The Joel Stein Show

'Idol' Minds

In defense of Frenchie: At what point does someone's past become too real for reality TV?

Even in these every-man-for-his-own-roll-of-duct-tape times, there are some injustices so great, like being taxed twice on our dividends, that we must come together to fight. On Feb. 12, Fox kicked American Idol's most talented and likable candidate, Frenchie Davis, off the show for having posed on a pornographic website. While I've never watched American Idol, I have been to a lot of porn sites, and I am horrified. What if every woman I had ever looked at on a porn site was, somewhere, at some time, going to get kicked off a reality show? For the first time in my life, I was starting to get Andrea Dworkin's point.

With the help of the investigative website The Smoking Gun, which does actual reporting work, I got the pictures of Frenchie that appeared on daddyslittlegirl.com, a site that showed women over 18 acting really immaturely; the site, which has since been revamped, apparently wasn't very popular, perhaps because that's something you can get for free by hanging out with any woman planning her wedding. For those of you who haven't seen the now-23-year-old Frenchie (who used to go by the surprisingly less porn-star-like name Honey Brown), she does not make a convincing teenager.

As highly unimpressed as I was with the sub-Maxim level of the pornography, my ire was raised. The person to blame for all this cruelty, the man who must be stopped, is Fox TV chairman Sandy Grushow, who runs the network that ruled out a second chance for Frenchie because of her supposedly lurid, but actually really unsatisfying, past. The decision is not only cruel but hypocritical, considering that the Joe Millionaire runner-up made bondage films, and that the third-runner-up on last year's Idol was a former stripper, and that, come on, it's the Fox network. No doubt ashamed of its decision, the network has prevented both the show and the website from mentioning Frenchie's dismissal. At an Idol taping soon after, all the contestants had a similar thing to say about Frenchie, namely ''I like to focus on my own performance, not on other people,'' since that's what Fox probably told them to say. It's the same corporate policy that keeps Ashton Kutcher's early-'90s lobotomy under wraps.

Looking to turn my anger into action without actually getting up, I found savefrenchie.com, a site that has gotten people to send e-mails (5,000 so far) to the show's sponsors, demanding Frenchie's return. I arranged a breakfast with the guy who started the site, Brooks King, a 23-year-old graphic designer and recent Brown graduate, who was in New York to protest against war with Iraq. No cause is too big or too small for Brooks King.

Brooks, who has a shaved head and a tongue ring, was not allowed to watch much TV as a kid, which explains quite a bit, including the fact that he's applying to be on the next Survivor. ''It's a double standard,'' he told me about the injustice of Frenchie. ''There's a history of the black female body being hypersexualized and depicted as grotesque in its fertility.'' I gave Brooks a look. ''I took a class on this,'' he admitted. Brooks' anger is so strong, he briefly considered not watching Idol anymore. ''But I like the show too much,'' he said. He has, however, fought the power by erasing the Paula Abdul MP3s from his design company's iTunes, where they had been in heavy rotation, particularly ''Opposites Attract.''

The call for Frenchie's return has gotten so powerful, it spent three days at No. 1 on petitiononline.com with more than 40,000 signatures, edging out the petition against war with Iraq. The reaction is a particularly strong indication that young people no longer want the Norman Rockwell pretense of our parents' pop stars. Fox woefully misunderstands the lesson it has spent the last three years teaching us. Joe Millionaire and Temptation Island aren't stockades where we voyeuristically hear about sins while spitting at the sinners' faces. I'm not actually sure that's how the stockades worked, but it's what we did to each other when we went to Colonial Williamsburg. And let me tell you, spit takes on an even more unpleasant quality when the spitter has just had a bowl of peanut soup.

The point is, we celebrate our reality-show heroes because they are the bold realizations of our Jungian flip sides. A part of all of us would like to marry someone rich and cheat on our girlfriend on a tropical island and live in a house with Corey Feldman. We want our idols to admit to their ugliness and pain and struggle, to show some of their reality. Just not as much as Michael Jackson.

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Originally posted Feb 28, 2003 Published in issue #698 Feb 28, 2003 Order article reprints
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