'American Idol': New night, music videos, no semifinals, one-hour results shows. Which changes will do us good?
Tuesday, your “journey” has come to an end — at least with regard to American Idol.
Yes indeed, in a move that may have rival networks reexamining their own 2011 programming rosters, Fox revealed yesterday that Idol is shifting to a Wednesday-Thursday schedule, abandoning the Tuesday-Wednesday timetable around which the Idoloonie nation has built
its entire life its TV viewing calendar for the last nine seasons. The late Friday announcement capped a week of carefully leaked tidbits about the remodeling that the long-running ratings juggernaut will undergo when it returns to the airwaves in January; that’s when new judges Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler will join “barnacle” Randy Jackson on a ship that, for the first time, won’t have Simon Cowell hurling insults from the lido deck. And while it’s pure speculation to say whether these tweaks big and small will translate into smooth sailing or sinking fortunes for Idol‘s tenth season, when has that ever stopped me in the past? Let’s take a critical look at each one of the recently revealed changes for season 10:
The move to Thursdays: “[Thursday] is a tough nut to crack, and if you want to crack it, you have to make a big move there,” Mike Darnell, Fox’s reality chief, told Deadline Hollywood. And indeed, with Glee becoming a ratings force on Tuesdays this fall (sans Idol lead-in), it makes sense for the network to try to position its ratings powerhouses over three nights, rather than just two. Bottom line, though, is that a timeslot switch shouldn’t mean much to Idol addicts. Think of it this way: Would Adam Lambert’s “Mad World” have sounded any less glorious on a Wednesday? Would Chris Daughtry’s ouster have been any less devastating on a Thursday? At the end of the day, we Idoloonies can bring the crazy any night of the week, any week of the year. So go ahead Fox, and do your thing.
The return of the one-hour results shows?: A wise philosopher once said, “Fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.” Which is pretty much the stance I copped back in May, when Fox announced that it planned to cut Idol‘s results-show telecasts from 60 minutes to a half-hour (a promise it made and broke back a couple years ago as well). Yesterday’s Fox press release took a virtual Swiffer to that dusty idea of a truncated results telecast by announcing that starting Jan. 20, Idol would air from 8 to 9 p.m. every Thursday. Still, while we can all grumble at the network for another season of filler-laden elimination nights starring Ke$ha, Miley Cyrus, and Ryan Seacrest’s redundant questions for contestants, who can really blame Fox for choosing a scenario in which it’ll get 18-20 million viewers rather than, say, 5 million, in its 8:30-9 slot? At the end of the day, this is why God created the DVR fast-forward function.
The death of the semifinal rounds: Say farewell to the fun-yet-frustrating weeks when we grow attached to kids like Alex Lambert, Katelyn Epperly, Mishavonna Henson, and Aloha Mischeaux, only to watch them fall short of Top 12 glory. Returning co-executive producer Nigel Lythgoe told the New York Post this week that “the middle rounds” — in which viewers used to whittle down a pack of either 24 or 36 contestants down to 12 finalists — “will disappear.”
Lythgoe spun some ridiculous fiction in an effort to justify the show wrestling back a great deal of control from the voting public. “When you’re showing viewers 34 people and asking the country to judge 34 people, you don’t know who’s talented — you only know the ones who’ve had a bit of their stories shown in the auditions,” he said. “It’s much easier to say, ‘Here are the Final 12, now here are their stories, and start figuring out who you like.'” Sounds reasonable enough, until you remember that Idol fans have proven themselves completely capable of ignoring producer pimping and overwrought backstories and voting for contestants based solely on a single spectacular live performance. (See Allison Iraheta, Jason Castro, and perhaps most importantly, former champs like Kelly Clarkson and Kris Allen.)
I’d have more respect for Lythgoe if he’d just explain that the producers have been frustrated by their inability to use manipulative editing, talk-show campaigning, and occasionally biased judging to carry their pre-ordained “chosen ones” all the way to victory, and that by eliminating the semifinals, they feel they’ll have a better chance to pre-determine the season 10 outcome. Nigel’s honesty (or lack thereof) aside, even if you haven’t been thrilled with the last few Idol winners, it’s hard not to vehemently oppose any move that reduces the public’s power. Idol voters have Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, and David Cook on their roster; that beats most three-artist combinations you could pull off the latest edition of the Billboard Hot 100, no?
This won’t be just a singing competition anymore: Well, not that Idol has ever really been strictly about vocals, but Lythgoe told TV Guide this week that season 10 will require wannabes to compete “to make the best music video, to promote themselves, and to work with a band and dancers for an awards show-style performance.” Props to the producing team for these innovations, considering that all of the aforementioned skills can help make or break an Idol once he or she exits the protective cocoon of a reality TV competition and is asked to fly the sometimes unfriendly skies alongside fully formed butterflies like Beyoncé, Pink, and John Mayer.
The emergence of an anti-guitar invective: Lythgoe has repeatedly mentioned his intention to stop contestants from “hiding behind their guitars,” which seems like a direct dig at Lee DeWyze, Kris Allen, David Cook, and all the other contestants in the last three seasons who’ve strummed their way into the hearts of Idol watchers. I find Lythgoe’s stance here both troubling and wrong-minded. Rather than railing against the use of instruments by DeWyze and runner-up Crystal Bowersox as the reasons for a sleepy season 9, how about blaming the production itself for saddling last year’s contestants with extremely limited lists of sappy, saccharine ditties? Perpetuating the fiction that “singer-songwriter types” have killed the Idol machine is kind of like chaining a dog to a tree, setting the tree on fire, then complaining when it fails to go fetch the newspaper.
What do you think, Idol fans? Which of the announced changes to season 10 have you excited? Which have you crying ‘foul’? And what’s your excitement level to tune in to the new and (possibly) improved mothership? Sound off in the comments section, and for all my Idol news and views, follow me on Twitter @EWMichaelSlezak.