The 10th season of American Idol kicks off on FOX this Wednesday, January 19 with plenty of changes in store. Will these changes mean a "new and improved" Idol or are they just signs of a show that's jumped the shark and is now clinging desperately to a slowly deflating life raft?
Obviously, the biggest difference this season is the well-publicized shake-up behind the judges' table. On the down side, acid-tongued Simon Cowell (and his endless array of black T-shirts) has left the building but, on the up side, that universally hated harpy Kara DioGuardi was fired. The otherwise delightful Ellen DeGeneres graciously exited after only one season upon realizing that her pointless fangirling brought nothing to the panel (and, happily, she's now poised to reap the benefits of Oprah's "retirement"). Randy Jackson not only kept his job, but also got promoted to the "anchor judge" position...and why not? No one else possesses his mathematical prowess or limited vocabulary of outdated hip-hop slang, which are both keys to giving truly great critiques (this statement is 560 trillion bazillion percent true, dawgs).
Joining Jackson behind the big desk are Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez, who bring plenty of star power to the show. We'll have to wait and see if they can bring anything else. Once upon a time, Tyler could have brought Idol some much-needed credibility, but that waved bye-bye to him around the time his daughter Liv waved bye-bye to an asteroid-seeking Ben Affleck. As for J.Lo, she's kind of a polarizing figure among the public, but she did make a rather charming guest mentor in Season 6, so she's got that going for her.
Speaking of guest mentors, getting rid of them is yet another of the Season 10 revamps. Take a look at what's new:
▪ The set - Apparently, it's changed again. Hopefully, they've demolished the ridiculous $15 million lucite staircase.
▪ The schedule - In 2011, Idol is moving from its normal Tuesday/Wednesday slots to a Wednesday/Thursday schedule. Performance nights are scheduled to run 90 minutes instead of two hours and, in the greatest move of all, the results shows are being pared down to 30 minutes, just like they were in the good ol' days! I probably shouldn't get too happy here because the producers promised to go back to the 30-minute results show once before and totally reneged. But I can't help but feel excited about the possibility. Less time means less of Ryan Seacrest's nonsense and no more horribly awkward lip-synched group sings! Oh, and FOR THE LOVE OF GOD PLEASE LET THIS SPELL THE DEATH OF THE FORD COMMERCIALS.
▪ In-house mentors - While the revolving door of celebrity mentors has been closed (I guess they peaked last season with Miley Cyrus), the contestants won't be left to figure everything out on their own. Interscope Geffen A&M Records chairman Jimmy Iovine will act as the permanent "Idol Guide." Considering it will be his job to make Season 10's winner a star, his help should be much more constructive than the guest mentor mantra: "Be yourself." Iovine also plans on bringing in big-time producers to help the kids with their arrangements.
▪ Guitar hero limit - Iovine and producer Ken Warwick were tired of so many contestants hiding behind guitars and pianos, so they're limiting how often instruments can be played.
▪ Minimum age is now 15 - While the max age limit remains at 28 (because, really, who wants to hear crusty 30-year-olds sing?), the low limit has been lowered from 16 to 15. No doubt, this is yet another terrible side effect of Bieber Fever. Now we can look forward to The Dawg excitedly bellowing, "You're only 15!" after every mediocre pageant kid performance.
Although that's plenty of changes, I have a few more ideas for improving American Idol. Let's call them New Season's Resolutions:
▪ Change the voting system already! Every year, there is some kind of controversy and it's all because of a ridiculous voting system that seems to favor auto-dialing weirdos and teens/tweens with no taste and unlimited texting. I'm sure the technology exists to limit the number of calls or texts from any given phone number. Online voting would be even better. I've heard rumors that there will be online voting this season, but I'll believe it when I see it.
▪ Eliminate those crappy coronation singles. Another rumored change is that big name songwriters will be composing new tunes for the Idols to sing throughout the competition, to make it less of a karaoke contest. Hopefully, this is true. And hopefully, that means no more winning singles about climbing mountains and searching for rainbows.
▪ Enough with the gospel choirs and other distractions. It's truly amazing how easily the audience and judges are fooled into thinking an average singer is truly great when he's shrouded in fog and has 50 people singing backup, drowning most of his bad notes out. And do I even need to bring up last year's bagpiper and didgeridoo dude?
▪ Ban words like "brilliant" and "genius." Easily impressed former judge Paula Abdul was the biggest offender here, but every judge has been guilty of heaping on praise where it isn't due. Every time they tell some dude he's brilliant for choosing to cover a cover of a well-known song or some chick that she's a genius for replacing "la la la" with "ooh ooh ooh," those words lose a little bit of their meanings. And I lose a little of my mind.
▪ Forbid covering "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing." This might be the worst song ever recorded and it's been done to death on this show. (For more songs that should be banned, read this.) Unfortunately, now that Tyler is on the panel, we'll probably hear it more than ever.
What do you think? Does no Simon mean no viewers, or can the infusion of new blood bring in bigger ratings? Will this be a banner Idol year, or is this the beginning of the end? I'll admit that when I first heard Simon was leaving, I was skeptical about the show's future, but I'm willing to stick it out and see if it can make another stab at relevance. So, let's all put Lee DeWyze behind us and move cautiously forward, shall we?