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'American Idol' Needs a Revamp... Now!

Jose Flores Jose Flores
August 10th, 2009 11:11am EDT
American IdolWith the recent news that Paula Abdul will not be returning for American Idol's ninth season, the timing seems perfect for the show to reinvent itself, and recapture the magic that has been steadily dwindling since it premiered nearly a decade ago. Though ratings remain high, viewership is decreasing, a problem that the show tried to address by adding a new judge at the start of the eighth season. Unfortunately, what "American Idol" needs is not a mere shuffling of parts, or replacement of personality. The show needs to restructure its format, and realize that the problem is an over-saturated market that the public is slowly losing interest in.

So then, how to unsaturate the market? The simplest way is to stop pumping it full of "American Idol." This is, of course, unacceptable, since FOX has a revenue stream to maintain. There is a way to cut down the amount of "American Idol" that gets shoved through our televisions, while still maintaining the concept of the show constantly relevant. The network must be willing to take an initial financial hit, so this may be extremely wishful thinking, but suspend your disbelief for a second. Here goes...

Stop showing "American Idol" every year. Sacrilege, we know. But this would go a long way towards solving the show's biggest problem: It rarely discovers a true "American Idol". It's common sense, really - the talent pool simply can't regenerate that fast. Eventually, average singers start making the cut because the truly great singers were all on the previous year's show.

Let's take a look at the "American Idol" winners to date: Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard, Fantasia Barrino, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Hicks, Jordin Sparks, David Cook, and Kris Allen. How many of them have actually become "American Idol"s? Two: Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. They're the only ones who have gone multi-platinum multiple times, and they're the only ones who have won multiple major music awards (AMA, Billboard, Grammy). That's it, two out of eight, and they happened almost three years apart.

Now, we're not going to suggest that "American Idol" should only be shown once every three years. The withdrawal that that would create might actually kill some of the show's more dedicated fans. Giving the show a year off in between seasons makes a lot of sense. The talent pool would have a chance to refill, and the winners would actually have time to try and carve out a career before being overshadowed by the very show that discovered them.

The problem with this plan, of course, comes down to money. If "American Idol" is off the air for a year, where is FOX going to make up the advertising revenue? That's where phase two of my plan comes in.

Use the internet like the weapon it is. Even if "American Idol" took a year off from television, the contest could still be promoted year-round. Create an online community and allow potential contestants to upload videos of themselves singing. Let them post bios, pictures, and blogs. Let them connect to their eventual audience, let them grow and evolve with their fan base, and then bring them to the show to compete.

This strategy benefits all of the interests involved, from the audience looking to be entertained to the executives looking for dollars. Advertisers would pay for space on the website; there could probably even be some kind of sponsorship involved. The audience would get "American Idol" 24/7/365, because there would no longer be an off-season, just a Television Season and an Internet Season. And lets not forget about the contestants themselves, who would be able to see, study, and get to know their competitors for a full year before actually starting the show. What this means in terms of motivation, preparation, and gamesmanship could be nothing but beneficial to the show that would eventually air.

Having a continuous internet community would also provide a kind of depth and substance that "American Idol" does not currently have. More well known contestants means clearer favorites and underdogs, which sets up the kind of David-and-Goliath showdowns that audiences love. The show could employ a ranking system based on internet response, with higher ranking contestants receiving perks the others don't; the show could then function as a round-robin tournament, with the contestants battling for points during the first half of the season. The cumulative point totals would then be used to re-seed the group before the elimination rounds, which means the favorites and underdogs could potentially reset halfway through the show. There would be more opportunities to fall from grace, more opportunities for redemption, and all in all, more opportunities for drama.

American Idol

Image © Fox Broadcasting

We know what people are thinking, though: Wouldn't the contestants' internet fan base just vote for their favorites, making the whole ranking and tournament format completely ludicrous? Possibly, which is why the judges would have to be given more power to decide who should win and who should go home. We're not saying the audience should be completely taken out of the equation, but the impartial opinions of industry professionals should be valued more than the obsessive texting of hormone-crazed tweens/teens/whatever they're called. Besides, the audience will have its voice heard online, since website response will determine the rankings to start off the show. If a contestant gets an initial high seed, along with the perks that come with it, and still can't manage to impress the judges enough, maybe he or she simply doesn't have what it takes.

"American Idol" is more than a television show, it is an institution, but at one time, so was "Survivor," and "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" These shows failed to reinvent themselves, or tried to do so feebly and without imagination. The audience grew bored and moved on to other things, and the shows fizzled out with little fanfare or recognition. It's beginning to happen to "American Idol", and the producers need to realize the problem can't be solved by simply replacing a judge. The show needs to evolve and make itself as innovative as it seemed back in 2002, or risk joining the long list of reality shows that showed promise before limping into irrelevance.

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Jose Flores
Story by Jose Flores

Starpulse contributing writer