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Fantasy 'Idol': Could a spin-off rock?

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I wasn’t exactly surprised to read the press release yesterday announcing an American Idol spin-off centered around bands, as opposed to singers. I mean, duh! One part of me wants to say, “It’s about time,” hoping deep inside that the mass exposure that comes with the Idol brand affiliation will bring around some fresh, new, undiscovered talent, particularly in the rock realm. It’s not like it hasn’t been done before (CBS’s Rock Star, VH1’s Bands on the Run, MTV’s Making the Band), albeit with varying degrees of success. Then, there’s the side of dread:  imagining an endless string of Shai-inspired R&B vocal groups with choreographed dance moves and an unwavering devotion to Usher.

What would be ideal is to get both those extremes and everything in between — like, let’s see an all-girl country trio, the latest emo wannabes, and a retro-soul outfit. Still, I imagine it will come down to the lowest common pop denominator, as Idol tends to do. But what will that be?

I can’t imagine any TV show devoting quality airtime to people practicing and/or playing actual instruments (though it would do wonders for school music programs). I also don’t foresee the Idol formula allowing for original songs. So these guys and girls are, what? Skilled players who can pull off Fall Out Boy’s “This Ain’t a Scene” as well as they can do the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction?” Will there be the usual themed weeks (British Invasion, 70s Disco, Country, etc.)? Maybe an all-acoustic show? The possibilities are positively endless, and at the same time, potentially disastrous.

Still, I’m optimistic and, dare I say, even excited to see something — anything — different develop with the show. Admittedly, even I, a die-hard fan since season 1, have found Idola little stale of late. How many performances can you sit through wherethe judges (or at least two out of three of them) say absolutelynothing? That’s why I have high hopes for this battle of the bands(tentatively titled The Search for the Next Great American Band),and the judging panel it could potentially bring together.

At thismoment in time, when the music biz is in the toilet and legendary,revolutionizing executives of yesteryear are heading off to pasture,nothing would be better than a national reawakening to the beauty of agood, old-fashioned rock band. So let’s have ourselves a little Fantasy Idol: How should theshow, whose creators clearly came to an impasse when brainstormingnames, be structured? Who would make a good judge? What should it becalled? And, most importantly, will it suck?

I’ll get it started. Here,my picks for potential judges:

Courtney Love: The perfect female Cowell—you know Courtney’s not gonna mince words. And she’s had the band experience, so she’s qualified.

Whitney Houston: I can hear it now: “You think you sound like Jodeci? Hell to the no!”

Susanna Hoffs: The ex-Bangles frontwoman is cool, schooled,cute, and still records (unlike Ms. Abdul), most recently with MatthewSweet on the killer Under the Covers, Vol. 1, a collection of ’60s and ’70s covers. When it comes to credibility, Susanna’s got it.

Lyor Cohen: Talk about star material! The 6-foot-plus head ofWarner Music Group (formerly Def Jam’s top man) has a tough-guyexterior and an instantly intimidating Israeli accent that would make for greatTV.

Prince: Like Paula, the Purple One says little. But unlike her, those few words carry a lot of weight. 

Paul Simon: The sometimes-prickly, multiplatinum singer-songwriter would be another good Simon candidate. I bet he’d hate everything.

Mutt Lange: The elusive producer, known for internationalsuccesses such as Def Leppard and Shania Twain (who happens to be hiswife), would watch via satellite from his home in Switzerland with hisface blacked out. Then, he’d make his long-awaited return fromhermit-land on the Idol finale and agree to produce the winning band’salbum.

Michael McKean, Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer as Spinal Tap:Come on, who wouldn’t want Nigel Tufnel analyzing guitar licks on aweekly basis? Cast those three — in character — and call it a day.