Thursday, May 1, 2008

American Idol Needs Improvement

American Idol is one of those shows that I watch, but only after they’ve gone through the process of eliminating the people who can’t sing. Well, at least one hopes they did. It seems that after they clear out the ones that have zero talent, we’re still left with a group of 12 contestants, some of which really aren’t all that great. I always find it hard to believe that after auditioning many thousands of people, that the group of 12 left is the best they can do.

Inevitably as the process moves along, the singer’s weaknesses and talents become more obvious. This season, the clear star seems to be David Cook, who even if he were to not win, should have a stellar career. The man is clearly talented and a versatile singer, with the style that seems relevant and intriguing to all ages. (I’m in my early 50s and have really enjoyed his performance.) As far as I am concerned, everyone else pales by comparison, but the judges seem to clearly be pumping up the status of a few marginal contestants – and tearing down others - to at least make it seem interesting.

This seemed to backfire on them when, late week, Carly Smithson was voted off the show. Granted, I don’t think Carly could have gone the distance and won, but I think she had a much more solid singing voice than does the breathy Jason Castro. But, Simon Cowell seemed to voice to many concerns about Carly – and he and the rest of the judges (Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul) didn’t work hard enough to be seriously critical of Castro. So here we are, left with Jason Castro in the top 4, and he has shown virtually no growth, range, or depth in his breathy, wispy singing style.

Raising the question of the judgment of the judges was flung into the spotlight when, this past week, Paula Abdul, while providing a brief critique of Jason Castro, commented on a performance that he hadn’t even done yet. Randy tried to explain it away, Ryan Seacrest tried to joke around it, but it sat there like a giant elephant. The next day, Paula tried to explain it away again, and Ryan Seacrest said on the show, “Just for the record: The rumors -- they're not true. She's part of our family, and we love her." Of course, he never said what those rumors were, but I assume that it was either that she was getting fired or she has some sort of chemical dependency problem.

The situation has, in my opinion, intensified the need for this show to undergo some changes. Nothing radical, mind you, just something to bring new life into it.

First, they do need to get rid of Paula Abdul. It’s getting to be embarrassing and even uncomfortable watching here, every week, blather nonsense to the contestants, rarely offering any serious criticism. She seems to frequently say things like “you are you” or “you show who you are” etc., and I find myself scratching my head wondering just what she is trying to telling them. And for her to get so confused to rate a performance that didn’t even happen not only shows how bubble-headed she is, but was an insult to the performer and probably grossly unfair to him as well. Granted, Jason Castro is awful but he doesn’t deserve to be humiliated in such a fashion.

Second, they need to change the judging a bit. My suggestion is that until they get to the final 4, the judges should have some sort of veto power over the popular vote. I’m thinking that of the bottom two vote getters, if the judges think that the voters got the one with the least votes wrong, they should be able to take, for example, the second to the bottom and eliminate them instead. Something like this could have saved Chris Daughtry in a previous season. It could have saved Carly Smithson this season, after all Brook White and Jason Castro were far worse than her.

Bottom line is American Idol is getting a little tiresome and a little too complacent. I’ve read reports (LA Times Article example) that viewship, while still strong and impressive for American Idol, is dipping down. The show is still a huge draw, but clearly it is showing a slow leak. I assume that AI's core demographic is the 18-49 age group, but it seems like the voting is coming from the 11-16 year old age group (considering Jason Castro and David Archuleta are still there). Either they need to find another way for people to vote (via Internet maybe) or they need to raise the level of talent so more adults will participate. The show may be losing the older viewers who may not be inclined to vote via phone, or who may be becoming disgusted with the immature talent. AI also needs to work harder to find the best talent and get it to the top. I think America’s disillusionment is also showing in lackluster record sales for many of the winners, some being dropped by record labels as soon as they can legally do so. The show needs to do something to plug the hole and bring some respectability, and credibility to the show.

And firing Paula Abdul may be the first step to that process.

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