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Wed Apr 18 2007 08:30:40 ET

Fans were enraged and FOX affiliates were fielding complaints late Tuesday after AMERICA IDOL judge Simon Cowell was caught on camera rolling his eyes after comments made by contestant Chris Richardson -- comments about the tragic VIRGINIA TECH shootings!

"My heart and prayers go out to Virginia Tech. I have a lot of friends over there. Be strong," Richardson, a Chesapeake, Virginia native, told the audience of the nation's top-rated TV show.

A quick camera shot showed Cowell rolling his eyes and impatiently tapping his hand on the table.

Backstage, contestant Chris Richardson was left stunned, calling Simon's reaction "sad and hurtful," a top production source told the DRUDGE REPORT.


Cowell's flippant reaction came after he critiqued Richardson for a "nasally" performance of the Rascal Flatts song "Mayburry."

But Nigel Lythgoe, Executive Producer of 'IDOL', says Simon was not reacting to Chris.

In a statement given exclusively to the DRUDGE REPORT, Lythgoe explains:

"This is a sad time for everyone, so it is especially disheartening that a quick camera cutaway could have been misinterpreted. We're sorry for any grief caused by this misunderstanding, but Simon was not reacting to Chris at that point. He had turned to speak to Paula and didn't actually hear Chris' final comments."

Lythgoe continues: "Everyone at 'AMERICAN IDOL' feels compassion for those affected by this tragedy. We opened the show with those thoughts and Simon later expressed sincere condolences on behalf of the judges, recognizing the challenges we all face in dealing with this horrible event."

Earlier, a FOX executive said: "Look, in his defense, Simon felt Chris was cynically deflecting his criticism...It was unfortunate... he clearly was unaware the camera was on him when he rolled his eyes."

A backstage source defends Richardson: "Chris decided earlier in the day that he was going to give a shoutout to his friends.. he is hurting."


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