The confetti’s been swept up. The summer tour dates have been announced. And Scotty McCreery’s “I Love You This Big” is headed for a date with country radio. All of which is another way of saying that American Idol‘s 11th season is a mere seven months away.
With that in mind, I sat down and hammered out a list of 10 changes I’d make to the Idol machine to keep it humming along in high-rated, entertaining fashion. Check out my list of proposed tweaks, then hit the comments and suggest your own!
1) Limit the number of votes per device: What’s the point of dialing on behalf of your favorite singer when you know that somewhere in a dank basement, a power-texting lunatic is dumping 1,000 votes into the system on behalf of Cute Male Contestant No. 573? A 10-vote limit on every phone or computer might remedy the feelings of hopelessness that haunt Idol fans whose busy lives won’t allow them to devote two hours a week to the art of speed-dialing. In fact, if Idol is serious about discovering the next great music superstar, maybe iTunes downloads should count toward the final tally, too?
2) Reboot the judges panel (again): To be fair, Jennifer Lopez showed great early-season promise — giving succinct, specific feedback without resorting to cruel taunts — but eventually, she squandered her credibility by lavishing praise on the producers’ favorites (regardless of the quality of the performances) and maligning underdog Haley Reinhart with malignant glee. Steven Tyler, meanwhile, was great in the carefully edited, pre-taped audition rounds, but took a permanent vacation when the live shows started. And Randy Jackson’s poor taste, appallingly lame catchphrases (“in it to win it!”), and nonexistent humor proved less entertaining and more infuriating than ever in his tenth year of Idol service. Frequent cast changes worked for years on Law & Order; they can work for Idol, too. (For the record, we’d accept any combination of the following past mentors/contestants: Babyface, Melinda Doolittle, Harry Connick Jr., Sheryl Crow, Jimmy Iovine, Peggi Blu, and Shania Twain.)
3) Make sure the new panel isn’t working from a script penned by Nigel Lythgoe: It doesn’t really matter who’s occupying the Paula Abdul Memorial Chair if that person isn’t encouraged to freely speak his or her mind. Too often this season, Randy and J.Lo regurgitated the same tired catchphrases (“Scotty McCreery concert!” “the Lauren Alaina we fell in love with at her audition!” “emotionally perfect!”) and seemed ill-prepared to offer constructive criticism when a front-runner delivered a substandard performance. The only thing Uncle Nigel should be concerned with for Season 11 is that his judges give concise feedback that’s infused with context, perspective, and specific goals to help the neophyte singers improve their vocals, creativity, and overall stage presence.
4) Aggressively expand lists of cleared songs; deliver fresh, unexpected weekly themes; and create a “banned songs” hall of fame/shame: Really, with all the money and pop-culture influence Idol has amassed through the years, how hard can this be? Not a single theme week should pass where contestants don’t have access to a pre-cleared list of at least 250 songs. “One-Hit Wonders,” “No Ballads Allowed,” “Songs About Heartbreak,” and “Contestants’ Favorite Little-Known Album Track” should replace the threadbare themes Idol fans have come to know and dread. And, honestly, imagine the widespread good-will that would result from Ramiele Malubay, Paige Miles, and Scott Savol returning to the Idol stage to permanently retire “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)” from the competition.
5) Use the panel of all-star producers to help contestants create unique and inventive song arrangements for the Idol stage. Despite Don Was, Rock Mafia, Tricky Stewart, Rodney Jerkins, and Jim Johnsin helping the Top 13 in the studio, Season 10 had fewer scintillating song reboots in the vein of Kris Allen’s “Heartless” or Daughtry’s “I Walk the Line” than ever before. Perhaps Jimmy Iovine and the Intescope team can set up some kind of behind-the-scenes bonus plan for the producers of Season 11′s three most-downloaded ditties?
6) Give us three weeks of semifinals, and kill the Wild Card: Back in Seasons 4-7, 24 contestants — 12 men and 12 women — entered the semifinals, with four singers going home each week until 12 finalists remained. This method allowed previously unheralded singers like Jason Castro to emerge as true contenders, possibly overrated ones to expose their weaknesses (i.e. Sundance Head), and put the power where it belongs — in the hands of the people, not the judges. Heck, with this method in place, we might’ve had Lauren Turner and Kendra Chantelle in the Season 10 Top 13 instead of Thia Megia and Karen Rodriguez.
7) Let the narrative of the season unfold organically instead of trying to force it to fit into an outline conceived in a conference room back in January: One of the most maddening aspects of Idol over the years is the refusal of Nigel Lythgoe & Co. to recognize when a dark horse contestant (Kris Allen, Jason Castro, Haley Reinhart) ups his or her game and emerges as a true contender, or an early-season front-runner (Danny Gokey, Jacob Lusk, Lil Rounds) fails to pan out as expected. This unwavering obstience often leaves viewers wondering if they’re watching an exciting reality competition or a soul-crushing scripted drama controlled by a dystopian regime.
8 ) Keep the “bad auditions” to one night, and add two or three more Hollywood Week telecasts to the mix: We can all agree that extended footage of Casey Abrams and Kendra Chantelle covering “Georgia on My Mind” are a better use of our couch-potato time than images of some git in a Statue of Liberty costume warbling “New York, New York,” yes?
9) Keep musical diversity in mind when casting the semifinals: As fans of Seasons 5 and 10 can attest, Idol is always a little more thrilling when the contestant base reflects a wide range of musical styles — jazz, rock, pop, country, and R&B.
10) Ban the judges from watching dress rehearsals: No matter how much this practice helps the all-star panel organize and articulate their thoughts, at the end of the day, they should only be judging contestants’ performances when the cameras are rolling and the pressure is on. Otherwise, it’s all too easy for viewers to sit slack-jawed during critiques and wonder, “Are the judges listening to the same performances as I am?”
What do you make of my suggestions for Idol‘s 11th season? Are there any motions you’d like to second, or any proposals you’d immediately quash? And most importantly, are there changes you’d like to see that I’ve failed to list? Then by all means hit the comments and share with your fellow TVLine.com readers! And to get up-to-the-minute alerts on when my interviews with Lauren Alaina, Scotty McCreery, Haley Reinhart and (hopefully) Casey Abrams will post, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!