The premiere broadcast of Singapore Idol was hilarious. In terms of humour, it rivalled…

…Mr Bean.

Yet while I guffawed at the antics of some contestants, I wondered if it was fair to them to be exposed at their most awkward.

Unlike Rowan Atkinson who earned millions for his part in Mr Bean, the hapless contestants got nothing but embarrassment.

After some deliberation, I decided they probably knew what they were in for. It is not as if the Idol series concept is new to us. By taking part, the contestants wanted the publicity and hence consented to it.

On the other hand, I wonder. You may argue, these “clowns” asked for it. If they knew they were not good enough, and that they risked making a public fool of themselves, why did they participate?

That might be the problem – perhaps they did not know themselves and were trying their luck.

Yes, television audiences lap up the foolery and embarrassing moments. Even so, perhaps more account could have been taken of the feelings and naivety of the participants.

Perhaps a kinder formula could have been found, in balancing the audience’s wants and the contestants’ dignity.

But I must admit this is not easy to do without sacrificing the entertainment value of the programme.

My sympathy is with those contestants who have become the butt of their friends’ jokes. I hope they will be strong enough to handle the beating to their self-esteem.

Two contestants – who were labelled “Singapore Cowboy” and “Kung Fu Rapper” – would, I believe, have no problem in dealing with the adverse publicity. They looked confident and believed in themselves. Never mind the fact that the judges turned them down – I am sure they saw themselves as unique.

I admire the pair for this. I also salute the other fallen contestants for giving the competition their best shot, and for their courage in facing up to the scrutiny of the judges and public. For without them, there would be no Singapore Idol.

The judges should bear that in mind. And in my view, that is reason enough for them to show more respect for the contestants and not make callous fun of them.

I was piqued to see the judges burst out in laughter in front of a perplexed contestant and take a two-minute break to continue laughing at her for her inability to speak clearly.

It is like making fun of the way a cripple walks. And then Dick Lee insulted another contestant for his poor diction, repeating “Nong nong” instead of “Long long” much to the delight of his fellow judges. It is fine for the judges to be brutally honest by calling a spade a spade – for example, “you can’t sing”, “you are not good enough for the competition” or “you should never attempt to be a professional singer”. After all, it will be kinder to the contestants to be told the harsh reality as the judges see it. Ridicule, however, is another thing.

To those the judges condemned as hopeless, I’d say: Don’t despair. If you still want to be a singer, go for it. The judges evaluated you on your performance. They did not, and could not, measure your will to achieve your dream.

The “doomsayers”, after all, have been proven wrong many times – as in the famous case of the late Fred Astaire. A Paramount screen-test report on him read: “Can’t sing. Can’t act. Slight balding. Can dance a little.”

He proved his detractors wrong by acting, singing and dancing his way through some of the best-loved musicals ever made.

Then there is Michael Jordan. He was rejected for his high school basketball team. But he went on to become a legendary player. There are more examples: John F Kennedy, Steven Spielberg, Colonel Saunders, Stephen King.

Finally, if at the end of the day, you fail to achieve your target, at least you would have failed while trying your best.

(This journal is published on 24 May 2006 of TODAY)