I have to confess – I’m a huge fan of American Idol. Which is to say, I’m a huge fan of the show’s concept – finding incredible talent in remotest parts of the United States in a process that gives everybody an equal opportunity to wow the judges and later the broader audience. I don’t mean to sound pompous, but I do think that it is one of the things that make the U.S. great. I also think it’s great that the Arab version of Idol, called SuperStar, is washing away usually strongly rigid class and gender differences of the Muslim society. (Too bad Russia’s version of Idol, called People’s Artist, only lasted a couple of seasons before turning into a corrupt mechanism of promoting famous people’s children.)
Back to American Idol. I’ve only been watching it closely since Season 8, and I haven’t been completely happy with they way the show has been progressing. Yes, I rooted for the cute and talented Chris Allen during Season 8, but I was sure Adam Lambert would ultimately win because of his undeniable potential as a performer and entertainer. I was surprised to see Chris win, but it is no surprise that the runner-up Adam leads with the number of albums sold.
As for the judges, I, like many, was annoyed by Paula Abdul’s often incoherent and always wordy manner of expressing herself, and I was glad to see her go after Season 8. However, while I liked Kara DioGuardi as a judge (I still don’t fully understand all the criticisms about her judging abilities – I thought she was usually quite good at providing constructive critique), I thought four judges was too many (especially when wordy Paula was one of them), and judges’ endless blabbering was stealing focus from the contestants. I was also surprised by the show’s creators’ decision to include Ellen DeGeneres in Season 9. Yes, Ellen was funny, but the point of having a judge is to provide contestants and viewers with meaningful critiques, not jokes. I was especially annoyed by Ellen’s frequent refusals to comment on obviously bad performances altogether, saying something funny and encouraging about the contestant’s appearance and then “turning the music critique” to other judges. It was a wise decision on Ellen’s part to leave the show after one season.
However, the worst thing about Season 9 was Crystal Bowersox being robbed of a well-deserved victory after she (figuratively speaking) wiped the floor (just listen to her final performance!) with the adorably hapless-looking Lee DeWyze in the finale. Lee now joins the forces of adorable guitar-playing boys unable to sell enough albums to justify their victory. Season 9 also saw premature departure of some very talented girls – presumably for the same reasons Lee won, namely teenage girls voting for cute boys – specifically Katelyn Epperly and Lilly Scott, whose performances of The Scientist and A Change Is Gonna Come, respectively, early in the final stage of the competition were very genuine and moving. Season 8 had some of the same features, most notably eliminating the rock-n-roll-oriented big-voiced redhead Allison Iraheta before saying good-bye to the talented but meek and saccharine Danny Gokey.
Now to the current Season 10. Many changes have been made, from the judges’ panel to age eligibility. Speaking of the latter, even though Idol tries to defend its new lower age eligibility threshold of 15 by promoting talented 15-year-olds, I’m still not convinced – for the same reason I don’t know what people, except preteen girls, see in Justin Bieber. Idol‘s attempts to promote 15-year-olds sound specially ridiculous when they are combined with judges’ rejections of above-mentioned 15-year-olds on the basis that they would be “swallowed” in the competition. 16 was a perfectly good lower age eligibility threshold, and I think it should be restored. I also think the upper age eligibility threshold should be 30 or at least 29, not the random-looking 28 (although it is much better compared to the original threshold of 24).
As for Season 10 judges, I am so far pleasantly surprised and cautiously optimistic. In the absence of Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson has become more eloquent as opposed to his usual “yo, dude, man, that was hot”-type comments, which is nice to see. Aerosmith‘s Steven Tyler has been fun while adequately constructive; however, his propensity for foul language is starting to be a little bit annoying – we know he’s a wild rocker, but is this man unable to contain himself? Jennifer Lopez, usually seen wearing enormously high heels and short puffy skirts, has been struggling with saying “no” to untalented contestants, which could lead to an excess of positive comments once we get to the live performances. Also, the judges have been a bit too kind to individuals of great passion and distinct personality, but questionable ability to stay within limits of reason, which will lead to some fun but also more difficult decisions during the Hollywood round.
The bottom line, I’m looking forward to see whether or not Season 10 will resurrect American Idol‘s star-making powers.