Television: The Making Of An Idol

Talent show or popularity contest? An inside look at how reality's No. 1 show works--and is worked over by--the fame biz

Every reality show needs a mansion," jokes Patrick Lynn, a segment producer for American Idol. The rented eight-bedroom manse that houses Idol's finalists, in the mountains above Los Angeles, is like the show itself: big, showy and just tacky enough to be amusing. There are faux-castle turrets, an Egyptian-style horse statue, a gargantuan wooden wagon, a mammoth futuristic fake-suede couch--and three very ordinary teenage women battling America's largest case of butterflies. A few weeks ago, over a catered dinner of poached salmon and Chinese chicken salad, the contestants chatted with TIME about taking the judges' critiques of their singing, especially the...

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