American Idol: 11 Terrible Ideas to Avoid in a Potential Season 13 Reboot
Don’t Chase After Major-Label “Package Artist” Nonsense
Ever since Kara DioGuardi shouted the damnable phrase “commercial package artist!” back in Season 8, the show has become increasingly focused on pushing for “marketable winners” (which translated from B.S. to English means “traditionally hot/skinny girls and/or hot guys”). Of course, if the judges had followed that line of thinking back in Season 1, we might’ve had Ryan Starr or Christina Christian as our winner instead of the incomparable (yet slightly more curvaceous) Kelly Clarkson. What the show’s producers need to remember is that Idol represents America’s once-a-year opportunity to overthrow the idiocy of the major-label system — the folks who think there’s a “magic formula” for selling records that involves rock hard abs and an absence of pants. It’s an annual rite that that galvanizes the audience and builds buzz as well. And that’s why Idol needs to lead the way in promoting true talent, not follow market trends into its own demise.
Don’t Rush Contestants in Choosing, Arranging and Staging Their Songs
Here’s a crazy idea: What if Idol dialed back on group performances and promotional appearances and Ford Fiesta shoots, and instead allowed its contestants to devote all that reclaimed time toward choosing, arranging and staging their songs? Based on exit interviews with the Season 12 finalists, it’s clear that they’re all too often given 24 or 48 hours to select their weekly tracks from a very short list of pre-cleared ditties — and that straying from said list can add unwanted risk to the process. Which begs the question: Is there any reason the show shouldn’t reveal themes to contestants several weeks in advance, the better for them to scour iTunes and Google and social media for song ideas, and then to work with the Idol band and vocal coaches on unique and unexpected arrangements? And what better way to improve ratings than by staging the most water-cooler-worthy mini concerts every Wednesday night from February through May? Heck, Ford could sponsor results-show segments and online extras detailing the creative process: “Your Week in Song Selection — Driven by Ford!”
Don’t Bring Back J.Lo!
Sure, the “Jenny From the Block” singer helped select the deep, varied talent pools of Seasons 10 and 11, but aside from her undeniable gorgeousness, she brought very little to the live shows other than an annoying catchphrase (“Goosies!”) and a commitment to the producers’ agenda (waving the flag for the intolerable Jacob Lusk, while aiming her evil shark-eye at the amazing Haley Reinhart). Current judge Mariah Carey’s intermittent stabs at valuable critique might get buried in layers of rambling niceties, but swapping her out for J.Lo would actually represent a step in the wrong direction.
Don’t Be Afraid of, Y’know, Actual Reality
After 13 seasons, viewers know there’s a pre-approved song list for every theme, that producers meddle in song choice and arrangements, and that Idol has definite favorites when it comes to camera angles, styling and performance order. For Season 13, why not show us more of what goes on behind the curtain? Imagine if, in Season 12, we got to see the real story of how Candice chose and arranged “Love Song.” Or how hard Angie had to fight to get to cover obscure Colton Dixon and Kari Jobe tunes? Or what rehearsals looked like for Devin, Burnell and Lazaro’s train-wreck Motown Week trio? Instead of so much results-show filler, maybe Idol could take a cue from Project Runway and use the stresses and challenges of the Idol process to create memorable on-air drama? I mean, if you’re going to deprive contestants of sleep and give them Herculean tasks, you might as well exploit it for ratings, yes?
Don’t Enter the Season With a Storyboard
Whether it was Season 10’s “country cuties showdown” or Season 12’s “all-female Top 5,” the producers’ agenda is usually blatantly obvious a few weeks into the live voting rounds. The overarching question, though, is why Ken Warwick and Nigel Lythgoe persist in pre-planning a vision for the finale and then doing everything in their power to achieve it? As Lauren Alaina proved, not every early front-runner lives up to expectations. And on the flip side, Kris Allen showed that with charisma and creativity, you can overcome an early cannon-fodder edit all the way to a confetti shower. If Idol producers were more tuned-in to the reality of the competition rather than their initial predictions of it, the show would be infinitely more honest, more authentic and more enjoyable. In other words, how about for Season 13, the powers-that-be advance the 24 most exciting singers to the semifinals and let the viewing public and artists themselves sort it out from there? After all, in the absence of manipulation, audiences more often than not reward talent above all else.
Don’t Spend Big Money on Judges — Then Force Them to Follow a Script
Nicki Minaj’s blunt assessments and Keith Urban’s soft-spoken music-geek shtick have been delightful for much of this season, but in recent weeks, they’ve towed Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick’s party line with such maddening obedience that it’s hard for most fans to trust anything coming out of their mouths. The standing ovation they gave Amber Holcomb’s dubious “MacArthur Park” cover during Top 4 performance night was like a katana to the heart of their credibility. If the show is determined to keep investing in an A-list panel, then why not encourage those industry titans to truly pay attention to the week’s performances and then offer their raw, undiluted opinions? That might be the first, best step toward alleviating viewer frustration that they’re watching a Bizarro Idol where the feedback too often fails to match reality.
Don’t Greenlight Songs or Themes Already Used More Than Three Times
You don’t see Grey’s Anatomy going back to the same freaky medical diagnoses season after season after season, or Modern Family recycling punch lines and hoping that viewers won’t notice. So why does Idol think it’s okay to be so wickedly unimaginative and force the audience to endure a second or third or fifth helping of “Motown Week” or “Bacharach Night” or “Songs That Inspire”? If Uncle Nigel can’t think of more current or interesting themes, then he should be rewarded with a pink slip and a severance package — along with a Motown Greatest Hits box set.
Don’t Get Hung Up on Backstory (Because Everybody Has a Backstory)
Lazaro Arbos’ audition package — handsome, insecure kid with a severe stuttering problem wows the judges by delivering a knockout rendition of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” — was an early Season 12 highlight. But despite proving in Hollywood Week that he wasn’t ready for the deep end of the pool, Idol persisted in pushing his story of “courage” all the way to the live shows — where his reign of missed key changes and botched lyrics eventually turned him into a national pariah. Hopefully, his will be a cautionary tale for Season 13 and beyond that nothing is more inspirational than watching true talent get rewarded. (Plus, we bet if producers really dug deep enough, they’d have found that every single member of the Season 12 Top 40 had at least one anecdote or life experience that would make audiences break out their Kleenex.)
Don’t Try to Emulate The Voice or (Gasp!) The X Factor
Everybody loves the charming banter of Adam and Blake and Shakira and Usher on The Voice, but Idol will never reverse its ratings slide by following a competitor’s lead. Now more than ever, Idol needs its judges to actually judge, for its contestants to navigate the competition on their own terms and creativity (not on the terms of micromanaging producers), and for the focus to remain squarely on what’s happening on the stage, not behind the judges’ table. If the show can keep producing the next generation of Kellys and Carries and J.Huds, it will be hard to deny its pop-cultural relevance — even if its ratings never return to their glory days.
Don’t Be Afraid of a Deep (and Diverse!) Talent Pool
When there’s diversity of styles and genres among the Top 10 — think Seasons 5, 7, and 11, just to name a few — it means there’s a little something for every kind of music lover. And while it’s easy to understand why producers stacked the Season 12 deck with powerhouse ladies and lackluster guys — we were loooong overdue for a female winner, after all — the mismatch in the Top 10 led to five consecutive weeks where the results shows had no suspense whatsoever. You can almost imagine the conversations long-time Idoloonies had with themselves: “Oh, yeah, one of the dudes is gonna go home. Doesn’t matter which one. Might as well go watch Duck Dynasty.”
Don’t Play Favorites
No more sneaky editing, special lighting, odd camera angles or sabotage-minded song shortlists. No nasty leaks to TMZ. No subtle sabotage from the judges. Get the best out of every single contestant and let the chips fall where they may. Promise to make that happen, and we promise not to tamper with our “Series Recording” setting over the summer.