The only thing audiences hate more than being bored with the same-ol’ same-ol’ is feeling uncomfortable with too much change.
…and then there was one. (and what’s-her-name…and Ellen.)
There comes a point in every show when it reaches its pinnacle and its creators must decide if the show will remain steadfast or evolve. It’s a tricky prospect since Either way you risk the danger of alienating your audience and ultimately, losing them.
For American Idol, the time has come…two years ago.
Two seasons ago, although still a ratings juggernaut, Idol numbers were slipping, the winners weren’t living up to expectations, runners-up were proving that America has no idea what will translate well to radio and fans were beginning to tune out. So the Idol creators took a chance and chose to evolve. They built a new set and crafted a snazzier intro. They pumped up the guest judges to include everyone from niche-ified, has-been singers who have long lost their top 40 relevance, to film and television celebrities with absolutely ZERO music cred to their names.
In other words, they jumped the shark. And worse, they highlighted the fact that the judges are at best, a sideshow attraction tacked on only to give the sense of a credibility to a popularity contest disguised as a talent competition.
And no one cared.
New 4th judge adds credibility to Idol finale
So the following year, they took their shark-jumpage even further by adding a new judge in the person of Kara whatever-her-name-is. How is adding a highly-qualified, camera-friendly, bona-fide talent to the roster jumping the shark? Well, although she’s way more qualified than any of their previous guest judges *cough Quentin Tarantino cough*, she puts in sharp relief something we all knew, but no one said aloud because it would endanger the already flimsy illusion that Idol was in any way a true singing competition: that one judge’s opinion simply counted more than the others…a fact most of us could ignore because of the natural checks and balances inherent in the 3-judge system. But unfortunately for those who still thought the emperor looked absolutely dashing in his new getup, adding a fourth judge puts a spotlight on the fact that Cowell’s opinion simply carried more weight than his co-stars.
“Abdul out!” tweated Paula
Then, Fox caught a break when America’s favorite train wreck decided to leave the show, leaving in her absence, a return to a logical 3-judge system and a perfect “out” for the network. But inexplicably, Fox disregarded this gift from the heavens by adding another fourth judge…and although Ellen is a talented comedienne and seems to be a wonderful person, she too, has ABSOLUTELY ZERO music cred to her professional name. I understand that America is obsessed with its celebrities and we seem to think that everything, even the most mundane of activities, is made better – somehow more palatable – when a celebrity is doing it, but at some point, doesn’t at least one thing on the show have to make sense? It can’t all be razzle-dazzle-magic-of-show-business-stardust-hoopla…can it?
Then broke the news that Cowell was leaving the show – and despite a personal visit from the president of Fox, who, in addition to truckloads of money, promised that Cowell wouldn’t even have to be present at next year’s auditions – he wouldn’t be swayed.
The most respected of the Idol judges
And finally…amid all these changes…tonight’s premiere. And for Idol fans, it didn’t disappoint. Another year, another parade of no-talent weirdos, exhibitionists and hoax-artists mixed in with a handful of mildly interesting potentials with back stories as heartbreaking as network televsion will allow.
And as for the on-air talent? Simon seems more impatient than ever with the latest slew of non-singing attention-seekers who see Idol as the starting gun to their 15 minutes of fame. Kara seems to be acting as Paula’s proxy, commenting more on people’s personalities and “spirit” than their actual singing abilities or star potential. Randy, as always, plays second fiddle to Cowell’s alpha dog persona and Victoria Beckham is, well, a Spice Girl.
Every year, the strings show just a little bit more. The curtain is just a little more threadbare and the stage seems just the tiniest bit smaller. I once heard a guy say he didn’t mind being lied to, as long as the person lying to him was good at it. THAT is the magic of show business. We don’t mind being manipulated, as long as it’s masterfully done. So yeah, the show has evolved…into what remains to be seen.
I admit, I’m not Idol’s target audience…I rarely listen to the radio, I don’t watch MTV, I don’t have a bedazzled cell phone or a struggling band, sing in the church choir, wear ladies’ jeans, have a family in need of G-rated primetime entertainment or hold out my palm when I sing. I stubbornly resist fads and lose interest in trends a good two years before my friends do. But even so, I think this will be a make it or break it year for the biggest show on television.
Youth in revolt.
In this one season, they’ve got to prove that the show works without its second most popular cast member, that it can work without its MOST popular cast member, that a talk show host can be an insightful judge in a music competition and above all, it needs to reaffirm that the actual WINNER of American Idol, not the other 9 runners up, can go the distance in the industry. A huge feat for any show.
Since the very beginning, American Idol’s audience seemed to agree that Simon Cowell had the clearest vision of what was happening on that stage. He seemed to have the most clarity. The most authority. And at water coolers around the nation, we all took turns agreeing with each other that last night, Simon was right. One has to wonder then, if the attraction of American Idol has faded for a man who not only gets PAID to be a part of it, but whose name has become synonymous with the thing…if the pageantry and endorsements and record deals and guest stars and ripped jeans and exposed belt buckles and Coke logos and Ford music videos no longer have the same charm for a man with that much vested interest…how long before the water cooler crowd decides once again that Simon’s right?
After all, his opinion does carry just a little more weight than everyone else’s.