I’ve already posted an article that describes how Didi Benami was eliminated on Wednesday night’s “American Idol” but now, following in the steps of other news sources, most notably the April 2 issue of “Entertainment Weekly,” I’m going to sound off on the ejection of Didi (et. al.) and what’s happening to drag “American Idol” down the tubes in this, the worst season it has ever experienced.
The show premiered in June of 2002. It has been a rating blockbuster every year since. However, this year, the ratings have plummeted, dropping from 25.8 and 25.5 million to 22.9 and 20.5 million (www.entertainmentweekly.com, p. 38, “Why Can’t the New Idols Sing” by Michael Slezak). At first, I thought the low number of hits on Associated Content for “American Idol” articles could be blamed on competition from the winter Olympics. Then, the winter Olympics ended and the truth emerged.
There were many mistakes made this year, from letting Paula go as a judge, (when audiences apparently loved her particular brand of ditz), to letting it be known that this is Simon’s Swan Song Season. I’m not sure that “American Idol” audiences have ever really taken to Kara. She seemed like “the fifth wheel” last year, and that feeling continues. On top of which, as one critic put it, her constant game of “touchy feely” with Simon becomes distracting to the judging of the contestants and doesn’t seem very mature or professional to be showcased, week after week, on a major television show.
For whatever reason, this year’s crop of “American Idol” contestants is just not that good. There are perhaps 2 to 4 contestants left singing at the end of March with major star potential (Crystal Bowersox, Siobhan Magnus, Lee DeWyze and Casey James), but there are more still singing that are just plain pitiful.
Point Number One:
The refrain heard over and over again (said to the contestants by the judges) is, “You picked the wrong song.” I would like to offer this comment: why don’t the Powers That Be help the contestants pick the song(s) a bit more? If you were planning a party…say a wedding…the DJ would have the songs picked and would mix them up: some slow, some fast. There seems to be no one telling the current crop of lesser talents that it is probably not a good idea to have 10 very gloomy acoustic songs in a row. Why not help the singers out a bit? Require that ½ of the contestants sing something upbeat one week (while the other half can sing slow things) and then switch it around the next week? There seems to be no rhyme or reason for the gloomy, slow ballads that we are subjected to, week after week, song after song. If the show drags, it is because the song selections are admittedly not that great, but they could be, with a little help from the brass at the top. Who’s in that control booth, anyway, and why don’t they step in and give the poor kids some guidance here?
Point Number 2
So many of the songs being sung have been done to death over the years. It is rumored that Katie Stevens wants to sing “Over the Rainbow.” The pitch-challenged contestant, a perennial cellar dweller in the bottom three for the past several weeks, would only be about the umpteenth person to do this song. It was suggested in the “E.W.” article that perhaps a song could be “banned” from the competition once it has been sung by another artist in another year. I mean, come on: Kimberley Locke, Katharine McPhee, Jason Castro sang “Over the Rainbow” in seasons 2, 5 and 7. Do we really want to hear the pitch-challenged Katie sing it this year, too? As Michael Slezak put it, “Ask yourself if you really want to hear Rendition Number 147 of ‘Feeling Good.’” Other “Idol” contestants have already covered twenty-four of the sixty songs performed during the season 9 semi-finals on live shows. That’s a lot of hearing the same song(s) over and over and over.
Point Number Three:
Simon is always hugely critical of “cheesy” treatments of songs on the show, so what’s with the cheesy “group” numbers? Tonight’s (3/31) was “Kung Fu Fighting” and it wasn’t pretty. Why not eliminate the group singing, as the contestants often seem to be struggling with the choreography and nobody likes a bunch of amateurs bumping into one another doing lip-synched poorly chosen songs. As Slezak referred to them in his article in “E.W.”, the “never enjoyable for the audience or the contestants group numbers. So which sadist insists on keeping this cheeseball tradition alive?”
Point Number Four:
This year, the judges seem particularly indifferent. Randy takes forever to mumble an opinion and, tonight, Kara made a particularly catty remark about Simon right to his face (“I know who Simon’s in love with: himself.”) At times, the arrangement of the 4 has changed, with Ellen starting out near Simon and then removing herself to the far right, near Randy. Makes you wonder. Ellen always tries to say something pleasant, but telling one contestant that it’s nice she didn’t fall down is, for sure, the lamest of compliments after a particularly horrific vocal performance (Paige Miles’). My favorite night to illustrate this was March 30th, when Simon actually said, to Tim Urban, the least-gifted of all the contestants vocally: “I don’t think it makes any difference what we say…You’re not gonna’ win. You’re gonna’ smile. The audience is gonna’ vote for you. Nobody cares. You’re gonna’ be here next week. So, well done.” That’s about as indifferent and desperate a statement of the show’s situation as we’ve heard. And the show’s Number One Judge and one of the originators of the program articulated it.
Point Number Five:
This year’s Mentors. What is the deal this year with the inability to find any really talented and noteworthy mentors? Has everyone heard that the show is going down the tubes, so the Celine Dions and the veterans like Barry Manilow and Rod Stewart have said, “Don’t call me; I’ll call you”? Tonight’s musical mentor was Usher. Last week, the show was reduced to using Miley Cyrus, all of 17, to mentor the likes of a really talented singer of 28 (Crystal Bowersox). I remember the year that a hologram of Elvis sang with Celine Dion, which was a spectacular special effect. Why nothing of that caliber this year? And, as another writer suggested, why not get a REAL mentor who is a producer of today’s music and would come in and work with the contestants for the entire week, rather than just someone who drops by, hugs each of them, and then sits in the audience beaming and/or plugging his or her new release.
Point Number Six:
Idol Gives Back. What happened to the idea of “American Idol” being a force for good in a troubled world? We’re more troubled now than the years when the show used its clout to try to relieve suffering around the world, and yet the show has done less of this philanthropic humanitarian sort of thing than ever before. It’s a shadow of its former self in every sense of the word. Oh, yes, there were some token moments, but nothing like the year the show dedicated itself to really making a difference in a world of disasters, natural and other. And this year, the word is suffering perhaps more than ever and the show is doing less than ever to address noble causes.
Point Number Seven:
I’ve written about this before, so please don’t think it’s a new theme for me. I think my first article was called “Some Ideas for Songs That Don’t Suck on ‘American Idol.’” The well has gone dry for theme nights like Country & Western or Rhythm & Blues. There was Beatles night this year, and that was okay, but perhaps the show needs to dig into the catalogues of some other artists of that caliber, in order to avoid the boring offerings we’ve been presented with this year. It seems as though, most nights, there is one ballad after another, usually from someone clutching a guitar, many of them off-key. It’s about as exciting as watching paint dry. When it comes down to reggae versions of “Under My Thumb” by Tim Urban and Judge Kara Dio Guardi says, “I’ve got to applaud you for doing something so incredibly different with the song,” there are those, like Michael Slezak and me who say, “No, you don’t have to applaud mediocrity.” I think my comment after that night, in the subtitle was, “Reggae, Tim…Really?”
Point Number Eight:
The contestants who either didn’t make it on when they should have (Angela Martin, Jermaine Purefoy) or made it, but were kicked off when others who are far, far less talented remain are epidemic this year. Lilly Scott, Kristen Epperly, Todrick Hall are, unfortunately, in the majority this year of contestants gone too soon who could sing rings around Tim Urban on his best day. Contestant Crystal Bowersox was even quoted as saying of Epperly and Scott, “I really did not expect them to go home at all.” Supposedly 18,000 fans of Alex Lambert have been collecting petition signatures to put him back on the show. I suspect that Angela Martin was not allowed to advance because of her brush with the law, and I have an issue with putting contestants on the air in the first place, (like the young man who held up a bank with a b. b gun and served time for it), and then making them disappear because it would be a bad thing to have a felon as an “idol” to American youth. Why let the poor guy even think he was going to get a fair shake? Not to mention the fact (although I will) that the people who put this show on need to get their standards for “amateur versus professional” straight. I heard that the curly-haired young man (Chris Golightly) who was cut (thereby allowing Tim Urban to be called back) was cut because he did not reveal a previous recording contract. There was also a talented Irish contestant in Chicago who was not allowed through because of a fear of visa problems, yet, in other years, we had the tattooed lady of Ireland, as some of you may remember, and she had had a previous recording contract. The rules seem to be very flexible, as indicated by the fact that Michael Lynche is still on the show and in the top ten, even though his mother, who worked for the Orlando “Sentinel” somehow let it slip that he was going to be a finalist in the top twelve, and then his father confirmed it. Both were big “no nos”, but the “rules” that are in place seem to be only selectively enforced. To this viewer at home, recording contracts aside, I fail to see how you are an “amateur” if you have been performing on Broadway in “The Color Purple” (Todrick Hall) or, as with Adam Lambert last year, in a number of other Broadway shows. Mind you: I’m not saying keep the Adam Lamberts OFF. Far from it. I truly miss the caliber of an Adam Lambert or a David Cook or a David Archuleta. I’m just saying that the standards are very strange, not well explained, and very selectively enforced. The rules don’t seem to apply to all contestants. It reminds me of the novel Animal Farm where all animals are equal, but “some animals are more equal than other animals.” All contestants are equal, but some contestants seem to be more equal than other contestants. That just seems unfair.
Point Number Nine:
Too much style over substance. The worst offender, this year, was Tyler Grady, the Lizard King wannabe, who, thankfully, was gone early. His posing as Jim Morrison was hopelessly jejeune, but, to be fair, he was given a lot of mixed signals from judges like Kara DioGuardia early on. You can’t encourage a guy to become a clone of seventies singers like Morrison and tell him how “cool” he is and then turn around the next week and severely criticize him for doing what you just praised in him the week before. The film of Tyler showing up to sing in a bathrobe and cowboy boots shows what happens when you tell an amateur that he is so “cool” and he starts to believe his own press, when it’s premature.
Point Number Ten:
Don’t make the losers sing again. I’ve always found this hideously cruel. Where is the humanity in saying, “You’re gone. We don’t want you. You’re a loser. Now go out there and smile and sing well.” Come on, Folks. Let’s show a little compassion here. Just go with the clips and performances from happier days and let the poor reject slip out a side door and drown his or her sorrows. This year’s Lambert boy was in tears. Katelyn Epperly didn’t hold up that well, either. Only Todrick Hall, the Broadway veteran, seemed to have the attitude, “I know I’m good, and it’s too bad you couch potatoes out there can’t empathize with my obvious talent. Screw you!” And Todrick left us with a great performance, while most have not.
This year, I feel like the entire “American Idol” season is being decided by teeny-boppers who are twelve and wouldn’t know whether the boy they swoon over and vote for, is flat or sharp and could care less about anything more than the extremely superficial issue of his “cuteness.
But, then, given the fact that the professional singers who performed this night (3/31), P. Diddy Sean Combs and Usher gave us “style over substance” performances, what did I expect?