Without Clue: The ‘American Idol’ Judges’ Biggest Factual Gaffes
American Idol, The Day After: Top 5 Performances Dish
On "American Idol" Season 12's top five night, contestant Amber Holcomb performed "Without You," a power ballad that judge Mariah Carey once famously covered--and scored a massive hit with--in 1994. At the end of her critique, Mariah declared, "Thank you, Harry Nilsson, for writing a great song!"
There was only one problem: Harry Nilsson didn't write "Without You."
Now, I completely excuse any regular layperson out there who assumed that Nilsson's iconic 1971 version of "Without You" was the original recording, and was unaware that Pete Ham and Tom Evans of the British powerpop band Badfinger originally wrote and released it in 1970. That's some real pub-quiz trivia, there, after all. But Mariah released this song herself, almost two decades ago. You would've thought that at some point during the past 19 years, the subject of one of her biggest single's origins would have come up.
Hours later, after various tweeters informed Mariah of her on-air gaffe, she posted on her own Twitter page: "Must thank Pete Ham & Tom Evans for writing 'Without You' & Harry Nilsson for performing it and inspiring my mom to sing it to me as a kid!" This was well-intentioned damage control, of course, although it was unclear if Mariah was aware that Ham and Evans both committed suicide in the '70s and would therefore never see her clarifying tweet.
I'd venture to say that Mariah's misattribution of "Without You" is the biggest judge gaffe in "Idol" history, at least in terms of a judge revealing his or her lack of encyclopedic musical knowledge. (The biggest gaffe overall, I suppose, was that time in Season 7 when a seemingly psychic Paula Abdul critiqued a song that Jason Castro had not yet performed.) But this was far from the first time that an "Idol" judge had shown such ignorance. This season alone, Mariah confessed that she didn't know the Beatles' "She's Leaving Home" or Garth Brooks's "The Dance," and Randy Jackson wrongly said Heart had written "What About Love," when it's fairly common knowledge--in the music business, at least--that Heart's '80s comeback hits were penned by songsmiths-for-hire (in "What About Love's" case, the writers were Brian Allen, Sheron Alton, and Jim Vallance).
And there have been worse errors, or confessions of ignorance, in seasons past. Now, once again, I must stress, it's not all that shocking that this sort of stuff wouldn't be well-known among civilians...but for people paid seven-figure salaries to be music "experts" on a musical television program, these mistakes are less defensible.
So, if Mariah's "Without You" error is THE biggest factual facepalm in "Idol" history, what other gaffes made the list? Here are the rest of the "Idol" judges' all-time Facepalm Five…
1. Randy Jackson thinks "Let's Get it On" is an Al Green song
When Randy was critiquing Elise Testone's performance of the babymaking Marvin Gaye classic in Season 11, he attributed the song to another legendary soulman, Al Green. Neither of his fellow judges corrected him, but a helpful audience member did shout out "MARVIN GAYE!" Randy was visibly flummoxed. Ha. Ya gotta love live television. (Side note/dishonorable mention: That very same night, Randy's fellow judge Jennifer Lopez referred to a previous Elise performance, Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love," as "Somebody To Love," which is actually a Queen song.)