Sunday, April 04, 2010

I can't believe how stupid this NY Times article about American Idol is

What program is Alessandra Stanley of the New York Times watching every Tuesday night at 8 on Fox? Because after reading her rave today about Ellen DeGeneres as an American Idol judge, it doesn't seem like she's actually watching American Idol. Either that, or she never watched it before last month. As an out-of-work journalist, reading such a silly piece in the gold standard of newspapers, the New York times, makes me fear for the future of my profession. And I hate when someone who is supposed to be watching television for a living doesn't seem to know anything about it.

Stanley has a history of factual errors in her TV criticism, but the problem in this article isn't facts. And yes, Stanley has every right to hold whatever opinion she chooses and, as long as she's employed by the Times, write about it. But her opinion that Ellen DeGeneres is somehow now the star of the show and has elevated it is so crazy and different from the opinions of any avid watcher of the show that I barely know how to respond. I just can't believe anyone would actually hold such an opinion unless they were a family member of Ellen or the president of her fan club.

Here's the money section of Stanley's piece:

She has little experience in the music business, but midway through her first season Ms. DeGeneres has all but hijacked the show, playing second fiddle to no one, not even the overbearing Mr. Cowell. She has elevated the tone with her own style of mischievous good spirits and well-honed, down-to-earth charm. She couldn’t be friendlier or more congenial, but she doesn’t quite blend with the other judges; at times, her facial expressions betray a quizzical distance from the show’s cheesier moments. It makes her all the easier for viewers to identify with, but she also makes the other judges look all the more like show business hacks.

There is a power shift playing out onstage. Ms. DeGeneres sometimes looks like the keen, dedicated new teacher who wins over students but is treated with polite suspicion by burned-out veterans in the faculty lounge.

She certainly tries harder. The alpha judge, Mr. Cowell, is a showy enunciator, but the words he utters with British bite are quite banal (“pointless” and “silly” and “useless” ). The other judges pay almost no attention to syntax or cliché — contestants are repeatedly told they “nailed it” or “hit it out of the park.” Randy Jackson, in particular, never tires of telling contestants, or as he constantly calls them, “dawg,” that they are “pitchy” or that they are “the bomb.”

Ms. DeGeneres keeps reaching for fresh, incongruous metaphors. She compared one singer’s uneven performance to the two panels of “a hospital gown” and a standout performance by another contestant as “Snooki’s pouf” (a reference to the bouffant hairdo of a cast member of “The Jersey Shore”).

I will agree with one thing Stanley says here. Ellen doesn't blend with the other judges--because she has no music industry experience. And that's a big reason why she's such a bad judge. Sure, she's occasionally said something funny or made a good critique, but most of the time her criticism consists of something like "I didn't like the song choice, but you were great." Or "It wasn't the best I've seen you, but I love you and you're great." Or possibly the low point for an American Idol judge, when she praised Paige Miles' outfit and then said something like "I'll let Kara handle the music critique." Actually, no, the low point was when she hugged Tim Urban for a mediocre performance.

She's hijacked the show? Really? Does she really think any singer on the show, or family member of a singer on the show, would rather--if given a choice--rather have a positive critique from Ellen than from Simon? Of course not. Does any viewer of the show look more forward, or give more respect to criticism from Ellen than Simon? Other than Alessandra Stanley, I doubt it. As for Ellen's use of "fresh, incongrous metaphors," Simon has used plenty of those over the years. There was the time he described someone's performance as a "beautiful dress with a slight tear in it." Or when he talks about someone sounded like the performance by a 10 year old at a family brunch. Some of them don't even make any sense, but they're incongrous and often fresh.

I've probably written too much about this already. But anyone who thinks adding Ellen--and continuing with four judges--is somehow a good thing for American Idol isn't much of a fan of American Idol. Adding someone with no professional knowledge of music, combined with the departure of Simon from the show after this season, is the death knell for the show. I just can't believe there's no one editing the arts section in the New York Times who watches the show and didn't say to Stanley, "Really, you sure about this? I watch the show and I think this article is insane."

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Anonymous John said...

Great piece! Nothing better than an angry blog from the Fingerman!

Ellen: I've always thought that Ellen was a funny stand-up--other than her work in Finding Nemo, I can't say that she had had that great of a vehicle for her talents.

But I think that she is an awkward fit, at best, on American Idol. Seriously, they shouldn't have added her when Paula Abdul left. I'm no Kara fan, but three is the right number of judges...

4/7/10, 10:56 AM  
Blogger Donelle said...

I completely disagree. I think it is important to have someone with "no music backgound" to give input as a judge. She certainly has plenty of background in the entertainment industry as a stand-up comic and talk show host. I think she is a little intimidated by all of the standard comments that Simon,Randy and Kara make when what we really want to hear is whether she liked it or not. Everybody's tastes in music differ. I certainly often disagree with many of the judges comments
I also think that what the judges hear and see can be quite different than what we see on TV at home. Anyway.... I do like the humor that she injects into the process.
Paula with all of her music industry experience did not add anything more to judging than Ellen.

4/12/10, 5:06 PM  

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