarily true that anyone can succeed. Lots of people can’t”

    Haven’t you just described ‘the american dream’?
    Not that i’m mocking the tragic story of this woman, but do you really not see the parallels?

  16. Rich  |   Posted on Nov 13th, 2008 +1

    :(
    This video is even more :( than the “:(” video. :( :( :(

  17. IJzer  |   Posted on Nov 13th, 2008 0

    In the video she has a rather manic facial expression, reminds me of a borderline girl who lives down the block from me, about the same age too, I think it’s quite clear that this girl had quite a few mental problems before this.
    It was inevitable that someone like this would come by the show and off herself, this was just a matter of time. It’s kind of sad, but the victorian freakshow will go on, I wonder what Paula Abdul’s reaction to this is.

  18. Curu  |   Posted on Nov 13th, 2008 -1

    Oh boohoo. The girl knew what she was risking. It’s not like she’d never seen AI before or didn’t know how brutal the comments can be. If she wasn’t prepared to take the critisism, she had nothing to do there in the first place. She most likely sat watching earlier auditions laughing at others who made a fool of themselves.
    Fuck you people trying to take the moral high ground. It’s not like you’re gonna stop watching the auditions and laughing at ppl. It’s like those assholes who purposely break speed limits for kicks. Sure, it’s all fun and games, until something serious happens. Then it’s Oh so tragic.
    And Fox or any part of AI are no more responsible for this than Marilyn Manson and horror movies were for Columbine.
    The only ones I feel sorry for are the friends and family of the girl.

  19. “You have *so much* metal in your mouth.”

  20. Theo Roosevelt  |   Posted on Nov 14th, 2008 0

    I blame Judas Priest

  21. American Idol should be destroyed. It celebrates the trained-seal school of music and encourages people to listen to gutless, soulless shit. It is a pre-emptive strike on good music of the future.

  22. lauren allison  |   Posted on Dec 7th, 2008 0

    First of all you do not have to have your name printed on a “Star” @ The Chinese Theater in Hollywood to be someone of honor or greatness ie:(Alexander Hamilton). It’s a shame that people (teens even) feel that in order to be someone of good they need to be “Famous”, but they don’t. You can do MANY great things with your life besides trying to be the “next” Lindsay Lohan who does nothing more than blows all her millions on, yeah, BLOW!! Wow Linds, now that is pure special, you’re so talented *rolls eyes*. Anyways, you can work @ McDonalds & STILL lead a very successful, happy, & most important HEALTHY life!

  23. lauren allison  |   Posted on Dec 7th, 2008 0

    First of all you do not have to have your name printed on a “Star” @ The Chinese Theater in Hollywood to be someone of honor or greatness ie:(Alexander Hamilton). It’s a shame that people (teens even) feel that in order to be someone of good they need to be “Famous”, but they don’t. You can do MANY great things with your life besides trying to be the “next” Lindsay Lohan who does nothing more than blows all her millions on, yeah, BLOW!! Wow Linds, now that is pure special, you’re so talented *rolls eyes*. Anyways, you can work @ McDonalds & STILL lead a very successful, happy, & most important HEALTHY life!

  24. chriskaye  |   Posted on Jan 20th, 2009 0

    I couldn’t bear it – it was too painful. I hate to see people be mocked, god*amit. She was no kid either, and yes, I felt the imbalance her her. How *ucking cruel.

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