‘American Idol’ Castoff Turned Uber Driver Sets Record Straight on Getting “Fired,” Talks “Very, Very Cruel” Moments and Crying on Set

When American Idol first debuted in 2002, viewers had never seen anything quite like Simon Cowell on their TV screens. His blistering feedback often left contestants in tears. However, fans loved it, and the show’s popularity exploded. Viewers continued tuning in long after Cowell left the show in 2010. Recently, Ryan Seacrest’s Season 1 co-host spoke out about his time on the show.

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Brian Dunkleman Is Still Not Over What He Witnessed on ‘American Idol’

Likely, only hardcore American Idol fans remember Brian Dunkleman. The comedian joined Ryan Seacrest as co-host during the show’s inaugural season. He did not return for Season 2. The one-season wonder recounted his Idol experience during an interview on the Still Here Hollywood podcast with Steve Kmetko

Those 25 episodes took a toll on Dunkleman. He recalled one particularly grueling hour-long stretch “where kid after kid came, [and] every one of them was bawling.”

An actor and comedian himself, Dunkleman knows the sting of a bad audition. At one point, overcome with empathy, ” I just went and found a corner behind the curtain,” he told Kmetko. “I just started crying.”

The 52-year-old made it clear he has only positive things to say about Cowell personally, along with Season 1 judges Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson. Still, he felt the show’s format was unnecessarily brutal—although he acknowledges that Cowell’s blunt nature was a huge part of American Idol’s appeal.

“I just didn’t understand why that was necessary… But it was very, very cruel that first season,” he said. “And that’s kind of what made the show such a hit, was how mean [Cowell] was… He got death threats in England. He comes here, and everybody loves the guy.”

[RELATED: The Story Behind Simon Cowell Ditching ‘American Idol’ & the Restriction that Forced His Hand]

Now a father himself, Dunkleman doesn’t believe TV shows should set kids up for public humiliation. “You’re putting them in front of cameras, and I can hear them [go]. ‘Oh, this girl, she thinks she can actually sing. We’re gonna crush her,'” he said. “She’s 16.”

Was Brian Dunkleman Really Fired?

Legend has it Dunkleman was fired from American Idol. However, he says that was not the case—although he sometimes wishes it were.

“I wish I would have. It would have been easier,” Dunkleman told Kmetko. “[But] I’m sure I would have [been fired].”

In a 2016 interview following the initial series finale, Dunkleman said he later learned the show would likely have cut him loose anyway.

“So it’s kind of a big load off my shoulders,” he said.

In recent years, Dunkleman has left show business altogether, opting to work as an Uber driver while raising his son.

Featured image by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

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