The “American Idol” Truth Tour

This Wednesday, the Writer’s Guild of America launched its first ever “American Idol Truth Tour” with a fiery press conference at WGA headquarters in the Fairfax district. Designed to promote awareness of the gross mistreatment of workers on Fremantle Media’s top-rated “American Idol”, the Truth Tour will follow this year’s “Idol” auditions from city to city to promote the cause.

And what a cause it is. Since “Idol” is a defiantly non-union show, the producers routinely break California and Federal labor laws by forcing many of their workers to pull 36 hour shifts with no breaks, no overtime and worst of all, no health benefits or residuals for the work they do on the show.

One former “Idol” production assistant revealed to the crowd on Wednesday that after factoring in all his time spent working on the show, he averaged about $4 an hour. That’s less than half the California minimum wage!

And as several of the Teamsters in the crowd pointed out, “Idol” is also one of the only shows in Hollywood to use non-union drivers. I think WGA Vice President David Weiss said it best when he scolded Fremantle for preying on the starry-eyed new-to-Hollywood crowd when hiring and then systematically using these people up and spitting them out at the end of each season.

Not only is this practice morally wrong, but it’s also illegal and with scores of pending lawsuits and labor board cases against Fremantle and several other producers of so-called “reality shows”, the heat in this kitchen is about to get pretty damn unbearable.

I guess the thing that really galls me — and I am a huge “Idol” fan by the way — is the fact that Fox and Fremantle spend so much time and money touting their massive “Idol Gives Back” charity each year, while at the same time denying their own workers the most basic of benefits. It’s just kind of mind-boggling that the same people that raise millions of dollars every year for charity could be so goddamn greedy when it comes to paying their own workers. Insanity!

So, though I did not get my act together in time to get on the Truth Tour bus to San Francisco — the site of this year’s first round of “Idol” auditions — my friend Patty and I did attend the early-morning press conference on Wednesday to show our support for our WGA brethren.

And I mean to tell ya, that crowd was fired up, baby! Slipping on our new Truth Tour t-shirts, swapping war stories with my fellow WGA strike veterans…man, it was like old home week at the WGA. And even though I didn’t bring much more than a camera with me to the press conference, I have to admit, I was pretty tempted to jump on that bus at the last minute and call it a day.

But to the hardy souls who did get on the bus and staged a rowdy protest at the “Idol” auditions yesterday at the Cow Palace, I say, rock on, writerly soldiers! Here’s to showing the world what really happens behind the scenes at the top-rated show in America!

All we can hope for now is that the press actually covers the Truth Tour events — stories about the press conference were virtually non-existent on the local news last night — and that maybe, just maybe, the soulless bastards at Fremantle will do the right thing and go union.

I know it’s a tall order, but hey, sometimes a little bad publicity is all it takes to make these corporate robots quake in their boots…so, for now, que viva la WGA Truth Tour!

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “The “American Idol” Truth Tour

  1. Melissa

    Just another reason to hate American Idol!

  2. Ha! Melissa! /agreed.

    I have never seen American Idol. THERE! I said it!

    I was going to come out, but a) I had to work and b) I received a letter telling me that I’m no longer a full Guild member, have no voting rights, blah blah blah. So not exactly feeling the solidarity wave considering I rushed around like a maniac for the strike. : /

  3. yeti9000

    Oh, man…did you go “post current”? I had that happen to me a few years back…NOT a great feeling. But you know this crazy town, things could turn around for you next week. The thing that consoled me when I went post current in 2005 was that even though you couldn’t vote for anything, you still got in free to movies during awards season! I know…it’s not exactly health insurance, but it’s still cool!

    Sorry we missed you at the press conference though, nothing would have shown Fremantle how serious we are like one flash of your hard-core biker boots! Grrrr! 🙂

  4. Toni

    Hey, Beasty boy!

    Cool blog and even cooler post. You are right on — the whole “Idol Gives Back” thing burns my britches but good! Simon tours a mobile health van in a poor neighborhood, while Idol employees are working themselves literally half to death without a shred of health insurance in sight! For shame!

    BTW, the Truth Tour kickoff went great, and we would’ve loved to have had you on the bus. But thanks for the post and for coming to the press conference. Oh, and for friends and supporters who want to help the cause, please see http://www.truthaboutfremantle.com, where you can see a video I put together on the whole deal, plus links to send letters of protest to Fremantle big wigs. And tell your friends! Thanks! Toni

  5. yeti9000

    Thanks for your comments, Toni! I was so bummed when you guys pulled away that I was not on that bus…it sounds like you guys had a blast!

    Aaron e-mailed me yesterday and told me the event was a rousing success, so, rock on! Looking forward to checking out your video version of the event as well! Go, union!!

  6. Aunt Debbie

    Wow, its not only disgraceful the way they are treating their workers, its also illegal. Even though they may not be union they are still subject to Calif state labor laws!!

  7. yeti9000

    I know! The problem is that many of the workers that the “Idol” producers hire are new to the business and terrified of saying anything bad about the way they are being treated and risk getting blackballed as a “troublemaker”. Fremantle preys on this fact when hiring and gets away with all kinds of crazy shit because of it!

    One person I met at the rally told me about of a former Fremantle co-worker who filed a “meal penalty” form after missing his break for several days in a row. Within days, he was fired. It’s kind of insane…I mean, who doesn’t get a break to eat?!

    Hopefully the labor board cases pending against Fremantle and others will put some serious governmental pressure on these companies to change their ways. And if not, well, we’ll just keep popping up at every audition city along the way until they do!

  8. You know, I don’t get why the WGA is spending time, money and effort trying to recruit Fremantle employees into the guild instead of working on improving benefits for their core members.

    People write their own price tags. If they choose to work all those overtime hours to end up making a paltry $4 an hour, then so be it. If not, quit and find work elsewhere.

    You can’t voluntarily climb onto a pile of manure every day, and then complain that it stinks.

  9. yeti9000

    So, I guess the fact that a major multinational company that rakes in millions of dollars annually treats their employees like shit and breaks California labor laws on a daily basis means nothing to you? Wow…are you sure you grew up in the free-loving bay area, dude? 🙂

    I’m not saying I would stay at the job either, but the fact that Fremantle is allowed to do this at all, while at the same time playing up how generous they are with their crazy-hyped “Idol Gives Back” charities, is just plain despicable in my book.

    Trust me, there’s a special place in Hell for those cheap bastards…

  10. BTW, is Megan Bobo the best former Idol contestant the Truth Tour could dig up? She didn’t even crack the Top 24!

    Her only airtime was an audition and maybe a couple of mentions on the Hollywood Week episode. At least pick someone who the public had a chance to vote on.

    What’s Jim Verraros doing these days? Or A.J. Gil for that matter? Heck, I bet you can get Nikki McKibbin on that bus for a bottle of Wild Turkey and a carton of Chesterfields.

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