American Idol's Ratings Woes: 8 Common-Sense Ways to Salvage Season 12
Bring on the All-Stars!
The most common complaint about Season 12 has been the way producers stacked the deck with powerhouse female singers — at the expense of charismatic, talented and (if we’re being honest) crushable guys. For Top 5 and Top 6 Weeks, why not take a page from sister series So You Think You Can Dance: Let the current crop of contestants perform one solo number, then a duet with a fan-favorite Idol alum. Imagine a Kree Harrison-Kris Allen collaboration. Or a Candice Glover-Adam Lambert jam. Maybe a Janelle Arthur-David Cook mashup? (Heck, I’d pay big bucks for an Amber Holcomb-Jennifer Hudson throwdown.) Seems like a guaranteed way to bring back lost viewers — and create a magical night of music in the process.
Quit Micromanaging Contestants
During recent visits to TVLine HQ, Season 12 evictees Paul Jolley, Curtis Finch Jr., and Devin Velez all mentioned how Idol producers either discouraged their initial song choices or — even worse — cajoled them into covering clunkers such as R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly.” That kind of meddling is as unwelcome as it is unnecessary (and according to Season 6 standout Melinda Doolittle, rarely happened during her run on the show). In a post-Idol world, Angie, Amber, Burnell and their colleagues will live or die on their own creativity and artistic choices: So, even if leaving contestants to their own devices results in the occasional train wreck, we’re guessing that kind of freedom would also result in more rewind-worthy triumphs, too.
Clear More Songs (and Quit Pretending It’s Too Hard or Too Expensive to Do)
Casual viewers and superfans alike share a common complaint about Idol: We’re tired of hearing the same old songs — emphasis on old — over and over and over. Here’s a three-pronged solution. First, Nigel Lythgoe & Co. need to stop regurgitating theme nights that have been done in multiple seasons (and no, redubbing “Motown Night” as “Detroit: Music of the Motor City” doesn’t qualify as new or fresh). Second, when the show says it’s doing “Beatles Week,” it needs to clear any Lennon-McCartney composition a contestant chooses — not just a limited list of 15 or 20 tunes (as several Season 12 have confirmed happened recently). And finally, remember the old adage: You’ve got to spend money to make money. As Fox’s head of reality programming Mike Darnell told us in January, the lack of fresh songs on Idol “has nothing to do with cost.” Not only that, he added, “it’s rare” that an artist will refuse to clear his or her work for an Idol contestant. Bottom line: If The Voice and even wretched X Factor manage to make room for everything from LMFAO to Ellie Goulding, we don’t want to hear no stinkin’ excuses from the category’s Grand Dame.
Embrace the Offbeat!
Here’s a well-known fact that seems to perpetually escape the brains behind the Idol machine: Many of the show’s greatest moments happened when contestants zagged away from big radio hits in favor of incredible gems that the bulk of the viewing audience might not have known. Adam Lambert’s “Mad World,” Kris Allen’s “Falling Slowly,” Haley Reinhart’s “What Is and What Should Never Be,” and Kelly Clarkson’s “Stuff Like That There” all fall under this heading. Oh, and as Phillip Phillips told us via Twitter recently, his signature Season 11 ditty — Damien Rice’s “Volcano” — “wasn’t on the list” during “Songs You Wish You Wrote” Week. Nevertheless, he fought for it, and made Idol history in the process.
Turn Your Calendars Ahead to 2013
This one is simple: We love the fact that Idol — unlike many of its contestants — knows and reveres music history. But in four weeks of the Season 12 finals, we’ve had three themes (Motown, Lennon-McCartney, Classic Rock) where the songs are roughly twice the age of the contestants. (And let’s be honest, that Idol Victory Anthems from Top 10 Week wasn’t exactly cutting-edge, either.) Look, we’re not advocating a Pussycat Dolls theme, but let’s not pretend there haven’t been hundreds of great tunes written and recorded since the year 2000 — or that we shouldn’t be hearing ’em on the regular.
Send Mariah Carey to Judges’ Bootcamp
She’s one of the greatest singers of her generation, but only her “Lambs” could possibly view her Season 12 residency as anything other than a tentative, verbose, rambling mess. The shame of it is, once you cut through Mariah’s flowery “J.Lo” speak and the weirdly insecure vibe she gives off on live TV, she’s occasionally got constructive advice for the contestants. Still, she either needs to learn to cut to the point — or be cut from the panel.
Bring in Mentors Willing to Actually Mentor
It’s all well and good to have Jimmy Iovine and a special guest sit with contestants for 10 minutes and give a few tips about where to place a vocal run or how to connect with the emotion of a song. But why not start the mentoring process at the point where contestants are attempting to choose their songs and cook up their arrangements? Heck, wouldn’t it be nice to see a segment where Jimmy uses his connections to help Kree or Candice get a song cleared? Imagine if Smokey Robinson had spent his week on set helping Angie and Amber freshen up the arrangements of their songs? Yeah, yeah, the Idols have a packed schedule — but shouldn’t first-rate musical performances always be the No. 1 priority?
Keep Using Results Shows to Tout Idol Graduates
This season’s first three Thursday-night telecasts have featured Phillip Phillips, Jessica Sanchez, Colton Dixon, Casey Abrams and Katharine McPhee — but if we’re being honest, we’d love to see even more alumnae in the mix. Season 9 semifinalist Katelyn Epperly (pictured) just released a terrific EP, Season 9 runner-up Crystal Bowersox is winning accolades for her new sophomore set, and we’re still scratching our heads why Season 6 standout (and Idology cohost) Melinda Doolittle hasn’t rocked the Idol mic in eons. Maybe it’s time to give the current contestants a break from learning another listless group number and up the ante on showcasing the successful working musicians the show has launched.