Elimination Night is a fictionalized account of one young producer’s experiences working at Project Icon — a behemoth singing competition that bears more than a passing resemblance to American Idol. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt will only say that the book’s scribe has “intimate firsthand knowledge of the behind-the-scenes workings of a top TV talent show.”)
In the book, one judge issues a 78-page rider that demands a 4,000 square foot “dressing compound,” a $1 billion body insurance policy (“breasts/buttocks to be valued at one hundred million dollars each”), and that the show’s crew never make eye contact with her. Another has to undergo a “sanity check” — which he barely passes — before signing on to join Icon‘s panel. The innocent, apple-cheeked, country-singing winner of the fictional reality show is actually a promiscuous, closeted Don Juan who enjoyed encounters with “hotel workers, judges’ assistants, his fellow contestants, [and] even a couple of passing construction workers” during filming.
And those aren’t even the juiciest moments from the story! Check out the book’s craziest plot points below.
One judge relies on cue cards and canned lines provided by a writer
Bibi Vasquez is a magnetic, insecure diva from Queens who parlays a pole-dancing gig into international superstardom, “all without even being able to sing.” She’s managed by the sinister, slimy Teddy Midas, who gets Bibi through Project Icon‘s auditions by holding up cue cards indicating what she should say to each contestant. Later, an Oscar-winning screenwriter is drafted to pen Bibi’s lines during the series’s live shows. Also worth noting: Icon‘s cruel producer, Leonard Braithwaite, convinces male auditions to tell Bibi that they “used to lust after her when they were young” just to upset her.
Another judge impregnates a contestant
Nutty, genial Joey Lovecraft is a celebrated rocker with mommy issues and various drug problems who joins Icon in an attempt to get his old band, Honeyload, back together. Though he clashes with Bibi over salaries, screen time, and basically everything else, he’s basically a decent guy. Well, except for the fact that he can’t help sneaking into hotel bathrooms with the show’s young, female contestants… and that he ends up actually impregnating one of them, albeit by artificial insemination. (Don’t ask.)
An embarrassment much like the News International phone-hacking incident helps Project Icon survive
Icon, currently in its 13th season, is under constant threat of cancellation from the Rabbit network. Partway through its run, Big Corp finds itself embroiled in a vast scandal when one of its most popular German game shows is exposed to be a scam. Since Big Corp’s CEO — foreign magnate Sir Harold Killoch — is too distracted to care about its dismal ratings, Icon stays on the air.
The show callously manipulates and short-changes contestants
When contestants are going through their first round of auditions on Icon — before they ever step foot in front of the judges — their tickets are stamped with a secret code. “N” means “definite yes.” “X” means “maybe.” And “Y” means “no, but the kid looks like a crier or a psycho, so roll the cameras.”
Finalists are also required to sign hundred-page-long contracts stipulating that their lives are now “wholly owned subsidiaries of the Big Corporation.” The show’s winners end up with next to nothing; their prizes are “five hundred dollars as ‘full and final consideration,’ set against expenses for flights, accommodation, food, and clothing throughout the season.” According to the narrator, “only two contestants in Project Icon‘s history, both winners, had ever received any kind of paycheck.”
The departed mean judge and the host are in a secret relationship
Narcissistic, “aging, pudding-bellied, apparently heterosexual Scotsman” Nigel Crowther spends the entire book plotting to take Icon down so that his own upcoming show, The Talent Machine, can flourish without same-network competition. (Rabbit offers him a “triple Oprah” — “three times the salary of the Queen of Daytime TV during her final season on network TV” — to stay on Icon for another year, but he turns it down.) He’s secretly involved with Wayne Shoreline, the cold, robotic man who serves as Icon‘s host. Crazy? Yes. But not quite as crazy as this:
The host also eats puppies for breakfast
The narrator describes Shoreline as ruthless, cruel, and utterly emotionless, going even further in this memorable passage: “That’s the thing with Wayne — his unshakeable calm. Some take it as niceness. Professionalism, even. These people have got it all wrong. Wayne is a functioning psychopath.”
And then, near the end of the book, Nigel tells the narrator a story about how Wayne took him to “some godforsaken island in the Gulf of California,” all so that the two of them could eat a “thick, almost black, very spicy stew.” The stew, it turns out, contained the meat of tiny, adorable puppies. This is… Project Icon!