Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Kinder, Gentler Idol

Once there was Simon, Paula and Randy...and they fought and flirted and one-upped each other and made ridiculous fools of themselves all while trying to crown Americas favorite singer.  Then came Kara.  Simon, Paula, Randy and Kara was a lot of talking, and made all the shows go too long.  Then Ellen stopped by and made everyone chuckle a little...and its almost 'A Whole New World'.  Cue the magic carpet.  Randy, Jennifer and Steven....well...its certainly a different dynamic. 

First - I love Aerosmith.  I do.  I know what Janie's got...I know what happens in an elevator and I know that Ben Affleck don't want to miss a thing.  I love me some J-Lo.  The Wedding Planner has got to be somewhere on my list of most delightful movie fluff...and hey, My Love Don't Cost A Thing either.  And, initially, I thought - this will be brilliant!  Idol will be brilliant!  Real artists!  And maybe at the start it was a little. (Yes, this does imply that I never thought Paula Abdul to be a real artist...though I maintain - I miss Kara and I thought she knew her stuff).  

After the first few long audition days, J-Lo seemed to be able to cut to the chase and get the weirdos and untalented on their way...and Steven, well Steven was just entertaining...everyone seemed to be waiting on the edge of their seats for the bleep machine to be required.  My early observations about the dynamic were how it all seemed more creative.  The audition rounds seemed to be less "crazy-psycho-get-on-TV-thrillseekers" and more "great story, good singers, watch how these famous musicians play nice with the contestants" - which for me is far more enjoyable.  First time in 10 seasons, I actually wanted to watch the early audition rounds.   I loved the way Steven and Jennifer would groove with the singers and get into it and sometime audibly sing along- it made the IDOL experience seem entirely more artistic.  Artists appreciating musical art.  I kind of liked it.  And, at first, at least - I really thought - that at the very least - Jennifer Lopez was somewhat discerning.  And though there wasn't a Simon among them.  Idol was still there and I liked it.   A kinder, gentler version emerged of Idols once bipolar craziness.

THEN - Vegas.  In Vegas, our superstar judges got to know the contestants, got to love them, had to make the more difficult decisions.  Jennifer Lopez had a teary breakdown at having to cut the contestant with one of this seasons most heart wrenching stories - but - the guy didn't sound great.  He just didn't - but because she knew the story - it was emotional.  This should have been the first indicator of what was to come.

As the weeks progress, far less judging is happening.  I thought for a time maybe they were just playing cheerleader roles - but now its just seeming ridiculous.  It doesn't help that for the first time ever, each song for each contestant is getting "produced" causing some of the sparkle of idol to vanish.  There is a certain magic in watching an amateur with an amazing voice figure it out.  Amateur is all out the window.  On the very first week - the singers had 'back up singers' and were releasing singles!  The year Ruben Studdard won (and I voted my heart out for Clay) - back up singers didn't show up until the finale.  Contestants were left to fend for themselves up until the end.  Now - each contestant is subjected to lots and lots of pre-preformance - music-industry - know-it-all-ness...and only the strongest and most self-defined contestants have dared waiver from those opinions.  It feels over-produced.  It just does.  OVER. PRODUCED.  Take a week off Jimmy Iovine!

I wonder if some of this was born from Adam Lambert.  Kris Allen may have been victorious but Adam Lambert changed Idol.  He was and wanted to be so innovative with his performances - lighting, costuming, staging - all his ideas - and they seemed authentic and not forced (still love his voice - and no comment on his post-Idol idiocy).  Now they are forcing the contestants to be performers from the start...expecting Adam Lambert - caliber performances - but it is all somebody elses creation - it feels so forced and the audience just isn't getting to experience the transformations - it is all happening behind the scenes.  Kudos to Casey and James for trying to do their own things - but really - whose idea was the pyrotechnic piano?

Back to the judges.   They just love everyone - its a sad day when the most discerning judge is name-dropping 'dawg' Randy!  Steven never says a mean thing - but at least the accolades he offers are interesting.  Probably my all time favorite Steven moment this season - was after James Durbin finished a great karoke version of Bon Jovi's "Its My Life" and Steven looked at him and said "don't go too "pop"-y on me"!   As Steven seemed to be extending an offer as mentor to his new protege in James.  Steven loves music and it is obvious - and he likes it and he wants to like it.  He gets into it...and it can be fun to watch -but he doesn't offer any kind of judgement.  Jennifer is emotionally involved.  She is trying to offer helpful critique, but she too often gets swept up in the emotion and offers that of an endearing fan, rather than a genuine popstars assist.  Randy is still Randy...with maybe a bit more responsibility.  It seems he senses the responsibility he has to make sure the "Simon" voice is still least it seemed that way at first - but by now - he's just same old Randy - king of the "dawg pound".

This kinder, gentler, undiscerning idol is really absent a critical voice.  And I think it is showing in the voting.  I'm happy they introduced the judges SAVE.  If for no other reason - than it gave me 2 more weeks of Matt Giraud - the first SAVE recipient.  And, I have to say, I was happy they SAVED Casey.  This competition would not be the same without the versatile Casey... but, they had to SAVE him, because I think America needs a Simon.  They need someone to help them wade through their own emotion - and get to the nitty gritty...they need someone to notice what isn't good - when it all seems so right.  And since there isn't any - the audience gets confused.  But, not too confused - on the most recent results show - all of the 'voted off' top 12 contestants did a horrific group number - that served to hi-light that Paul McDonald really can't carry a tune (but hey, emotional me - still crazy loves him!) and that really only Pia of that group is a stand out.  Too many words and wandering thoughts later - all I really need to say is: I miss Simon.  The Idol voting America needs a Simon.  Steven and J-Lo are fun...but a kinder, gentler idol also makes for a bit more of a boring idol too.