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One-Hit Wonder Night
Before you start waving your arms to put the brakes on this wacky-on-paper idea, bear in mind we're not advocating an evening of ''Macarena,'' ''Mambo No. 5,'' ''Mickey,'' and ''Cotton-Eyed Joe.'' Nope, instead imagine the loooong list of terrific tunes recorded by artists who, for whatever reason, only struck chart gold on one occasion. We'll get the brainstorm session started, and you can keep it going down in the comments section: a-ha's ''Take on Me,'' Deee-Lite's ''Groove Is in the Heart,'' Edie Brickell & New Bohemians' ''What I Am,'' Cutting Crew's ''I Just Died in Your Arms,'' Dead or Alive's ''You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)''...your turn! (See how fun this would be!)
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Songs That Make You Cry
Okay, we'll admit this particular evening of music might end up with 30 million people assuming the fetal position on their respective couches while bawling their eyes out — but in the best possible way, no? Not only is a good heartbreak anthem essential to any great artist's oeuvre, but it would also be instructive to separate the ''Nothing Compares to You'' aficionados from the ''It's All Coming Back to Me Now'' camp. Cecile Frot-Coutaz, make it happen already!
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A Capella Night
Back in season 4, Bo Bice gave the house band a night off and delivered a rendition of Badlands' ''In a Dream'' that achieved instant icon status in the Idoloonie nation. While we're not sure some of Bo's lesser-gifted contemporaries (Scott Savol, Mikalah Gordon) could've pulled off the same feat, half the fun of this particular theme would be seeing who soared and who tanked under the stripped-down-to-naked pressure.
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Who among us hasn't rocked out to the howling sounds of Poison, Winger, and Cinderella? Eight seasons worth of Idol contestants, that's who! And for those of you who flinch at the idea of ''Youth Gone Wild'' or ''Girls, Girls, Girls'' making their debuts on the Idol stage, how about the great ballads of the era, like ''Don't Know What You Got (Till It's Gone),'' ''Every Rose Has Its Thorn,'' or ''Love Bites''? Grab your AquaNet, Idoloonies, and prepare to rock!
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CARLY SIMON SONGBOOK
Brooke White first proved herself a legit season 7 contender with an acoustic take on Simon's ''You're So Vain.'' Now, it's time other contestants were forced to get hip to the acclaimed singer-songwriter's repertoire. Tracks like ''Anticipation'' and ''Haven't Got Time for the Pain'' feature gorgeous melodies and lyrics that work for either gender. And with ''Let the River Run,'' ''Nobody Does It Better,'' and ''Better Not Tell Her,'' Simon's songbook even has tracks for bombast-loving divas.
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Maybe this wouldn't have worked back in season 1, but considering Idol's amped-up focus on ''artistry,'' why not let the contestants sing songs they've written themselves? Or, for those hopefuls who aren't exactly experienced tunesmiths, let 'em pick from a pool of a few hundred songs by writers who've never had a Billboard-charting hit, to prove whether or not they can spot the hidden gems from the lumps of coal.
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He let Paris Bennett cover ''Kiss'' back in season 5, and even performed on that year's finale. But we'd like to see Prince clear his entire songbook for a night of his biggest smashes (''Purple Rain,'' ''Raspberry Beret,'' ''1999''), and, of course, the tracks he's written that became hits for other artists. For the record, we're thinking ''Manic Monday'' and ''Nothing Compares 2 U,'' but maybe not so much with the ''Sugar Walls.''
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SONGS FROM THE YEAR YOU TURNED 16
Let's get real: Not only has Idol dipped into the ''Songs from the Year You Were Born'' well one too many times, that awkwardly named theme forces contestants to revisit an era when they were still eating strained peaches and crying for their binkies. Perhaps the show's producers should let 'em perform songs that shaped their early musical identities — ones that would hopefully result in an outpouring of youthful angst and passion right there on the Idol stage.
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Hey, Idols! Not long after the confetti is vacuumed off the Kodak floor, you're gonna be thrown into the big, scary pond alongside the Beyoncés, Flo Ridas, and Frays of the world. As boot camp, we'd like to see you put your own twist on one of Timbaland's ubiquitous, futuristic chart-toppers. Don't worry, we'll book the in-demand producer as your mentor for the week; dude is expensive, but we think Idol can probably afford his fee.
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NO BALLADS ALLOWED NIGHT
Ever wake up sweating from the nightmare that you've been surrounded by ''Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now),'' ''Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me,'' ''I Have Nothing,'' and a small army of Celine Dion tracks? Then this evening of songs that can be from any genre, but must have uptempo rhythms, is exactly what the doctor ordered!
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Idol loves old-school throwdowns like ''Big Band'' and ''Rat Pack'' and ''Great American Songbook,'' and if we're being honest, so do we. But aren't all the aforementioned evenings just slight variations on the same theme? As an alternative, we'd suggest a foray into the soundtracks of MGM's stable of classic musicals: Meet Me in St. Louis, Singin' in the Rain, An American in Paris, and Ziegfeld Follies, to name just a few.
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LINDA PERRY PICKS AND ARRANGES YOUR SONGS
The former 4 Non Blondes frontwoman (pictured, right) helped rescue Pink and Christina Aguilera from early career stagnancy, and has penned and produced hits for everyone from James Blunt to Gwen Stefani to Courtney Love. Why not give the Idols a taste of what's in store in their careers — where they'll have to work closely with powerhouse producers — and force them to submit to Perry's song-choice and arranging whims? The woman can't do much worse than the contestants often do themselves, can she?
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BRITNEY SPEARS NIGHT
Sure, the pop-tart/tabloid fixture doesn't have the world's strongest instrument — not by any stretch of the imagination. Which is why we'd love to see her pop confections — especially ''Toxic,'' ''Oops!...I Did It Again,'' and ''Gimme More'' — covered by singers who don't need Auto-Tune or backing tracks to sound palatable.
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SONGS PICKED BY YOUR COMPETITORS' PARENTS
Here's a crazy three-step idea, inspired (a little) by Project Runway: Let each contestant's parents pick their five favorite songs, and put 'em on a list. Then have each Idol pick a set of parents (but not their own, of course). Finally, watch the contestants freak out when they're forced to pick their song from one of their competitors' parents' countdowns. Guaranteed fun — for the whole family!
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TOM PETTY SONGBOOK
You don't really need us to explain the depth and awesomeness of the Tom Petty catalog, do you? No? We didn't think so.
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FAVORITE ALBUM TRACKS
Everybody loves a big hit, but true music fans cherish certain album tracks just as deeply. To that end, wouldn't we learn something fun and unexpected about our contestants by asking them to pick the best non-hits off their favorite albums? Plus, as an added bonus, the show would probably avoid encountering all those pesky song-clearance issues for a week.
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Hey, here's an idea: Let the Idols get their grooves on, but don't paint them into a bell-bottom-shaped corner. By expanding the standard-operating Disco Night into a wider, more current Dance Night, the show would open itself to the great uptempo hits of Madonna, Janet Jackson, Mika, and Crystal Waters! Make it happen, producers, and we suspect even Paula would be doing some couch-dancing by evening's end!
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TV THEME SONGS
Sure, it's a little goofy on paper. But that doesn't mean it wouldn't be awesome to get updated takes on the infinitely hummable themes of Frasier, The Golden Girls, Three's Company, Cheers, 227, and Moonlighting, right?