Hey kids! Remember that big splashy Los Angeles "American Idol" press conference last summer, when producer Nigel Lythgoe returned, new judges Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler were introduced, and Randy Jackson claimed Season 10 was going to be "American Idol: The Remix"? No? Ah, how quickly we forget. But that's understandable, since almost everything Nigel and his "A.I." cronies promised that day never came to be. Clearly he forgot, too.
Okay, I've got to give Nigel proper credit for turning this show around--Season 10 was way better than Season 9 (not that that's saying much). But for the most part, it's been pretty much business as usual this year. Same "Idol," different judges. This is "American Idol," as Ryan Seacrest would say.
It will be interesting to see how "Idol" will compete in the future against talent competitions like "The Voice" and "The X Factor," fresh shows with an edgier and more diverse array of talent (not to mention tougher judges). And will we ever be able to fully trust "Idol" again, with the shards of its many broken promises scattered like so much onstage finale confetti? I just don't know.
Here's what the "Idol" powers-that-be SAID was going to happen this season. All lies, filthy lies!
LIE #1: No Celebrity Mentors - This season, the contestants were supposed to be the sole subjects of in-house mentor Jimmy Iovine, the Universal Records honcho who'd whip them into shape before, presumably, signing them to his label. I liked this idea, since most of this show's celebrity mentors have historically gone too soft on the contestants and/or seemed more concerned with hyping their own projects, while Jimmy clearly had a lot more invested in bringing out these kids' best. I enjoyed Jimmy's no-bull approach this season, but soon he was, lo and behold, joined by a succession of guest mentors, including (Universal Records signings) Sheryl Crow and Lady Gaga, J.Lo's hubby Marc Anthony, Beyonce (who--what a coincidence!--had a new music video to promote), and will.i.am, a dude who for a while seemed unwilling to leave the "Idol" set. (Call security!) They offered better advice most of the time than, frankly, Jennifer and Steven did...but still, I wish Jimmy Iovine had just been left alone to do his supposed job.
LIE #2: No Genre-Specific Themes - Back at that press conference and in subsequent 2010 interviews, the "Idol" powers-that-be said they were going to allow contestants to stick to their specialty genres--i.e., country singers wouldn't be forced to do rock, or vice versa--and that any weekly themes would be decade-specific instead. This too did not last. After a couple open-to-interpretation weeks during which the semifinalists could sing almost anything they pleased, it was back to the old "Idol" karaoke songbook, as the contestants were forced to sing songs from Motown, Carole King, and Leiber & Stoller. (The one proposed decade-themed week, Eighties Week, which would have been totally awesome, was switched at the last minute, and without explanation, to Elton John Week.) Just imagine, if reggae queen Naima Adedapo hadn't had to do Elton's "I'm Still Standing," or if balladeer Pia Toscano hadn't done "River Deep Mountain High"--and if everyone had stuck with material they could truly excel at--how differently this season might have panned out.
LIE #3: More Artist Development - Jimmy's vision at the beginning of the season was that with hands-on coaching by his stable of superstar producers (like Timbaland, Tricky Stewart, Don Was, Rodney Jerkins, and yes, the ubiquitous will.i.am), by the end of the season each contestant would have amassed an album's worth of material good enough to compete with any legitimate hit pop album out there. This too was not really the case. While a few contestants (Haley Reinhart, Casey Abrams, Paul McDonald) benefitted from the pro studio treatment, sadly, some of the studio recordings actually failed to live up to the exciting live performances (the recorded version of James Durbin's "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" being a prime example of this). And many of them were so over-tooled that the contestants' personalities were all but lost. Additionally, Jimmy and his henchmen seemed so hyper-focused on getting good, downloadable iTunes recordings out of these kids that his agenda often seemed at odds with that of the show's producers and judges, which was to get good TV performances onstage. (Example: Randy Jackson kept telling Jacob Lusk to belt it out; Jimmy kept telling Jacob to tone it down.) No wonder these contestants were so confused.
LIE #4: A Younger, Hipper Vibe - With its stable of of-the-moment record producers and a lowered age limit, the "Idol" honchos once asserted that "American Idol: The Remix" would be a revamped competition that would help find "the next Lady Gaga or Muse." But most of the edgier contestants (Naima Adedapo, Paul McDonald, Casey Abrams, James Durbin, Rachel Zevita, Brett Loewenstern) fell by the wayside; the contestants still sang ancient songs unfamiliar to the nation's youth (see Lie #2); the frontrunners wound up being the singers with the most conservative appeal; and, ironically, the season's youngest hopefuls, Scotty McCreery, Lauren Alaina, and Thia Megia, were the most conservative contestants of all. So don't expect the average age of "Idol's" viewership (45 years old) to come down any time soon.
The truth hurts.