An annoyed look from "American Idol" judge Simon Cowell as a contestant expressed sadness over the Virginia Tech shootings was drastically misintrepreted, Cowell and the show said today (April 18).

An annoyed look from "American Idol" judge Simon Cowell as a contestant expressed sadness over the Virginia Tech shootings was drastically misintrepreted, Cowell and the show said today (April 18).

Cowell rolled his eyes and raised his eyebrows as contestant Chris Richardson of Chesapeake, Va., followed his performance on last night's show with a comment about the 32 people killed on the campus by a student. "My hearts and prayers go out to Virginia Tech. I have a lot of friends over there. ... Be strong," Richardson said on stage.

The camera caught Cowell's expression and showed him tapping his hand once, in apparent impatience, on the table in front of him and fellow judges Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul. In contrast, Abdul could be seen nodding in approval.

The show went into damage control today, with Cowell and a series producer denying that he had heard what Richardson said. Instead, he was talking to Abdul about Richardson's contention that he deliberately sang "Mayberry" in a nasal tone, Cowell told "American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest on Seacrest's radio show today.

"I was saying to Paula, 'What does he mean, he sang nasally on purpose? I didn't understand what he was saying.' So I hadn't even heard what he did. Then my eye rolled, given what I was saying to Paula," Cowell told Seacrest.

Cowell said he supported Richardson's comments. "I did want to clear this one up because, you know, this is a very, very sensitive subject. The irony is that we did want to try and set the right tone on the show. And then something like this happens, and it just starts fanning the flames," Cowell said. "And people need to understand, there are families involved. It's not right."

Series executive producer Nigel Lythgoe came to Cowell's defense. "This is a sad time for everyone, so it is especially disheartening that a quick camera cutaway could have been misinterpreted," Lythgoe said in a statement today, noting that Seacrest opened the show with a statement of sympathy for Virginia Tech.


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