The Dawg has (once again) (finally) left the House That Kelly Clarkson Built.
Randy Jackson announced today that he will not return as a mentor (or in any other capacity) for Season 14 of American Idol — and whatever feelings of nostalgia you may or may not have about his run on Fox’s reality juggernaut, his exit is long, long overdue.
“After 13 seasons, I felt now was the perfect time to leave,” Jackson told our sister site Deadline, in a statement. “I’m proud to have been a part of a series that discovered some incredible artists and will go down in history as one of the most successful television shows ever. A true original, Idol started it all. Onto what’s next.”
Jackson served as a judge for the show’s first 12 seasons, but after announcing his intent to leave in May 2013 (along with one-season-only disasters Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey), he was chosen to replace Interscope Records chairman Jimmy Iovine as in-house mentor for Season 13, launching a post-Hollywood Week “Boot Camp” with Idol grads Adam Lambert and Chris Daughtry, and then — at least in theory — helping the Top 13 with song choice and arrangement once the live voting rounds began.
Both in terms of entertaining TV footage and artistic growth among the Season 13 crop, however, Jackson’s mentoring tenure was an unmitigated debacle.
Either Idol‘s producers left every single bit of Jackson’s specific, cogent advice on the editing room floor for the duration of Season 13 or The Dawg’s insights were limited to “you’ve got to sell it”-style pablum.
In fact, in the course of my interviews with the show’s Top 13 finalists last season, not one of them was able to offer a specific example of how Jackson helped them grow as musicians or upgrade a specific performance. When I pointed this oddity out to fourth-place finisher Jessica Meuse, and then asked “was [Randy] checked out?” she pointedly but honestly replied, “Well, I liked Chris Daughtry and Adam Lambert, and then [subsequent guest mentors] David [Cook] and Jason [Mraz]. Yeah.”
Jackson’s failure to roll up his sleeves and challenge contestants’ willingness to go outside their comfort zones was especially problematic given Season 13’s emphasis on inexperienced, diamond-in-the-rough vocalists like Sam Woolf, MK Nobilette, Malaya Watson and C.J Harris — all of whom showed glimmers of brilliance but were never able to put together satisfying growth arcs in their time on the show.
The end result — rampant inconsistency among the Season 13 finalists, combined with the grim, weekly knowledge that there’d be, at best, two or three good performances per week — could not have helped the show’s continued ratings decline.
The hope now is that executive producer Per Blankens will select a mentor based not on name recognition — the last thing Idol needs is a Bold-faced Star who’ll devote nothing more than a few hours of superficial camera time to the Season 14 hopefuls — but on a willingness to embed him- or herself with the contestants. A true mentor — one who’ll be fun to watch and help improve the overall quality of performances from the truly “undiscovered” — will be present from the moment the kids learn of weekly themes, will help them explore unexepected-but-appropriate song choices and arrangements, and will be willing to stand up to producers and demand fresh songs, staging and wardrobe picks on behalf of overwhelmed singers.
If Idol wants to pick up any inspiration from its most powerful competitor The Voice, I’d suggest eyeballing a performer/producer type in the vein of the latter show’s newest (and instantly beloved) coach Pharrell Williams — a guy who’s as much talent scout as he is artist, tastemaker and cheerleader.
The companies behind the show — American Idol, Fox, Fremantle Media North America and 19 Entertainment — issued a joint farewell statement: “Randy has been such an integral part of American Idol since day one, both as a judge and as a mentor. He’s provided great advice and support, shaping the success of so many Idols we have discovered over the years. We wish him all the best in his next chapter. Randy will always be part of our Idol family and we hope he’ll visit from time to time.”
I won’t argue with their sentiments — as long as said visits are nothing more than quick flashes of The Dawg sitting in the audience. Anything more, and they’re barking up the wrong tree.
How do you feel about Jackson’s exit from Idol? Will it make you more or less likely to tune in to Season 14? Hit the comments with your thoughts — or just watch Melinda Doolittle sing “At Last” and hoot and holler and throw shoes like you’re in the front row.