Saying Goodbye to Simon Cowell, a (Painful) Truth Teller

Thursday, May 27, 2010

On Wednesday night, another season of American Idol ended and a new star was born. To make it to the top they all had to accept the hard showbiz truth from the Darth Vader of entertainment, Simon Cowell. As Simon Cowell leaves "American Idol," John Hockenberry looks at why, despite his cruel truth-telling, Cowell is so beloved.

Like Meryl Streep in "The Devil Wears Prada," those who can tell it like it is hold a dear place in our hearts. However, there are some things we just don't want to hear. In politics, for example, we prefer to be lied to. Journey through the media with us as we listen to some of our favorite (and least-loved) truth-tellers.

So Last night another season of American Idol ended and a new star was born. To make it to the top they all had to accept the hard showbiz truth from Uncle Simon, the Darth Vader of entertainment. Simon Cowell, whose signature is the helpful, confidence-boosting remark, like this one, encouraging a contestant to sue her singing teacher.

Cowell is leaving American Idol. He's a producing icon, beyond rich, who will hardly disappear. But there was all kinds of emotion surrounding the departure of the prickly cactus of the Idol. No more guy you could count on for tough, honest, this...

Which raises the question: Forget American Idol, how important is it to have that person who will say the tough thing and be honest, when you need it most? You kind of want a Simon Cowelly-type around like a coach. Like Jim Mora, inspiring his Indianopolis Colts with some very reversed psychology:

Tough like a military commander who pulls no punches.

Or the teacher who simply drives you crazy with humiliation. Here's John Houseman "The Paper Chase:"

You fall in love with such characters because somehow, deep down, their honesty is a begrudging, brambly, maddening form of affection. And once you've felt that mixture of authority, contempt and regard, you sign up for more. Here's my favorite: Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada ...

Ouch. We don't always want to be told the truth. In politics we prefer to be lied to. Walter Mondale found that out the hard way back in 1984.

Remember President Mondale? Nope. Our Simon Cowell's are not in politics, perhaps that's because we want the honest, tell-it-like-it-is person you can trust to say that you really blew it, close by. As poet William Blake once said a long time ago, "Opposition is true friendship."

He'll be missed. "American Idol's" true friend.


John Hockenberry

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