'American Idol' Not Cruel to Contestants, Fox Says

The Fox television network chief on Saturday dismissed talk of unusual cruelty by the judges on "American Idol" this year, saying he's heard from people who think the show has been toned down.

"I think it's part of what makes `American Idol' `American Idol,'" Peter Liguori, Fox entertainment president, told television writers.

The talent show returned with a storm this past week, with episodes on Tuesday and Wednesday attracting around 37 million viewers. The episodes featured auditions by the good, the bad and the awful from Minneapolis and Seattle.

Simon Cowell, whose reputation for blunt, nasty put-downs was established at the series' beginning, was in peak form, telling one contestant that his singing was horrendous and he looked like a "bush baby."

Another judge, Randy Jackson, told one contestant his audition was awful and perhaps ruined his business.

"You shouldn't be a vocal teacher," Jackson said. "I wouldn't take vocal lessons from you, I wouldn't tell anybody to take vocal lessons from you."

On ABC's "The View" this past week, Rosie O'Donnell lashed out at the way contestants were treated by "three millionaires, one probably intoxicated."

"If you keep serving people crap and telling them it's a meal, they're eventually going to think it is a meal," O'Donnell said.

Fox's Liguori said the judges know what makes "Idol" and that this is just the continuation of a successful formula.

"Let's face it, the show has been on the air six years, the judges have been critical for six years," he said.

The judges' harsh assessments also were defended by Geffen Records chairman Ron Fair, who is about to take on a Cowell-like role on an upcoming talent show for the CW network, "Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search for the Next Doll."

"In order to have a reputation and continue in a healthy manner in this business, you have to tell people `no' all day long," he said. "I'm telling people 'I'm not going to sign you, that song is not a hit' ... And there's no gracious or wonderful way to tell somebody, whose hopes and dreams are on the line: `no.'"