American Idol 6 would be nothing without its controversy. The latest: 28-year-old ex-British boy-band’er Tom Lowe is the target of not just one but four controversies, which is a rarity even for that Fox show. Allegations include that Lowe is too successful, or too well-connected, to compete fairly on the show. Then there’s the report this runner-up “Britain Choirboy of the Year” posed nude (with all the appropriate places covered) for a trendy British magazine. A college interview presents him as the first “out” gay American Idol contestant. There are headlines how he’s had influential helpers — so influential that the British press alleges one of them may be Simon Cowell himself, and the Boston Herald says the other is the Massachusetts Tourism Board. But there’s also another issue: just what, exactly, is American Idol supposed to be? Is it an obvious avenue for finding undiscovered talent (like Kelly Clarkson or Carrie Underwood)? Or is it a shrewd method of banking on a sure thing (like Taylor Hicks, who’d already put out an album pre-Idol). And what about the show’s forced notion of “wholesomeness”?
Contestant Lowe by age 18 was already an accomplished singer and a one-time British teen heartthrob. The former Take That backup vocalist on the group’s 1995 UK tour followed that up with a UK hit two years later as part of the boy-band North and South, featured in a British kids TV series No Sweat. That group hit No. 7 on the UK singles chart with “Man Not a Boy”, but despite the hype, sales were disapppointing and the band broke up in 1999. Lowe also had some acting success on London’s West End — the equivalent of Broadway — landing leads in Les Miserables and Cats under the name “Tom Lucas”. From there, he traveled to Harvard University where, as Thomas P. Lowe, he graduated in East Asian studies in 2005.
At Harvard, he became something of a campus legend, first competing for the title of Mr. Harvard in which contestants were “parading in bathing suits, shaking scantily-clad behinds to the tunes of Britney Spears, and performing a racy striptease,” described the Harvard Crimson student newspaper. Then, “in his subdued mohawk and slight trace of black eyeliner”, he was a wannabe rock-star in the campus band “Tommy and the Tigers,” according to the paper, which noted that Lowe’s costume choices included a pink lounge suit. In a 2005 interview with the Crimson, Lowe appears to out himself. “Harvard allows me to dress however I want, wear my hair however I want, sleep with whomever I want,” he said. He announces plans to move to New York to meet with talent agents and “sees himself playing a British rock star on The O.C. or Desperate Housewives. In the latter show, Lowe predicts he will take part in ‘a gay love affair with Teri Hatcher’s boyfriend. He’ll meet me and decide that he is questioning his sexuality. He’ll fall for my British accent.’”
The next ruckus to surround him: when the Boston Herald reported in December 2006 that Massachusetts taxpayers footed the bill for a $60,000 six-month contract to star Lowe, then an aspiring Idol contestant, in a $400,000 Web-TV video tourism promo. The Herald reported that tourism board critics wondered why Lowe was signed up for such a long period of time in the first place. Talk about a lucky break. Then his Tourism Board bosses approached the Boston Red Sox and next thing Lowe was belting out the “The Star-Spangled Banner” in Fenway Park.
Looking blond and buff, Lowe auditioned for Idol 6 in Seattle, and immediately established himself as one of the best singers. He was called “the best-kept secret” on the Internet when he sang the Luther Vandross-covered soul classic “Always and Forever”. Though the Seattle auditions were kinda lousy, Lowe’s solid one wasn’t aired on Fox. (It did on ITV2 in the UK on January 19th. It’s here on YouTube.) One reason why: during his audition, Lowe was asked by judge Randy Jackson, “Simon ever try to sign your band? Replied Lowe: “No, but I believe Simon was working for BMG at the same time I was there.” Jackson looked like he’d unearthed a secret. “Well, Simon,” he asked. “Small world,” an embarrassed-looking Cowell answered. “Small world,” Jackson repeated. Immediately, the British press ran headlines how “the fix is in” on American Idol 6 and accused Cowell of planting the British pop star who was once signed to his record company. Certainly Lowe’s singing ability and good looks were reason enough to move him to Hollywood. Meanwhile, the Internet began buzzing about Lowe’s having “outed” himself in the Harvard Crimson.
Audiences won’t find out whether Tom Lowe moves into the semifinalist round until Wednesday. But already reports are circling that Lowe didn’t make it into the top 24 contestants. So did all these controversies hurt Lowe’s Idol chances? You think?