I admit that I spent a lot of 2010 using the words "jump" and "shark" in quick succession when writing about "American Idol." The departures of beloved veteran judges Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell, the disastrous single-season run of Ellen DeGeneres, the old-timey theme nights and samey-strummy singer-songwriter contestants, the nine percent drop in ratings, the loss of the number-one ratings position to "Dancing With The Stars"...all of this was enough for me to even link to YouTube footage of Fonzie on water-skis, just to frustratedly hammer home my point. Later news that judge Kara DioGuardi and band leader Rickey Minor were also leaving; that the ever-polarizing Jennifer Lopez was joining the "Idol" cast; that the show was ending its nine-year deal with Sony Music, lowering its age limit, and moving from its longtime Tuesday night timeslot; and that "Idol" would soon face competition from Cowell's anticipated U.S. version of "The X Factor"--not to mention the lackluster sales for Season 9 finalists Lee DeWyze and Crystal Bowersox's albums and several canceled dates on the Idols Live Tour--didn't exactly bolster my confidence for Season 10, either.
But now, with the "American Idol" premiere this Wednesday night, I'm beginning to change my tune. I've started to have hope. Yes, I never thought I'd say this, but...I'm actually getting psyched about Season 10.
Why? Well, sometimes change is good. At the very least, it's exciting, if only in a trainwrecky sort of way. I mean, I love reality makeover shows, from "The Swan" to "How Do I Look?" to "Style By Jury"...so why shouldn't I be interested in the aging granddaddy of all reality shows getting a much-needed facelift of its own, right?
So, without further ado, here are the reasons I'm so excited that "Idol" is coming back.
Nigel Lythgoe - Nigel was the executive producer of "American Idol" for its first seven seasons, back when the show was in its prime. Popular contestants like Kradison (aka Kris Allen/Adam Lambert/Allison Iraheta) and Danny Gokey were enough to entice viewers during Season 8, but by Season 9, it was obvious that the show needed help. Enter, or re-enter, Mr. Lythgoe, who's returning to the show he once built into a reality TV empire. And really, if there's anyone who can salvage the series, it's him. (Just look at what he's done with the excellent "So You Think You Can Dance" while he's been away from "Idol.") Nigel certainly has work cut out for him, but he has passion, so I believe he just might be the man for the job.
Jennifer Lopez - The moment it was announced that Jenny was the new judge on the "Idol" block, I loathed the idea. Besides possessing a tissue-paper-thin voice that could make Paula Abdul sound like Maria Callas (and thus didn't exactly qualify her to dole out singing advice), I just found her intrinsically unlikable in some way. And yet, ironically, I worried that J.Lo would not be unlikable enough. I always believed if she acted like the diva she's rumored to be, and positioned herself as the kind of maneater who gobbles the likes of Cowell for breakfast, it would make for some truly must-see TV...but I just wasn't sure if she'd be willing to go there. However, I'm hearing rumors now that she is taking on the "mean judge" role--albeit in a kinder, cuddlier, tough-lovier sort of way--and that inspires me to watch. (The Hollywood Reporter says insiders declare J.Lo to be the one "in control" on the show now. Meow!) I must say, in the glimpses I've caught of Jennifer in new Fox promos, she does look like quite a natural behind that iconic judges' table. So maybe she'll prove me wrong.
Steven Tyler - Kid Rock and various members of Aerosmith aren't too thrilled about Steven sullying his rock 'n' roll legacy by joining "Idol," but I'm actually pretty excited to see what S.Ty can bring to the judging table. I've been missing the comedy on "Idol" since Paula left--and while Ellen, a professional comedienne, oddly couldn't fill that void, I'm pretty sure Steven can, with loopy banter, zany outfits, and maybe even some inappropriate flirting. Come on, there's no way this crazy dude isn't going to be pure TV gold. At some point, he's going to say, do, or wear something outrageous that'll have viewers gabbing around the watercooler on Thursday morning. And with his penchant for swearing, Fox censors will probably be more nervous than that night Adam Lambert delivered his infamous pelvic-thrusting performance of "Whole Lotta Love." So I don't want to miss a thing when S.Ty is on the air.
Randy Jackson - When "Idol" launched back in 2002, the idea was to have a well-rounded judging panel consisting of one performer (Paula) and two music executives (Randy and Simon). It was a magic TV formula that worked winningly for many seasons, and for two years there was even another music biz pro, Kara, on board. But now there's only industry insider, Randy, remaining--thus throwing off this crucial balance. However, word is Randy has really stepped up his game in his new "expert" role--actually acting like a seasoned veteran who's worked with Whitney, Celine, Madonna, and Mariah, instead of like a monosyllabic yes-man whose vocabulary only consists of two words: "yo" and "dawg." This development pleases me. In fact, during a recent press conference at the Television Critics' Association, Randy said: "You'll see a little more [of an] assertive dawg...a little more hair on the dawg as well. Fewer 'yo's,' maybe more 'no's'....My role has definitely changed." Has it changed for the better? I hope so, dawg. For you for me for you.
Jimmy Iovine - I'm dearly hoping that either diva J.Lo or loose cannon S.Ty will take on Cowell's presumably requisite "mean judge" role. But if that doesn't happen, I know this guy is most definitely up for the task. The Universal Records chairman, who is joining "Idol" as an in-house mentor to whip the Season 10 kids into label-signing shape, has been described by Nigel as a "music czar" and "the type of guy that can stand there, look you in the eyes when he's heard your CD, and throw it in the bin and say, 'Not good enough!'" So Jimmy is probably the one person on the show whose (brutal) opinion I'll always respect. Since whoever wins Season 10 will sign to "Idol's" new label home, Universal, Jimmy has a vested interest in this show, probably more so than anyone else in the cast. Therefore, he's not going to play nice.
Better Material - Throughout Season 9, the "Idol" judges harped on how important it was for the contestants to come across as "current" and "relevant." But then they made the contestants warble decades-old songs by Elvis, Lennon & McCartney, the Stones, Sinatra, et al. And even on multi-artist genre theme nights, the contestants still sang songs by Motown acts or the Box Tops. Way to engage the younger demographic, "Idol"! But that's all about to change. Not will only contestants work closely with Iovine and a slew of relevant superstar producers (more on them in a bit) to select songs that really match their specific talents (there's even talk of there being original song nights, with new tracks penned by major hitmakers of today), but they'll also be sticking to the genres they do best. That means no more karaoke-nightmare fiascos like that time Gokey caterwauled Aerosmith's "Dream On" on Rock Night. I'm sure Steven Tyler is pretty happy about that. And so am I.
Superstar Producers - As mentioned, this season uberproducers like Timbaland (Justin Timberlake, Nelly Furtado, Aaliyah, Missy Elliott, Mariah Carey), Rodney Jerkins (Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, Janet Jackson, Beyonce, Mary J. Blige), Ron Fair (Lady Gaga, Christina Aguilera, Keyshia Cole, Pussycat Dolls, Black Eyed Peas), and Alex Da Kid (Eminem, Rihanna, Diddy, Nicki Minaj, B.o.B.) will work closely with the contestants, presumably making music that'll sound right at home on the radio alongside Drake and Katy Perry, not just in the Season Pass-equipped iPods of hardcore "Idol" dorks who dig show tunes. If this show is making a serious attempt to court a younger, hipper audience and churn out a truly "relevant" pop star, then this is another good step in that direction.
More Music, Sooner - If the "Idol" powers-that-be really want to capture the youth market, they should realize that today's ADD-addled youngsters, with their video games and texting and 12,087 cable channels and whatnot, collectively possess the attention span of a learning-disabled gnat on a Red Bull binge. These kids are not going to patiently wait six or seven months after the "Idol" finale for the winner's album to come out. (Six months is 1/30th of a 15-year-old's entire life!) So now, by focusing on artist development with the contestants DURING the show, with those aforementioned big-name producers and original songs, "Idol" will be able to get the finalists' finished albums out much sooner, without compromising the artistic process. (At least, that's the idea.) This could be a win-win situation for the contestants and the viewers: The fans get their quick fix, and, consequently, the contestants get to keep their fanbases. I mean, just think of how many more albums Lee DeWyze could've sold if Live It Up had come out in June 2010 instead of November.
The Wild Card - Without the Wild Card, we wouldn't have bank-from-the-brink "Idol" success stories like Clay Aiken and Jennifer Hudson. We wouldn't even have Matt Giraud, Anoop Desai, or Megan Joy, all of whom helped make Season 8 one of the best seasons in the series' history. Sometimes America does get it wrong, and they get it wrong early, before they've had a chance to get to really know the contestants. In those cases, the Judges' Save doesn't mean diddly. That's when the Wild Card is needed. The Wild Card could've given last season's Lilly Scott, Alex Lambert, or Katelyn Epperly another deserved shot. Now there's talk of reinstating the Wild Card this year, and I couldn't be happier. Maybe this season is going to be one wild ride, after all.
Of course, at the end of the day, it's really about the contestants, period. Superstar judges, A-list producers and mentors, and not even super song selections won't mean squat if the top 10 fail to capture the hearts, imaginations, and ears of America (as was the case for some of last season's bunch, sadly). But if Season 10's talent is as amazing as Nigel--who's always asserted that the show should be about the singers--keeps claiming in his enthusiastic tweets from the audition rounds, then "Idol" will be back on track.
See you on January 19! Parker out.