When I first heard that Steven Tyler had been cast as a judge on "American Idol," I immediately pegged the screwball rocker as the new Paula Abdul: someone to bring the unpredictable, possibly unintentional comedy with babbly banter, out-there outfits, and even some inappropriate flirting. And so far, he hasn't disappointed me in that regard. But now that the live "Idol" shows have started, I'm beginning to think he's not the new Paula. Steven Tyler just may be (gasp!) the new Ellen DeGeneres.
"He was great in the audition rounds, but Steven Tyler calling everybody 'beautiful'...I'm tired of it," my esteemed Yahoo! colleague Matt Whitfield wisely griped during our latest "Idol" gabfest. "Steven is kind of starting to play that Ellen role, just sitting there and clapping like a seal."
It's almost enough to make me wish that Kara DioGuardi would come back. Almost.
Look, I love me some Steven Tyler. I love me some Ellen, too...but let's face it, when she was on "Idol," she just benignly told everyone they were great, great, great. Her empty critiques offered no real help to the contestants. ("As the season wore on and her one-liners became familiar, the question of what she added to the panel grew more pronounced," recalls American Idol: The Untold Story author Richard Rushfield.) However, Ellen's general uselessness could be excused, since--not being a musician or music expert herself--she was obviously out of her depth. But Steven is a real rock 'n' roll legend with five decades of music-biz experience from which to draw. Surely he can come up with more astute critiques, or at least a few more adjectives, than just "beautiful," right?
When the current "Idol" season launched in January, Steven--a man who was clearly born to rock the reality-TV screen--was the runaway star of the show. He pretty much SAVED the show, even, in Season 10's early weeks. He even totally upstaged the seemingly un-upstage-able Jennifer Lopez, as viewers, myself included, tuned in to hang on his every wacky word. So, granted, in the one-liner department, Steven has always had Ellen beat. (Ellen never came up with a zinger like "holy shipyard" or "even a week says WTF," you know.) But now, much like Ellen did last year, Steven simply seems to be coasting on his lovable loopiness.
It's possible that it's difficult for nice guy Steven to hurt these sweet kids' feelings (a moral issue that nice gal Ellen later admitted she grappled with while on the show). And unlike some other talent-show judges, he knows firsthand what it's like to sing onstage for public approval--so that might make him more sympathetic than most. But his fellow veteran performer/tabloid target/former softie J.Lo is finally taking the "Idol" judging job seriously (some of her critiques last week were so smart and on-the-money, Simon Cowell should have taken notes). And "Idol" dawg Randy Jackson has toughened up and stepped it up too. So Steven has no excuse for softballing it, at this point.
Look, if Steven Tyler is tough enough to battle Kid Rock, Joe Perry, and drug addiction, then he should be capable of brutally-honestly critiquing Stefano Langone's shrill Lionel Richie cover, Thia Megia's robotic emotionlessness, or Scott McCreery's eyebrow-wriggling facial mugging and one-octave range. Lines like "You don't look a day over fabulous" may be quotable and DVR-able (and at least they're dang funny, which is more than can be said for most of Ellen's Season 9 critiques), but they're not going to help anyone grow in this competition in the long run. He certainly shouldn't lose his wonderfully weird sense of humor, but it's time for S.Ty to get a grip.