Newsmakers

Q&A: Jewel Jewel had a ringside seat to the fights as the season's first "Idol" guest judge. She's also the cohost of the kinder country knockoff, "Nashville Star." She spoke to Ramin Setoodeh.

It really is heartbreaking, seeing those kids walk out of there dejected.

I thought a lot of the contestants were going to know they sucked and do it as a joke. I was shocked at the seriousness of them. They really, really believed they were going to win. The difference between the two--what they are, what they think they are--is so great, there's no way to bridge it. All of a sudden you're shattering somebody's perception of themselves.

They let through people who believe in themselves, and they're not necessarily great.

Simon's always Simon.

I only had to do one 10-hour day. My guess is, they've been traveling a lot and their nerves grew thin.

Simon is great. He knows what he's doing. I think a lot of what he says is accurate. I just think sometimes he goes overboard to be mean.

No! We got along pretty good. We were all teasing each other.

I am. We have a taping tonight, so we're starting to get into glam.

Now, what have I ever done to you to deserve that?

Was Dayna Dooley sleeping with her boss? You'd expect that question from Jerry Springer--but from "American Idol"? That's what the leering "Idol" judges implied when Dooley told them her boss paid for her trip to audition. "I didn't think it was right to do that to my character," Dooley said in an interview with NEWSWEEK. "My boss told me he couldn't sleep." "Idol" used to be the most wholesome hit in America. This year it's turned into the singing version of "Mean Girls." The producers seem to pick contestants purely for their freak value, and the judges laugh in their faces--and behind their backs. "I woke up the next day with hives all over my back," says Jessica Rhode, who dissolved into tears after the judges humiliated her for trying to sound like Jewel. "I just think it's kind of a big joke now." More cases in point: Kenneth Briggs ("You look like one of those creatures that live in the jungle," Simon said) and voice teacher Stephen Horst ("I wouldn't tell anybody to take vocal lessons from you," said Randy). "He attacked meprofessionally," says Horst. "Iwas stunned." So were millions of "Idol" fans.

She slurred her words. She looked as if she were falling asleep. She was practically edited out of the first episode. What's going on with Paula Abdul? It wasn't only the fans who noticed--Rosie O'Donnell said on "The View" that "Paula was very thirsty." When Abdul arrived in Minneapolis, the contestants also asked "Is she OK?" after she "looked blank in the face" and wouldn't make eye contact with them, says Kah'Reem Copeland, 25. "We were all kind of thinking maybe she was on medication." The "Idol" star has a history of erratic on-screen behavior. In 2005, she said she was just happy from beating a pain syndrome. But this year she insists nothing's wrong--though in an interview with NEWSWEEK two weeks ago, she also seemed oddly unfocused, saying she was "too tired." Then again, maybe she is fine. Everyone is talking about her again, and "Idol" is pulling in its biggest ratings ever. Coincidence?

-R.S.

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