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REBOOT THE JUDGES' PANEL, BUT (GULP!) KEEP KARA
After nine seasons, Randy still hasn't learned the fine art of giving succinct, honest, witty feedback to contestants. Ellen, meanwhile, seems to have lost interest in giving any feedback whatsoever (aside from calling everything ''great!''). Idol's producers should give 'em both the hook, and replace them with folks who'll inspire formerly annoying Kara to further raise her game, not drag her into a pit of mealy-mouthed ineloquence. As Project Runway has proven, a judges' table can sustain more than one tough, opinionated panelist.
2 of 15
GIVE US FULL SONGS
Speaking of the panel, if Idol would cut back to three judges — preferably three who weren't completely consumed by a passion for hearing their own voices — the show might have enough time for contestants to occasionally sing entire songs, not just 90-second snippets! I mean, imagine how much more awesome it would've been if season 9 champ Lee DeWyze had gotten to tell the full tale of ''The Boxer,'' rather than perform a radical lyric-ectomy and shrink it down to 90 seconds.
3 of 15
EXPAND THE WEEKLY LIST OF PRE-CLEARED SONGS
Idol's decision this season to release its weekly lists of pre-approved songs on iTunes exposed the brutally limited options foisted on the contestants. And that's why it was so galling during ''Songs from the Cinema'' Week, for example, to hear Simon blast the kids' choice of ditties when we knew their 50 cleared tunes included the nearly lyric-free ''Gonna Fly Now,'' the Hindi-language ''Jai Ho,'' rap track ''Lose Yourself,'' and camp classics like ''Ghostbusters'' and ''Eye of the Tiger.'' (Yes, yes, the contestants can ask for additional songs to get okayed, but given their packed schedules, it's no wonder most of them stick to the producers' roster.) With all the money Idol rakes in, it should have an entire song-clearance department that spends the entire year adding to massive lists of potential musical selections for contestants. With the sales bump most artists experience from having their compositions performed in front of an audience of 20 million, how many would say ''no'' in the first place?
4 of 15
ACKNOWLEDGE MUSIC WRITTEN AND RECORDED AFTER 1990
No disrespect to the Beatles, the Stones, Elvis, Sinatra, Stevie, and Dolly, but it's no wonder the show is seeing its 18-34 demo shrinking when the average age of the songs covered on the Idol stage would easily qualify for an AARP card. If nothing else, an occasional foray into modern songbooks — think Beyoncé or Green Day or even '90s-era boy bands — would help us determine which wannabes are likeliest to thrive on modern radio.
5 of 15
UPDATE THE OPENING CREDITS
After nine seasons, it's time to retire those creepy SIMS people clutching mics and strolling through futuristic stagescapes. Imagine if the show's producers instead cut together quick flashes of Idol's greatest moments over the last nine seasons — from the auditions to Hollywood Week all the way to the finals — and reminded us of the magic that keeps our dance cards filled every Tuesday and Wednesday from January to May. As a bonus, each episode's credits could end with a video clip for a hot new single from a former Idol contestant. See where we're going with this?
6 of 15
KILL THE SWAYBOTS! (AND GET THE BAND DOWN FROM THE RAFTERS!)
Nothing quite kills an authentic musical moment like the sight of sorority chicks waving their arms in the air for the sole purpose of trying to score some precious airtime. Send those Swaybots (TM) back from the pit whence they came, move the judges' table back up against the stage, and while we're at it, let's move the band down from the rafters and on to the same level as the singers. Our Idol wannabes would probably be a lot more relaxed if they had some musicians — and not all that empty space — surrounding 'em, no?
7 of 15
PUT THE KIBOSH ON TOP 24 SPOILERS
For the last several seasons, the list of Idol semifinalists has leaked to the Internet before Hollywood Week episodes have finished airing. The show's producers could easily solve the problem by turning the pre-taped Top 24 announcement episode into a live telecast. Indeed, why not put the final 50 hopefuls in a room with the judges and let them find out their fates at the same time as the rest of the Idoloonie nation? Bonus points for reviving the sadistic season 8 sing-offs in front of a live audience of millions!
8 of 15
LET THE CONTESTANTS WRITE ALREADY!
Idol isn't just about finding which paint salesman or subway busker can serve up the best Beatles cover. Indeed, the show's ultimate success hinges on its ability to find the next Kelly Clarkson or Chris Daughtry, viable artists whose own post-Idol output will allow them to compete against the John Mayers and Pinks and Katy Perrys of the world. Why not have a week (or two!) where contestants get paired with A-list songwriters to separate the ''Undo Its'' from the ''No Boundaries,'' so to speak?
9 of 15
CREATE A BANNED SONGS LIST
Step one: Ban any song performed live during the current or previous season of Idol. Step two: Ban any song that's been performed three or more times in Idol history. Step three: Toss in the ''20 Songs EW Would Ban from Idol Forever.'' Don't worry, Leonard Cohen can live without another round of ''Hallelujah'' residuals, especially since both Tim Urban and Lee DeWyze tackled his tune in 2010.
10 of 15
TAKE US BEHIND THE CURTAIN
Is there anything more painful than hearing Ryan Seacrest rehash the same tired questions for the contestants (and the judges) on Idol results night? Why not go behind the scenes and take a deep-dive look at how the singers grapple with song selection and arrangement, what other tracks they considered (and tossed) before coming up with their selections, and why they've staged their performances in a particular way? The end result can't be less interesting than forcing Casey James to answer another ''cougar bait'' question.
11 of 15
SUPPORT YOUR ALUMNI OVER FLAVORS-OF-THE-WEEK
In a situation that made less sense than a sleep-starved Paula Abdul, Idol gave season 9 results-night performance slots to Ke$ha, Demi Lovato, and Perez Hilton protégé Travis Garland, but not talented former contestants like Jason Castro, Blake Lewis, Carly Smithson (and her band We Are the Fallen), or Kimberly Caldwell (all of whom had recent albums or singles to promote). Here's hoping the show bats a thousand in booking Idol grads for every season 10 results show.
12 of 15
CAST A MORE DIVERSE GROUP OF SEMIFINALISTS
Considering the stunning success of season 4's Carrie Underwood, it's baffling that Idol has done a lackluster job of casting country-oriented females in five subsequent seasons (not counting season 8's tragically overlooked Mishavonna Henson, that is!). Likewise, the show hasn't cast a viable African-American diva since season 6. And its track record with country-leaning males and R&B dudes isn't exactly stellar, either. For season 10, we'd like to see the judges cast a wider net and bring us 24 super-talented hopefuls from a variety of musical genres.
13 of 15
CONDENSE GIMMICKY AUDITIONS
Nine seasons in, attention-seeking foolios like Bikini Boy and Fainting Girl are as stale a bowl of month-old potato chips. Meanwhile, during season 9, the producers axed promising vocalists like Jermaine Purifory and Angela Martin with barely any explanation whatsoever. Stunt auditions should be limited to 15 minutes or fewer per episode, while Hollywood Week should be expanded to provide viable reasons for how and why our early favorites got cut.
14 of 15
Bad enough that Ken Warwick & Co. continue to believe that audiences are entertained by the sight of the show's finalists performing woeful song-and-dance medleys. But it's absolutely reprehensible that the majority of these dated ditties feature an Auto-Tuned backing track and dead mics for the contestants. If we wanted to waste our time on ''singers'' with no natural ability, we'd skip the Idol experience and go download Heidi Montag's latest, thanks very much.
15 of 15
CUT ''GREATEST HITS'' ON FINALE NIGHT
No matter how talented the singer, there's no re-creating an ''Idol Moment.'' So why does the show insist that the final two contestants repeat a performance they did earlier in the season? As David Cook proved in season 7 by eschewing a ''greatest hit'' and instead brilliantly covering ''The World I Know,'' a brand-new creation will always trump a reheated leftover.