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Last Updated: Sunday, 21 January 2007, 13:11 GMT
Cowell defends Idol 'mean' streak
American Idol producers and judges including Simon Cowell (right)
American Idol producers and judges faced the press on Saturday
American Idol judges and producers have hit back at criticism that the new series of the talent show is too mean.

More than 37 million people tuned in to see the sixth series start on Tuesday - a record for the show. But some critics have said it is more cruel than ever.

Judge Simon Cowell told one hopeful he looked like "one of those creatures that live in the jungle with those massive eyes... Bush babies?"

Cowell told reporters: "If you don't want to hear that, don't show up."

Cowell is known for his blunt put-downs on American Idol, America's Got Talent and the UK's X Factor. He said the "bush baby" comment was an "off-the-cuff remark".

It's more the bad singers that will bring in the ratings
Ken Warwick
Executive producer
"If he's offended, then I apologise," he said. "I might never call anyone a bush baby again."

Executive Producer Ken Warwick said viewers liked to see the worst singers. "It's more the bad singers that will bring in the ratings," he said.

And Peter Liguori, entertainment president of TV network Fox, said: "Let's face it, the show has been on the air six years, the judges have been critical for six years."

Cowell also called one tall contestant a "giraffe" and asked an overweight singer if he "borrowed Randy's pants", referring to fellow judge Randy Jackson.

'Outright cruelty'

"It just seems like they're being a lot meaner," said another unsuccessful contestant Jessica Rhode, who fell to her knees and wept before the judges.

The new series has also come in for criticism from talk show host Rosie O'Donnell, who said the judges should not "make fun of someone's physical appearance and then when they leave the room laugh hysterically".

Entertainment Weekly critic Michael Slezak wrote: "The American Idol auditions in Seattle sometimes crossed the line into outright cruelty."

And the San Francisco Chronicle's David Wiegand said: "The judges are either seriously off their game, or have just gotten tired of themselves." Much of the show was "uncomfortably sad", he wrote.

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