American Idol: 22 Fresh Theme Nights That Need to Happen Right Now
No Ballads Allowed
Not even Celine Dion can live by slow songs alone, and yet we’ve only had two uptempo tracks from the first 19 performances of the Season 12 finals. How about a theme that could turn that ugly ratio on its head?
Songs With the Word “Girl” in the Title
It’s not like Idol‘s producers have been shy about declaring Season 12 the Year of the Female Contestant. And this nifty night would subtly drive home their point while encompassing scads of songs across multiple decades and every genre imaginable: Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” Garbage’s “Stupid Girl,” Foreigner’s “Waiting for a Girl Like You,” Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl,” 702’s “Where My Girls At,” Milli Vanilli’s “Girl You Know It’s True” (come on, you know you love that tune, too), even Miranda Lambert’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” The list goes on and on…
Favorite Album Tracks
Everyone who loves music — and presumably that includes our Idol finalists — has listened to their favorite albums and thought “How come they didn’t release this one as a single?” A night of lesser-known cuts from big-name artists could show off contestants’ tastemaking skills (or lack thereof) and maybe even launch one or two of ’em at radio.
A recent TVLine comments-section discussion made me realize that of all the major radio artists of the last decade, Pink’s hook-laden, pop-rock songbook would provide an excellent (and not entirely ballad-driven) foundation for a fantastic Idol performance night.
Songs Released After the Year Devin Velez Was Born
You just know Uncle Nigel is about to slap us once again with the played-out “Songs from the Year You Were Born” theme, but a far more refreshing twist would be choosing the birthday of the season’s youngest contestant — Devin’s 4/22/94 just beats out Amber’s 3/17/94 — and using that as the cutoff point for eligible material.
Saddest Stories in Song
From Concrete Blonde’s “Joey” to Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares to U,” from Sade’s “Pearls” to George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” there are hundreds, probably even thousands of songs in which Idol contestants could play the role of narrator and leave the audience reaching for the Kleenex. And since you know these kids are gonna keep the slow songs a ‘comin, this theme would at least shift the mood from Disney Princess Ballads and the Whitney Houston songbook.
With all apologies to Ray Chew Live, we’re longing for a night of quiet, intimate music — with minimal accompaniment from, say, just a piano or an acoustic guitar. Bonus: They could bring back Season 8 champ Kris Allen as mentor!
On the flip side of acoustic, how about a night in which every contestant is forced to channel his or her inner rock god — which would still leave ’em with decades of hits from which to choose. Bonus: They could bring back Season 8 runner-up Adam Lambert as mentor!
I know, I know…I already advocated for “No Ballads Allowed,” but a Dance Music theme would allow for both high-energy jams and slowed-down rearrangements of ditties that originally brought listeners to the floor. And while Madonna, Kylie, Britney, Loleatta, Usher, and David Guetta might not be the most expected choices for Idol‘s octave-scaling troubadours, they’ve all got some incredible melodies that — with careful song selection — could make for a memorable mini concert.
Songs Never Performed on Idol
I propose this theme mainly to protect the masses from hearing Idoloonies like myself kvetch, “But this has already been covered by finalists in five prior seasons!” Bonus: You won’t have to put your head in the oven while someone butchers “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now).”
Max Martin Helps You Choose and Arrange Your Song
Dude has put his stamp on hits by everyone from Taylor Swift to Britney Spears to Backstreet Boys and Ace of Base. Plus, Martin co-wrote and produced Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone” and “My Life Would Suck Without You,” so he’s also got a proven track record in getting an Idol to the top of the charts.
Where ballads become uptempo, uptempo tracks get slowed to a crawl, and midtempo ditties are forced to choose a side in the ongoing war of beats per minute! Anyone who’s grooved to Mariah Carey’s sensational extended dance remix of ‘Fantasy’ can pre-approve this message.
‘Steal a Song!’
Make the contestants choose from a list of every song covered by a member of the Season 12 Top 40 — from the audition phase all the way through the prior week — and see if they’ve got what it takes to top the prior rendition. After all, Idol is at its heart a competition series, not a luxurious, camera-filled sleep-away camp! Bonus: Instead of tackling “Big Moments,” savvy singers could choose low-points from the season and try to improve upon ’em.
No, I’m not talking about ‘Macarena’ or ‘Mambo No. 5.’ I’m talking about those acts who may not have endured through decades, but whose single contributions to the pop-music scene were nevertheless creatively fulfilling. So instead of another Stevie Wonder night, let’s get our contestants paying homage to the sounds of A-Ha, the Divynls, Kajagoogoo, Mungo Jerry, Matthew Wilder, Deee-Lite, and, well, insert your own favorite one-hit wonder here.
Song That’s in My iPod ‘100 Most Played’ List
Wait a second: Letting the Idols tackle music they already own and enjoy? I know, I know…when will I put an end to this kind of daft daydreaming?
Choose Your Own Mentor Night
We saw Jimmy Iovine expose the Season 11 hopefuls to a mix of good (Stevie Nicks), bad (Will.i.Am) and ridiculous (Diddy) advisers, so why not bring these types of folks back and conduct a schoolyard-style pick in which each contestant chooses a mentor, then works all week with said industry vet to select a song, rehearse and arrange it, and bring it to life on the Idol stage?
Glee has certainly had some success sewing together disparate ditties (think ‘Someone Like You’/’Rumour Has It,’ or ‘Walking on Sunshine’/’Halo’), so why shouldn’t the Idols try their hands at a similar exercise? Yep, one of these days, somebody’s gonna mash up ‘Hold On’ and ‘What’s Up,’ or ‘Toxic’ and ‘Poison,’ and all will be right with the world.
Breaking up is hard to do, but singing about breaking up — the sadness, the rage, the feeling of picking oneself up and learning how to carry on — that’s the stuff from which great musical moments are created.
The Lyric That Changed My Life
Veteran Idol watchers know that success or failure on the show can have as much to do with how the contestants conduct themselves off stage as they do during their performances. And what better way to get a sense of who these singers are — and how music shapes and inspires them — than by asking them to tackle song lyrics to which they have a deep, personal connection? Heck, think of all the tears Uncle Nigel will be able to squeeze from the audience based on the pre-performance packages alone!
Laugh all you want about the hairstyles (both head and chest) of Motley Crüe, Winger, Whitesnake, Poison, and Lita Ford, but there are some damn good melodies that were forged from a primordial soup of Aqua Net, lyrcra and decadence of the ‘Hair Metal’ era.
Bring in a group of a dozen ¬or so A-list songwriters — think Kara DioGuardi, Ne-Yo, Ryan Tedder — and have them pitch new and existing material to the contestants. What better way to find out which of our Idol hopefuls has the ability to choose and deliver the hits of tomorrow?
Songs Picked by Idology!
Could Melinda Doolittle, producer Jason Averett and myself really do any worse than Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Clive Davis have done in seasons past? (Don’t answer that!) Bonus: You could blow up our Twitter feeds with your own top-notch suggestions!