On last night's "American Idol" results show, it was revealed that the controversial Judges' Save--i.e., that Get Out Of Jail Free card that the judges can use only once per season, to salvage one promising contestant from unjust elimination--is back this year. Of course, the Save wasn't used on this season's first castoff, Ashthon Jones
, but this announcement was, supposedly, good news for the remaining top 12 contestants. I, however, beg to differ.
When the Save was first introduced back in Season 8, the idea was it would prevent future "Idol" injustices like the shocking eliminations of presumed past frontrunners like Chris Daughtry, Constantine Maroulis, Michael Johns, and Tamyra Gray. This sounded great on paper, but in practice, it has never quite worked out. OK, I freely admit that if one of my favorites (Paul McDonald, Naima Adedapo, Casey Abrams) were in the bottom three, I'd probably be thrilled if the Judges' Save was used on them. But in general, personal feelings aside, I've come to the conclusion that the Judges' Save is just lame.
Why? Oh, I have several reasons. Allow me to elaborate:
1) The saved contestant never wins - Season 8's Matt Giraud, who was a Wild Card to begin with, made his way into the history books (and probably a future "American Idol" edition of Trivial Pursuit) when he became the first recipient of the Judges' Save in 2009. But it was a bittersweet victory for Matt, and anticlimactic television for the rest of us, because Simon Cowell told him the good news in the same breath as: "I don't believe there's any way you can win this competition." Um, so why did the judges even save Matt, if they had such little faith in him? And sure enough, Matt got eliminated only a couple weeks later, when he was in fifth place. Then last year, Michael Lynche, who would've only made it to ninth place otherwise, was saved; he later advanced all the way to the top four, but he too did not win, and we haven't heard much from him since. This makes me believe the Judges' Save is all about creating dramatic, suspenseful TV, and not really about giving any contestant a legitimate second shot.
2) Bottom-three contestants hardly ever win anyway - It should be noted that only three "American Idol" winners--Ruben Studdard, Fantasia Barrino, and Kris Allen--were ever in the bottom three (more on Fantasia's scandalous night in a moment). The other six champions never had to feel the cold, hard, molded steel of those dreaded bottom-three stools. So the chances of any saved contestant ever actually making it all the way to the winner's circle is pretty slim, statistically--only about 33 percent!
3) Revisionist history is at work here - Two famous contestants whose outrageous eliminations are often referenced when explaining the necessity of the Judges' Save are Season 1's Tamyra Gray and Season 5's Chris Daughtry. Oh, how awesome it would have been if the Save had existed then, we all think. Well, guess what? It wouldn't have mattered then, either. The Save can only be used before the finalists are whittled down to the top five, and both Tamyra and Chris placed FOURTH. So they would've been out of luck. Another castoff's name that is often mentioned in this context is Jennifer Hudson, who--difficult as it may be to imagine now--placed seventh. But I argue that had the Judges' Save been available in Season 3, J.Hud would not have been saved. She wasn't a favorite back then, and her elimination was not a massive shock at the time. (What actually made that evening so controversial wasn't the fact that Jennifer was in the bottom three, but that the other two contestants on the chopping block were her fellow African-American divas, Fantasia and LaToya London, which caused protesters--including Elton John--to cry racism.) So my point is, I don't necessarily think a Judges' Save will help even the most talented of contestants.
4) We already have the Wild Card - I get the whole Wild Card thing. At that early stage in the game, when the contestants have only competed for votes on the live stage once, it's all too easy for great talent to slip through the cracks. That's when they truly deserve to be saved, because the judges and producers, who've already spent hours with these kids in Hollywood Week and behind the scenes, have a much better understanding of their full potential. But once it comes down to evaluating the contestants based on their live, televised performances, it's time to put their fate in America's hands. Viewers already detest having pimped finalists rammed down their throats and being told whom to root for...so having the judges veto the public vote isn't going to curry any contestant any favors.
5) It creates false hope - This week, Ashthon Jones HAD to have known she had about as much chance of earning the Judges' Save as Clint Jun Gamboa has of recording a duet with Jacee Badeaux. It just wasn't gonna happen. But she desperately sang for her life anyway, then looked positively crushed when Jennifer Lopez condescendingly told her, "Not this time, baby." And we all remember that squirmy, cringe-inducing Season 8 moment when Scott MacIntyre begged for the Save ("I know I can please you next week, Simon!"), while the judges practically earned Emmys for their over-the-top acting as they faux-debated over whether to rescue him. (They didn't.) I say if producer Nigel Lythgoe is so determined to create some nail-biting results-show drama, or to give worthy talent a deserved second chance, then he should do what he does on his other series, "So You Think You Can Dance" (or what Simon Cowell does on "The X Factor"): Have all of the bottom-three contestants perform one last time, and then the judges can choose to send one of them home. But if Ryan Seacrest has already informed a contestant that he/she received the fewest votes and it's pretty much a done deal, then the show shouldn't string that poor sap along. Just cut 'em, already.
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