American Idol: 6 Biggest Improvements -- and 6 Worst Missteps -- of the Season 13 Reboot
Misstep No. 1 — Hiring Randy Jackson as ‘Mentor’
Either Idol‘s producers left every single bit of Jackson’s specific, cogent advice on the editing room floor or The Dawg’s insights were limited to “you’ve got to sell it”-style pablum. Either way, Jackson must shoulder the blame for the across-the-board lack of growth among Season 13’s Top 13 — and the show’s producers should be looking for his head on a platter replacement immediately.
Improvement No. 1 — The End of Audition Freakshows
After 12 seasons of shining its spotlight on mentally unstable, the deluded and a variety of fameosexuals dressed as the Statue of Liberty/a chicken/other assorted ridiculata, Season 13’s decided lack of pointing and jeering was a welcome relief.
Misstep No. 2 — The Unwelcome Debut of The Jennifer LopezShow
Last we checked, Idol‘s tagline was “the search for a superstar.” Unfortunately, by the time the live rounds debuted, executive producer Per Blankens and director Louis J. Horvitz became so enamored of cutting to extended shots of their (admittedly gorgeous) female judge that the Idoloonie Nation began wondering (in all seriousness) if her contract called for a minimum number of closeups per episode. The JLo-ization of the live performance shows made it vastly more difficult to focus on contestants, and culminated with a gross incident in which viewers were “treated” to J.Lo bouncing and grinding lasciviously to eventual winner Caleb Johnson’s cover of Whitesnake’s “Still of the Night.” Idol: No longer fun for the whole family!
Improvement No. 2 — Using Idol Alumni as Mentors
Season 7 champ David Cook offered more specific, actionable advice in one day of mentoring than Randy Jackson did all season. (Ditto for Adam Lambert and Chris Daughtry’s Boot Camp contributions.) Here’s hoping the higher-ups at Fox took notice — and are already placing calls to Jordin Sparks, Carrie Underwood, Kris Allen and more to bring their insights to the Season 14 proceedings. (Bonus points if said guest mentors get an automatic performance slot as payment for their hard work.)
Misstep No. 3 — The Cruelty and Bad Decisions of ‘Rush Week’
Just when it looked like Harry, J.Lo and Keith had settled on a strong, musically diverse Top 30, executive producer Per Blankens slapped us with an ugly twist — forcing the Season 13 semifinalists to sit in a holding room, then cutting 10 of them on live television before they’d had a chance to perform. Even worse, we lost potential breakout stars like Kenzie Hall, Brandy Neelly, Austin Wolfe, Jillian Jensen, Maurice Townsend and Casey Thrasher in the process. (Bonus awfulness: The stress and shock took its toll on the contestants who actually made it to the stage, resulting in such shaky vocals that J.Lo herself made mention of the correlation.)
Improvement No. 3 — Half-hour Results Shows
Sure, it would’ve been nice if the show found time to squeeze in performances by Idol alums in the abridged results telecast — don’t tell us there weren’t three more minutes of fat per episode that could’ve been trimmed to make room for Melinda Doolittle, Bo Bice, Kree Harrison, Matt Giraud and more! But the decision not to drag out a 60-second announcement into a full 60 minutes was a cause for long-overdue celebration.
Misstep No. 4 — Confusing Hashtags With Interactivity
Already late to the social-media party, Idol hit new levels of hashtag desperation in Season 13, culminating in an impossibly awful (and weeks’ long) obsession with something called “#IdolSelfie.” (#IdolGagMe) Meanwhile, imagine how much buzz the show could generate if it released its weekly themes and lists of cleared tunes early enough to allow fans and contestants to discuss and debate song choice and arrangement on social media? The debut of a theme like “America’s Request” is beyond useless if the audience suspects it’s just a guise for producers to assign contestants minuscule lists of songs they got cleared months (or years) prior. (Yep, we’re referring to Caleb getting stuck with Idol‘s all-time most-covered track, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.”)
Improvement No. 4 — An Eloquent, Instructive Judges’ Panel
Sure, Prof. Harry Connick Jr. had a tendency toward being long-winded, but his discussions of chords, intonation and rhythm were a vast improvement over the petty infighting and empty word salad of previous newbies Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj. J.Lo and Keith Urban had moments of real insight, too, especially in comparison to 12 prior seasons of Randy’s “in it to win it!” drivel.
Misstep No. 5 — Too Much Filler, Not Enough Transparency
Thirteen seasons in, Idol fans know there’s plenty of real behind-the-scenes drama that goes into song choice, arrangement and staging. But after getting a delicious glimpse into that process during Chris Daughtry and Adam Lambert’s Boot Camp mentoring sessions, the show returned the curtain to its formerly closed position. Alas, while documentary-style footage could help Idol differentiate itself from The Voice in an edgy, authentic way, the show’s producers lazily filled space with tedious segments focused on “five facts in 15 seconds,” staged post-show dinner chats and not-funny-enough contestant impersonations.
Improvement No. 5 — Voting Reform (At Last!)
The advent of Google and Facebook voting allowed viewers to do their duty without staying up til midnight in the process. Better still, the Idoloonie Nation was able to rest easy knowing that a 50-vote limit per contestant per method (even via text and phone) meant their efforts weren’t being cancelled out by sociopaths with altogether too much free time.
Misstep No. 6 — The Ongoing Frustration of Song Choice
Early in Season 13 — and freed from the confines of themes based on particular artists’ songbooks — we were treated to a host of fresh new tunes (“Tightrope,” “The Crow and the Butterfly,” “Can’t You See,” “Decode,” just to name a few). As the weeks went on, though, the list of cleared songs seemed to become increasingly narrower — a suspicion confirmed in our exit interview with Jessica Meuse — resulting in more misses than hits. Then, in Top 4 week, the genius idea of a round of contestants’ original tunes was scrapped at the last second. Finally, the abundance of wide-open themes backfired to some degree: Singers repeatedly revealed they’d chosen staples of their set lists back home — and by enabling their unwillingness to step outside their comfort zones, the producers robbed us of out-of-left-field moments like Kelly Clarkson’s big-band number or David Cook’s Mariah Carey cover or Adam Lambert’s wicked recreation of “Ring of Fire.”
Improvement No. 6 — The Death of Disco
Look, we like to shake our groove things as much as anyone else, but we weren’t lamenting the fact that Season 13 didn’t feature creatures like Disco, Motown or British Invasion reaching up from their graves and ensnaring contestants into their done-to-death clutches.