Can J.Lo and Will.i.Am Save American Idol? Not Unless the Show Follows These 4 Simple Rules!

American Idol Season 13 JudgesAmerican Idol has been headed straight for an iceberg the last couple of seasons — a secret to no one except, perhaps, key executives at Fox and Fremantle Media.

Yet their recent chatter about changes to the show’s upcoming (and pivotal) Season 13 — which has been focused almost entirely on a rebooted judges’ panel, and not a rebooted outlook on what a judges’ panel should actually do — has me concerned that they’re merely slapping a fresh coat of paint on the luxury cruiseliner of reality competition shows. And really, what’s the point of that if the destination continues to be the bottom of the ocean floor?

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Fox president Kevin Reilly told reporters last week at the Television Critics Assoc. summer press tour in Beverly Hills that Keith Urban will be the only returning judge from Season 12 — an idea that makes sense for continuity and the ability to recognize contestants who just missed making the semifinals last year. Meanwhile, Jennifer Lopez — who sat on the panel in Seasons 10 and 11 — is in talks for a return engagement, too, added Reilly. Other published reports say the network is leaning toward Will.i.Am, who proved an almost entirely worthless guest mentor in Seasons 10 and 11, to round out the panel.

As someone who’s been eating, breathing and writing about Idol since Carrie Underwood was just an unknown Oklahoma farm girl with a dream, here’s my completely unsolicited four-step plan on how incoming executive producer Per Blankens should be conducting TV’s most buzzed-about job search.

IT’S NOT THE SIZE OF THE STARS, IT’S THE USEFULNESS OF THEIR FEEDBACK | There aren’t many names more bold-faced than Mariah Carey or Britney Spears, but that didn’t stop those ladies from being unmitigated failures during their respective runs on Idol and The X Factor. And as much as it pains me to say this, it doesn’t ultimately matter if it’s Jennifer Lopez or Jennifer Hudson, Will.I.Am or Adam Lambert sipping from those Coke cups come January 2014. (OK, OK, Adam would be infinitely more appealing than that foolio from the Black Eyed Peas, but you catch my drift…) What Blankens really needs to do is clearly and unflinchingly define the role of the judges — and make sure that whoever he hires is willing and able to carry out said job description (or be summarily dismissed/replaced by Crystal the Monkey).

HONESTY, IT’S SUCH A LONELY WORD… | Once upon a time, in the early rounds of Season 10, J.Lo was actually (forgive me for saying this) a solid judge of talent, offering specific, actionable and seemingly honest feedback to Pia Toscano, Stefano Langone and others. But as the weeks rolled on, her critiques became increasingly vague, she praised producer pets like Jacob Lusk even after his most heinous vocal crimes and her mission shifted to hurling eye daggers at Haley Reinhart and pushing for the Scotty-vs-Lauren country-kids showdown that had been the producers’ agenda from Day One. Still, as much as I can make jokes that J.Lo’s Season 13 prep work looks like this, I can’t pretend that she wouldn’t be a step up from Mariah, Nicki Minaj or the old barnacle Randy Jackson.

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Nevertheless, what I’m dying to hear from Reilly, Blankens or anyone associated with Idol, is a quote like this: “We’re hiring A-list talent for the panel, and we’re absolutely demanding that as part of the job, they pay strict attention to the performances every week, keep open minds, and speak directly from the gut. We promise to have absolutely no agenda about who wins Season 13 — and we’ve got absolutely no desire to influence what comes out of our judges’ mouths. I mean, why pay them the big bucks just to suppress their opinions and have them read off a pre-written script?” I know, I know, that sounds about as likely as Dads being the next Emmy winner for Best Comedy Series, but is there any real reason why this can’t or shouldn’t happen?

NOBODY WANTS TO WATCH THE VOICE FOUR DAYS PER WEEK | Even the most hardened cynics can’t help but be charmed by the Blake-Adam bromance on NBC’s rival singing competition, or the way those good ol’ boys embraced newbie counterparts Usher and Shakira during its most recent installment. Still, The Voice‘s panel is comprised of coaches, and Idol‘s is made up of judges — a critical difference that should never be lost on Blankens & Co.

Lest we forget, Idol‘s trump card — and one that The Voice and The X Factor have yet to play — is its ability to produce legitimate chart-toppers, and I can’t help but think that Idol‘s relatively tougher feedback — its trial-by-fire, not-everyone-gets-a-gold star attitude — contributes to its contestants’ post-show success.

So while The Voice might be the current critical and demo darling, turning into its pale imitation would be a terrible mistake for The House That Kelly Clarkson Built.

THE JUDGES SHOULD HELP THE SHOW MORE THAN THE SHOW SHOULD HELP THE JUDGES | First of all, if J.Lo or Will.i.Am want to promote a new single on the show, they should be forced to sing live — or not at all. Secondly, the Fox and Fremantle folks need to have a zero-tolerance policy for the kind of icky in-fighting that became a hallmark of Nicki and Mariah’s Season 12 relationship — and a major distraction to the competition. And finally, while the judges should always attempt to be entertaning, they should be instructed to use their humor, charm and outrageousness in the context of the competition. At the end of the day, Idol must be about finding the next Kelly, Carrie or Candice, not boosting the profiles of its judges’ latest entertainment projects. File that under: #Vow.

What do you think of a J.Lo-Will.i.Am-Keith Urban panel? What rules do you want to see the show’s producers follow in their hiring practices? Sound off in the comments, and for all my Idol news and commentary, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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159 Comments
  1. ProducesHearMyPlea says:

    Brilliant idea .. David Foster. And I like the idea of sticking at least one producer, behind-the-scenes person, scout, whatever. It seems that the problem using with using singers, apart from them wanting to make it about themselves, is that they don’t want to be seen as being mean, so they all have a lot of problems presenting negative critiques. IF they would think of it as constructive criticism instead, and as helping the contestant, maybe they’d be able to handle that well for a change. I like the Perez Hilton idea too. He’s introduced a lot of talented people at his site over the years who went on to become pop or indie stars and he can certainly handle constructive critiquing.

    Voting someone OFF instead of ON is brilliant. It makes sense and would reduce the impact of the “cute boy” “sexy girl” crowd. Great idea.

    I’m not really sure why shows have such an attraction for the idea of mentors. It’s painful to watch mentors steer kids in the wrong direction. Most of them seem to try to “create” contestants in their own image. I would much rather watch how the contestants choose the songs they do every week (IF they were allowed to choose their own songs, not from the whittled-down list they’ve gotten in the past).

    Background Sob Stores ONLY ONCE for the love of God. It’s depressing. It’s irrelevant and seems to be used by the past producers to try to influence votes. One time only then never again. Never. Again.

    Big production numbers… leave that for 1 of 3 songs in the finale. I don’t know how many more times the fan can say “make it about the singers”. Kudos to Cowell for catching on to that.

    I agree judges should never be allowed to say ‘that’s the best version of that song I’ve ever heard”. That is just ridiculous. We’ve had some amazing performances, but call it what it is. Overcomplimenting doesn’t help a contestant either. I get so frustrated when week after week, some judges just say positive things. How on earth can anyone improve if no one identifies those to them?

    Producers: Realize you don’t need STARS on the judges’ panel. We don’t watch for the judges (other than maybe the first couple of weeks). We watch the contestants. Think back to season 1. Paul Abdul hadn’t been in the public eyes for years (and most young people didn’t even know who she was). Simon and Randy were virtual unknowns to North Americans for the most part. Save yourselves millions of $$$$$$ and simply get judges who will judge, then leave them alone to do just that. Judges who judge. What a novel idea. [Michael Slezak and Melinda Doolittle come to mind].

  2. Pattygale says:

    So on point, Michael. I have stopped watching Idol except for occasional DVR then fast forward because it does nothing but anger me. The judges are all there to promote themselves, they have nothing constructive or discerning to say to the contestants, and it is so blatantly obvious that THERE IS AN AGENDA that it is disgusting. During season 8, I was a huge supporter of Adam (I know where you stood but have found it in my heart to forgive you after I watched your final interview with him,LOL) and was disappointed that he came in 2nd, but it was like a democracy, the fans voted, even if some of them did it for the wrong reason, for Kris and he won. I didn’t feel that the judges or the PTB were directing the course of events. And I thought the judges, usually, had something worth listening to. I didn’t always agree with them, but so what, they were allowed their opinions. But to watch JLo shed crocodile tears about someone living with a “condition” or fast forward through Mariah or Nicki only to have them still spewing drivel 5 minutes later, TOO MUCH. The show would be so much fun and so inspiring with the right judges. Yes, my first choice is Adam, but there are others, too, who actually know how to sing without lip synching and autotune, who can give advice, be honest and kind at the same time, Brutal as Simon could be, he made it constructive and amusing…. “horrific,” indeed, in reference to Ring of Fire!!! I called him a few names, but laughed at the same time. The show has lost its vision and its innocence. Now it is a parody of what it was. Sad to watch it go down in flames and have the network, producers, and director be the ones striking the match.

  3. AnonymousOne says:

    Um… “At the end of the day, Idol must be about finding the next Kelly, Carrie or Candice.”
    Why is Candice’s name on this list?

    Michael, I usually love your posts, but I’ve been more and more annoyed with your over-pimping of Candice this past season. Yes, she’s a great vocalist, but she’s already shown to not be able to sell a song that’s actually better than all but two of the previous coronation songs (“Home” and “Time Of My Life”). If anyone’s name were to be written after Kelly and Carrie’s you should have at least put Jordin’s name in there. She is the 3rd most-successful Idol contestant (not just winner), according to Billboard. The facts don’t lie. Even Jennifer Hudson, Daughtry, etc. would have been acceptable.

    It seems you try to include Candice in every remotely positive list possible (in this case, the “most successful” list) even though it’s almost never deserved. I am happy for Candice winning, (although she was only my 2nd favorite), and I think she is one of the best technical vocalists Idol’s ever had (this is a much more-fitting list for her to place on), but it becomes annoying when you complain consistently about the pimping of producers’ favorites (quote from this article specifically: “pushing for the Scotty-vs-Lauren country-kids showdown that had been the producers’ agenda from Day One”). Scotty and Lauren, although not mega stars, have already proven to be moderate successes, while Candice has already started her career with a flopped single. I’m not saying she’ll never be successful, but saying that the producers should be trying to find the next “Kelly, Carrie (indicating that you’re referring to success post-Idol), or Candice” is certainly jumping the gun for Candice and ultimately shows your over-pimping of your favorite. It’s okay to admit she’s your favorite, but please don’t give credit where credit isn’t due.

    • max says:

      Ya, I kinda rolled my eyes at that too. He should have just said “the next Kelly or Carrie” and left it at that. If we’re being honest, Idol has only produced 2 music super stars and that’s Kelly and Carrie. Others have certainly had varying degrees of success, but nothing comparable to Kelly and Carrie. Unfortunately Michael’s favorites the past few seasons are never that successful in the music biz when it comes to real life. Sure Candice, Skyler, Haley & Crystal were all stand outs on the show… but outside of the Idol bubble, not so much.

  4. Cali Girl says:

    J-Ho and Will.i.am. I think I can finally threaten to boycott Idol and actually mean it. What a joke. Last thing I want to see is J-Ho gyrating around that stage dressed like a 25-year-old hooker and lip syncing. Don’t even get me started on that no talent Hack Eyed Pea. Yuk.

  5. yep says:

    I thought they were suppose to fix the show for this season. J Lo and Will i am are just going to break it further.

    I want to watch AI but I should look forward to watching a show not dreading having to watch J Lo. I found her behavior towards the end of her judging intolerable and I never need to hear the word “goosies” again. Even just typing it is making me feel ill. I guess if J Lo is a judge again I will be able to break my AI addiction and have some more time in my life.

  6. Jay says:

    iam so happy j.lo is coming back..she is way better than mariah or nicki

  7. Michael says:

    FROM PEOPLE MAGAZINE.COM J.LO MADE MORE THAN MARIAH AND IF SHE GOT 20 MILLION LAST TIME I CAN ONLY IMAGINE WHAT SHE WILL GET THIS TIME..FOR THE HATERS

    No, she wasn’t holding out for a major payday: Jennifer Lopez’s departure from American Idol after two seasons had nothing to do with money, a source close to the star tells PEOPLE.

    Contrary to reports that Lopez asked for a $2 million raise to continue judging the Fox reality show for a third season, the source says that Fox did approach Lopez with a “comparable offer to last year’s salary” for next season, but it was never countered nor negotiated by her team.

    For her first season on the show, Lopez earned $15 million. And she did get a raise for her second season, the source says, because Fox understood the value she brought to the series. Her second year salary was $20 million plus bonuses, says the source. PEOPLE reached a Fox rep who had no comment.

  8. Shannon says:

    They should have been brought Jennifer Lopez back.I loved her on season 10 and 11 and i watched it everyday.so happy to see her back:)

  9. karen says:

    go j.lo!!She is a true well respected and hardworking mom and celebrity.And no matter what haters say she always countiunes to shine

  10. Jadiel says:

    So happy to see my Latina back on A.I I love J.Lo

  11. Jason says:

    yessss J.lo is back

  12. terry says:

    i love keith urban and Jennifer..sucks if will i am will be on the show

  13. lauren says:

    bringing jennifer lopez back was the best thing A.I could have done.now just wish katy perry or beyonce would be sitting next to Jen and keith instead of cra*ppy will i am

  14. tom says:

    I hope A.I ratings can go up with jen back on cuz she was great

  15. Aubrey says:

    My favorite female artist is Jennifer Lopez So its great to see her back

  16. John says:

    yay to keith..and i think j.lo is still sexy

  17. Katie says:

    ms.lopez is back!!!!!!

  18. donb says:

    Michael,

    You are only addressing one part of the problem. The problem for AI is it is a franchise, just like its sponsors Coke and Ford. But not all the elements of the show are geared toward improving the franchise or keeping it stable, unlike its sponsors Coke and Ford. Here are three examples.

    Judges: The judges have no incentive to make the show any better as a show or in ratings. They are W-2 employees and pretty much only care about the paycheck or self-promotion. (Remember Cowell was the only invested one, and even he blew it in his last season, when he became a W-2 employyee in spirit.) There are a whole variety of things that could be done, like a relatively small base pay but tying the remainder of pay to increase in ratings. Make them earn their pay by increasing the value of the franchise in some discernable way. Just giving someone $5 or $15MM guarantees nothing for AI. Small tweaks can be made, such as requiring judges to vote on contestant song selections after discussion with vocal coaches, i.e. this song can not be sung (hello Chaka Khan and Siobhan Magnus). That way the old “just the wrong song choice” mantra can be pretty much eliminated or it puts the onus on the judges and vocal coaches, not the contestant, for allowing a song that doesn’t display the contestant’s talent. That one decision would improve the show vastly.

    The Tour: All franchises have loss leaders. The tour should be a loss leader for AI. Send the tour to all fifty states, but smalerl venues where it would be a really big deal. People meeting the contestants is the biggest advantage the show has over its rival shows, cementing viewer loyalty or curiosity, but AI hasn’t figured that out. You can figure out what it costs to advertise on AI per thirty seconds. With the same or improved ratings from the tour, AI makes up that loss in about three minutes of air time.

    Voting: Why does the Voice have it right at the end of the season? The Voice keeps interest and involvement in the final three high until the very last show. Idol is eliminatiing one of the favored three contestants. Duh! Sure people were nutty over Candice and Kree, but Angie’s departure made it almost certain viewership for the final show was going down (ratings!). It isn’t about who wins. It is about ratings. Make it a final three and cumulative voting so you get rid of the home town visit, one bad show effect. Build interest, don’t remove it for a large part of the fan base. (Were it me, I would have kept the final five until the end on a cumulative vote. I suspect it wouldn’t have much changed the final contestant results, but boy would people have been hooked.)

    If you view AI as a franchise, then there are a slew of elements it doesn’t pay attention to. The judges are only a piece of the problem.

  19. HTGR says:

    Hah did JLo or her management team suddenly start posting? All of a sudden after rant after rant, for the most part, 15 short posts in a row all with different names and yet within like 2 minutes, praise JLo as a judge.

    • Danny says:

      ^5 Hit!!! Dude, I swear I didn’t see your post when I made mine below. Right when I saw a few posts in favor of her, I smelled a rat. So I posted mine & then came to finish reading the rest of em. I see we’re back to thinking alike. Hope ya have a good summer.

  20. Dera says:

    PROBLEM WITH BIG STARS ON IDOL IS: THEY ARE ONLY THERE TO PROMOTE THEMSELVES AND THEIR OWN CAREERS. AFTER THEY ARE OUT OF IDOL SHOW TAPING OR LIVE, THEY DON’T CARE TO TALK OR PROMOTE IDOL TO THE MEDIA.

    IF THEY HAD HUDSON OR LAMBERT ON THE PANEL, THE TWO NOT ONLY WOULD HAVE CARED FOR THE CONTESTANTS CAUSE THEY HAVE BEEN THERE, THEY WOULD HAVE LIVED AND BREATH AND TALKED ABOUT THE SHOW (OFF TAPING AND LIVE) WITH THE MEDIA TO PROMOTE THE SHOW. THIS WOULD HAVE PANNED OUT HUGE RATINGS FOR IDOL. THESE TWO IDOL ALUMNI ALREADY NOT BEING PART OF THE PANEL TALK TO THE MEDIA A LOT ABOUT IDOL.

  21. Danny says:

    I doubt anyone reads this far down. In case someone does, all those positive comments about JLo in the few posts above this seem very suspcisious. They’re all within a few minutes of each other. Each post is 2 days later than most of the rest of them. It seems to me like someone from JLo’s team of lawyers found this site and is trying to give her some positive spin.
    .
    I’m not buying it.

  22. Name That Tune says:

    If they bring JLo back, it’s a bad sign. Because TPTB aren’t listening. I am ready to dig the grave for the show right now. I think I will pass on season. 13.

    • HTGR says:

      Supposedly her BF just told the press she is back for sure.
      Well that means one more thing is for sure, I ain’t watching next season, so much for the canning of Randy and Nigel implying that they actually get it, just as well, takes up way too much time anyway.

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