Never fear American Idol fans. We may currently be between seasons, but I am here to provide a little midsummer respite for those missing one of your favorite guilty pleasures. I am normally a fan of the old adage “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”, and since Idol is still getting good ratings and making mad bank some may think it isn’t broken. I disagree. I feel like there are things that need tweaking that would make the show fresh, and more importantly, better. Therefore, I have a few modest suggestions. So, for those of you who out there who have ever (for some mysterious reason) made an effort to see Bucky Covington at a county fair, and those who actually remember who in the heck Sanjaya Malakar is, I give you…..
a collaborative effort from the home offices in Intercourse & Climax, PA…..
The Superfluous 7 Ways to Improve American Idol:
7 Higher Age Limit
Right now Idol rules state contestants must be between the ages of 15 & 28. Originally contestants had to be from 16-24. I would change the rules again. This past season it struck me that my early favorite (before Haley Reinhart grabbed my attention), eventual runner-up Lauren Alaina, was only 16 years old and there were a lot of times when one could tell. I give the young lady a lot of credit…she handled herself well and maintained her composure under tremendous pressure, but is it really a good idea to put 16 year old kids in that position?? It just feels…wrong on some level. I also don’t believe that a person’s talent should be discarded just because they may not be young and tight and sexy anymore. I realize that the powers-that-be are marketing to a target audience skewing toward young teenagers, mostly female. But both from a business & creative viewpoint it would seem to make sense to open up the parameters a bit, and from a moral point of view it seems logical to me that contestants on a reality show should atleast be out of high school. So I would make the age range from 18-35. This would be an easy change to make and I really don’t think it would hurt the product much.
6 DWTS Scoring
One of my other guilty pleasures is Dancing with the Stars, and they do something a wee bit different than Idol. They let the masses vote, but they don’t let it become a complete popularity contest. The judges on DWTS aren’t well known personalities giving meaningless advice. They are experts in their field who give scores that are factored into the results. I am not sure how much weight is given to the judges scores versus public vote…it’s probably not 50/50…but it makes enough of a difference that someone who just cannot dance at all won’t be saved by their level of popularity, atleast not for long. Meanwhile, on Idol, if enough 13 year old nitwits think someone is “OMG HOT!!” it doesn’t matter if they sing like Roseanne Barr doing The National Anthem, even if the judges point it out. I say make the judges on American Idol useful. Let them assign some sort of score to each performance that is then balanced in some way with audience input. As frivolous as a show like American Idol is, the outcome does have a significant impact, both positive and negative, on contestants’ lives. I do not think it is right to leave those lives completely in the hands of children with unformed, unsophisticated, decidedly undeveloped musical palates.
5 Throw Off The Covers
Idol is so predictable when it comes to songs. Multiple people every season try to tackle Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, and Celine Dion (almost always failing miserably). Contestants probably think they are being cute and impressing someone when they sing a Carrie Underwood or Kelly Clarkson tune. I think they are probably wrong. Stevie Wonder gets a lot of play on the show, and one doesn’t really realize how awesome Lil Stevie is until some 17 year old kid with no soul butchers one of his songs. And here’s the kicker: When the lucky & talented winner reaches the end of a long and arduous road THEN they are forced to sing some crappy new song by some unknown songwriter that the producers are praying becomes a huge radio hit. It rarely works. I say let the contestants sing original material throughout the season. Whether it is something they have written themselves or a tune somebody else hooks them up with, atleast it’d be something different on occasion. The contestants that really stand out, like James Durbin or Chris Daughtry, are the ones who go out on a limb and give us a completely fresh take on an old song. All I am suggesting is that we take that a step further and allow the guys & gals to sing stuff we may have never heard before. Would it be a gamble?? Absolutely, which is another reason I really like the idea. But who knows?? Maybe…just maybe…the roll of the dice may pay off for the risk taker, and the audience might be spared from hearing the same dozen songs a hundred times.
4 Real Judges
I have liked every judge that has ever been on Idol. I did feel like Ellen Degeneres was woefully miscast in the role, and Kara DioGuardi, ironically one of only two judges who have been really qualified for the gig, seemed completely uncomfortable. Simon Cowell rocked but understandably got bored. That brings us to Paula Abdul and the current lineup of Randy Jackson, Steven Tyler, and Jennifer Lopez. The prevailing thought process seems to be that a successful pop star is the perfect person to choose a new crop of pop stars. That logic is wrong. Look, I LOVE Steven Tyler, but as entertaining as he is, he adds nothing of substance. He gave no meaningful insight, criticism, or helpful advice all last season. Ditto for J-Lo, who is a carbon copy of Abdul in the sense that both seemed to balk at offering any kind of constructive critique. Neither want to be mean. Maybe this is really their personality…or maybe they don’t want to be perceived as bitches and hurt their own careers (insomuch as Paula Abdul still has a “career”). Which leads me to Randy. Randy Jackson, contrary to popular belief, is not one of the Jackson Five. No, his biggest claim to musical fame is being a bassist for Journey for about 5 minutes in the mid-80’s. Okay okay…I guess he is some sort of record producer too. But whatever his legitimate qualifications may be, he has pretty much made them irrelevant on Idol. In my opinion he is the most useless judge of them all, with a collection of catchphrases that substitute for genuine commentary on contestants’ performances. He, of course, calls everyone “Dawg”, but he also says things like “It was just aiiight”, “You worked it out”, “It was a little pitchy dawg”, and “He’s in it to win it!!”. What the hell do those things even mean?? I can predict almost exactly what Randy is going to say before he even says it, and his schtick has become tiresome. He did try to be more “Simon-esque”, i.e. sort of mean, this past season, but it generally fell flat. The show is supposed to be about the contestants, but unfortunately it has become too much about the star power of the judges. If I may, let me once again reference DWTS. The judges on that show are Carrie Ann Inaba, Bruno Tonioli (the excitable Italian), and Len Goodman (the stuffy Brit). Raise your hand if you’d heard of them before DWTS. That’s right…no one raised their hand. But all three bring genuine qualifications to their roles…dancer, coach, choreographer or even all of those things. They give great counsel that, if the celebrities follow, makes a noticeable difference. That needs to happen on American Idol but it rarely does. My advice would be to can all three of the existing judges and bring in folks who have the types of jobs that make or break young, talented singers. So what if the masses have never heard of them?? Atleast Seacrest is still there to be witty & charming. That and the singing should be enough.
3 Limited Voting
I talked to a friend during this past season who said she’d just voted (for whom I forget) 200 times. That’s right…two HUNDRED times. In one night. Besides being a sad commentary on the emptiness of that person’s life, it is just plain ridiculous and wrong. How come I can only cast one vote for my choice for President or Governor or Mayor but I can stuff the proverbial ballot box for Constantine Maroulis?? How about we give everyone 10 votes (per week of course)?? I am sure it would be easy enough to do from a technical standpoint. This sort of goes back to the age thing too. A prepubescent girl has a distinct advantage over an old(er) dude like myself when it comes to texting, so this would level the playing field a bit.
2 Random Song Choice
They mixed it up a little bit this past season, having record company exec Jimmy Lovine (who’d make a great judge – see #4) suggest songs to the contestants, and in the finale I seem to recall Alaina and eventual winner Howdy Doody/George Strait/Alfred P. Newman (I’ve forgotten his actual name already and I bet I’m not the only one, so good luck kid) were assigned songs by Lovine and the judges. How about we do more of that?? Put these kids on the spot. Make them pick a song out of a hat. If you really want to be a prick about it do it on the live broadcast and make them sing it within the hour with no practice, but I’d be okay with doing it earlier in the week and giving them a fighting chance to not embarrass themselves. You want fan involvement?? Okay…let fans vote on songs they want to hear from each contestant. There are so many ways to shake things up and make the show more fun & unpredictable.
1 Voting Age Limit
I know I seem stuck on this age thing. I don’t want to come off as some curmudgeonly old man who doesn’t understand what the kids are into these days, but maybe I am to a degree. However, I don’t think I am being unfair when I say that modern “music” can’t hold a candle to the great stuff I grew up listening to in the 70’s & 80’s. Even music before my time, tunes from the 50’s & 60’s, are tremendous, it’s just that I don’t have as much of an emotional connection. At any rate, I give Idol credit for not allowing crap like rap & hip-hop to soil the show, although how could they since it is supposed to be a s-i-n-g-i-n-g competition and I am sure Fox would balk at contestants jumping around yelling about killing cops, doing drugs, and smacking around their bitches & hos. Plus as previously mentioned there is always a copious amount of love given to great talents like Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Mariah Carey, and Carole King. However, every time I hear someone do a great rendition of You’ve Got A Friend or Overjoyed I just can’t shake that nagging feeling, pondering to myself “I wonder if the teeny boppers get it??” If Contestant A comes out and does a kickass version of Gershwin’s Summertime and Contestant B sings a Lady Gaga cover, which one will grab the attention of the youngsters?? Maybe I am wrong (it happens occasionally), but I think I know the answer and it’s not good. I humbly suggest setting an age limit of…let’s be generous and say…16. Because maybe…just maybe…someone that age has been driving a bit and accidentally stumbled upon a classic rock, adult contemporary, or other radio station with decent music that has somehow infiltrated their brain. Or maybe I’m being far too optimistic.
- Pia Toscano Talks Life After ‘American Idol,’ Unveils New Song (aoltv.com)
- Jennifer Lopez Returning to American Idol? | Snark Food (current.com)
- American Idol Auditions (wdok.radio.com)
- Jennifer Lopez Is Returning to American Idol As a Judge (binsidetv.net)
- Photos: American Idol Auditions In Pittsburgh (wdok.radio.com)
- Photos: American Idol Auditions In Pittsburgh (q104.radio.com)
- Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul SAVAGE ‘American Idol’ In New ‘X Factor’ Promo (huffingtonpost.com)