Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Not crazy about the new judge

Yes, I sort of took a blogging hiatus--but American Idol is back, so it's time for me to return as well. (And maybe in the next couple weeks, those posts I've been contemplating about the terrible yet compelling television show "Momma's Boys"--the first reality dating show to feature a debate about Jewish intermarriage--and the slight improvement in hockey coverage by the Washington Post will actually get written.)

Just like the last couple years, I'm not going to do posts during the audition round breaking down each singer because there's not much I can say about a 15-second a capella performance--and because a good chunk of the people we saw tonight we'll never see again (or see for a couple minutes in the Hollywood round). So instead, I'll give you my opinion on the changes to this year's installment of Idol--the most important of which I'm much less excited about now than before the premiere.

I will say, though, that of course I'm a fan of Bikini Girl--although I doubt she makes it out of Hollywood. And Blind Guy is a nice story, but I guess it doesn't make me marvel as much as it is supposed to--after all, two of the great singers of the last 50 or so years, Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder, were blind, so it's not like it's unprecedented for a blind person to succeed in the music business. On to the changes:

First of all, there's the producers' stated intention to decrease the emphasis on bad auditions and focus more on the aspirational and inspirational qualities of the show. Of course this is good news. While there were certainly some bad auditions still aired on tonight's show, it didn't seem like the show was reveling in them as it was doing a few years ago. And of course, the whole ad campaign for the show the last few weeks has been built around "Isn't American Idol great because it makes stars out of nobodies?" instead of "Aren't these ididots funny?" True Idol fans watch the show for the first reason, not the second. And while the audition shows get the highest ratings of the year, save for the finale, it can't be worth alienating many of the true fans of the show for the small percentage of American who just tune in to watch bad singers for a few weeks.

True story: I was on a blind date a couple months ago and for whatever reason American Idol came up. The woman I was with told me that she watched American Idol every year, but only the audition shows. She'd never seen one minute of any other episode of the show. I didn't quite know how to handle this information--did this mean she was a cruel person who just got enjoyment out of watching people embarrass themselves? It didn't seem like it. More troublesome--how could someone not even be curious enough to watch the other portions of the show after watching the audition shows and enjoying them? That puzzled me. But for the record, I did go out on a second date with her, but not a third date--and neither of those decisions had anything to do with her American Idol viewing habits.

Anyway, the decreased emphasis on bad singers may come because the evil producer Nigel Lythgoe has left the show to concentrate on "So You Think You Can Dance" and his partner, Ken Warwick, has fully taken over the reins--another change to the show I like. Hopefully, Ken, unlike Nigel, will take into account the longtime complaint of viewers that certain singers get to the semifinals without any previous air time (and are then often quickly eliminated) while we get minute details of other singers' lives. I'm not optimistic about this, though, because Ken didn't eliminate one of my pet peeves--the stupid "Let's get all the bad singers to sing one song [tonight, "Wanted Dead or Alive"] and then we can splice it together for a lame medley." If there's a bunch of singers in the top 36 that he haven't seen before, but we wasted three or four minutes each audition show for one of those medleys, I'm not going to be happy.

Speaking of the top 36, that's new, too. Instead of seasons 4-7, in which we started with 24 semifinalists and eliminated four each week to get down to 12 finalists, we're going back to the original format. They'll be broken up into three groups of 12, and each week the top three will have to win their way into the finals--with a wild card round filling out the top 12. Interestingly, the decision to change the format back in season four was made because the producers didn't like having someone who had become a star in the audition and Hollywood round only be on the air once in four weeks during the semifinals. But they--correctly--have realized that having them on every week during the semifinals has now led to overexposure and fans getting tired of the singers by the end of the season. I also think this is a good move.

And another positive sign is the decision to only show three weeks of audition shows instead of four (although in week three, they'll actually have three shows, so technically they are only showing one less audition episode) along with an extra week of Hollywood shows. This is an excellent decision, since the audition shows always get boring by the fourth week--and the Hollywood shows are always interesting. They even brought back the group sings this year.

But the biggest change of this season is obviously the new judge, Kara DioGuardi. I wasn't sure how I felt about this until I read a couple interviews with her over the last couple weeks, and liked what she had to say about how she would judge the show--that she would tell people that a certain song wasn't right for them, or suggest a way that they should have sung the song so that they didn't sound just like Mariah Carey when she sang the song, etc.

I also was intrigued that Kara graduated from Duke University in 1993, which meant we spent three years on the same campus--since I graduated from Duke in 1992. No, I don't remember her, don't recall the name, and she doesn't look familiar, so unfortunately I don't have any insight into her. But if we ever met, at least I'd have something to talk about with her besides American Idol. I am kind of puzzled that both in the Entertainment Weekly article I read about her and on the David Letterman show Monday night, she said she was "pre-law" at Duke. As far as I recall, there was no "pre-law" major at Duke and I don't really recall--although I may be wrong--that there was some sort of set of courses that people planning to go to law school usually took--unlike "pre-med," which also wasn't a major but entailed someone taking certain types of courses like organic chemistry. So that's a little odd, but if that makes it sound as if I'm doubting that she was a Duke student, I'm not. After watching Kara tonight, she seemed to think very highly of herself--and that's a very common trait among many Duke women. (Yeah, sorry, that was kind of a cheap shot...)

Anyway, having a new judge did excite me for the new season in a way that I don't think I would have been normally after last year's long, often boring season--because they were shaking up the show without changing the essence of it. And she had a very impressive record of writing pop songs (for instance, the song she wrote with Christina Aguilera, "Ain't No Other Man," is really good, and she actually wrote a pop song, "Pieces of Me," that was catchy enough to force Americans to listen to Ashlee Simpson for a few months.) But after watching tonight, I'm not as excited about Kara. Her opinions so far didn't seem to differ much from the other judges on the panel, and adding a fourth judge to a judging panel that already has a lot of dead weight (at least Paula is entertaining when she says nothing, but Randy barely speaks English now) may not be a real good idea. The real test, though, won't really come until the first semifinal round, so I guess I'll give it a few weeks.

That's enough for tonight. Fingerhut out.

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13 Comments:

Blogger Ross said...

Glad to have you back Eric!

1/14/09, 7:26 AM  
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