American Idol: Will Caleb's 'R-Word' Dustup (or Last Week's Top 5 Twist) Factor Into Your Voting?

american-idol-caleb-johnson-calls-fans-retardsIt only takes one bad performance to derail an American Idol dream — but what if that face-plant involves something other than actual singing?

Season 13 finalist Caleb Johnson will stare down this ominous question come Wednesday night — in the wake of an ugly interview he gave to AfterBuzz TV’s Jason Ikeler following last week’s Top 5 results telecast.

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Asked if his opinion of social media had changed since being on the show, Caleb replied, “Yeah, it gives access to a bunch of retards to talk to me. And I don’t, y’know, really enjoy having to see somebody tell me what song I need to sing. I think at this point in the competition, I can pick and choose my own songs that represent me in the best [way]; I don’t need 10,000 people saying, ‘You should sing this, you should sing that! Listen to me, listen to me!’ Fortunately, guys, I’m gonna listen to myself — whether you like it or not.” (Caleb also joked that he was looking forward to “the girls, the hookers, the cocaine…” if he makes it to the Top 3 and gets a traditional hometown visit.)

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After the video went viral over the weekend, Caleb took to his Facebook page with an apology — of sorts: “For the record, that juvenile comment I made in the interview was not directed towards my fans but to the wackos that send hundreds of hate messages a day to me! You guys are amazing and I cannot thank you enough for your support. Sorry if it offended anybody, it was the wrong choice of words. Also I greatly appreciate it when you guys give me song suggestions, but it gets really overwhelming at the volume it comes in, so please understand! Rock on!”

A few parts of Caleb’s apology don’t sit particularly well with this Idoloonie. For starters, does anyone really buy the idea that “wackos that send hundreds of hate messages a day” to Caleb are also passionately peppering him with song suggestions? Caleb’s original diatribe specificially took offense at the idea of viewers (AKA his fans) daring to weigh in on what tunes he covers on the show. Dude needs to remember, though, that he’s not Robert Plant — he’s a contestant on a reality singing competition, and he’s allowed to take the stage every week at the leisure of the very voters he’s dogging. We invest every Wednesday and Thursday night from January to May watching virtual unknowns get a chance at singing stardom — and part of the fun is dissecting and prognosticating about the decisions that each wannabe makes. (In the interest of full disclosure, I am a passionate pepperer: See Exhibit No. 2,134.)

Secondly, is it crazy I expected a little more contrition from Caleb regarding his use of the R-word? It’s 2014, after all, and the memo about the unacceptability of that particular slur has reached pretty much every nook and cranny of the country — even the rock under which Caleb has been spending his time. His classic deflection — “Sorry if it offended anybody” — passes the blame back to those members of the public “uptight” enough to take offense, rather than a more direct, “I am sorry for using the word ‘retard’; it was offensive and stupid, and I won’t do it again.” Again, we’re talking about a written apology on Caleb’s Facebook wall — where he presumably had time to carefully choose his words.

Whether or not enough viewers have caught wind of Caleb’s controversy — and whether or not he offers an apology during Wednesday’s Top 4 performance show — remains to be seen. At the same time, though, his rivals Alex Preston and Jena Irene will also await the results of an unofficial viewer referendum on whether or not they’ll be punished for voting against a non-elimination week during last Thursday’s results show, resulting in the ouster of babyfaced teenager Sam Woolf. (Host Ryan Seacrest kept the voting anonymous, but Jena freely admitted her “No” vote, and Alex’s “No” was determined by process of elimination, in post-show interviews.)

While it seems somewhat absurd that viewers might withhold votes from the duo for playing competitively in a competition series, it would also be naive to pretend that “likability” isn’t a factor for Idol voters — that they don’t scrutinize every facial expression, gesture and casual comment made by contestants to determine whether they possess the correct balance of enthusiasm, gratefulness, humility and desire that have been the hallmark of almost every Idol champ. (For what it’s worth, I’d argue female contestants have been generally subjected to tougher standards than their male counterparts over 13 seasons.)

With judge Jennnifer Lopez registering shock, then sighing “I’m surprised — maybe that’s just me,” after learning that it wasn’t a unanimous vote to keep the Top 5 in tact for an extra week, it’s possible there could be some backlash against Jena and Alex. Then again, perhaps it’ll be counterbalanced by a newfound respect that folks like myself feel for the duo for playing a strategic game and placing real value on the Season 13 crown.

What do you think about Caleb’s interview imbroglio — as well as Jena and Alex’s “No” votes? Does likability factor into your voting? Will any of the aforementioned contestants’ decisions make you more or less likely to vote for them? And is it possible that Jessica Meuse got a great big gift from her three opponents? Take our polls below, then sound off in the comments!


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