Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Judging the Judges

Whats the difference between a judge and a mentor?  How about a mentor, a judge and a team leader? A celebrity judge? A permanent judge? New Judge? Old Judge?  Fired Judge?  Hired Judge?  I have no idea.  When I sat down to write about reality TV judges, I came to realize how the role of judge (or mentor or whatever) has become a vast sea of different talent, purpose and intent.  The length of the list of names of current reality tv judges, past ones, ones from shows that aren't on any more - revolving chairs on ones that are - is astounding.  Reality TV judge has become a full-time casting gig. The bigger the paycheck, the bigger the name - all the producers trying to find the one name that draws the most viewers in the demo - by offering controversial, yet acceptable insite to the talent/task at hand.  I don't want to talk quantity of judges fame - I want to talk quality of judges of judging.

 Different shows want different things from the judges - Dancing With the Stars wants judging and scoring and knowledge of dancing.  The Voice wants big name, willing to perform and promote themselves and their 'team'.  American Idol wants someone to keep Randy company while enduring all those hours on the road weeding.  Project Runway wants someone with some sense - perferrably the fashion kind.  Top Chef requires someone with great taste...buds, and an expansive foodie vocabulary.  The Sing Off wants someone with a good ear to tell the viewers when 1 voice singing with 20 is off key.    X Factor wants someone who can make it seem like its not American Idol 2.0 - and who won't fight with Simon. Americas Got Talent wants...I'm actually not sure...someone who speaks, maybe?  That said - I've compiled a list of my favorites and why...past and present.  I did take into account the intent and expectations of the show they are one - but mostly - I just care about the judging.

********************************My Top 10*************************************

9/10. - Adam Levine & Blake Shelton, The Voice- This bromance works. They are both really good at what they do - great to watch perform and great to hear them talk about their profession. Adam is better for the male contestants than the women. And Blake is better for the women. Adam needs to connect to his team members - in order to offer his best insights. I think he doesn't like to navigate the world of emotional artistic women. He is plenty nice to them - but does better for the men. He bears Queen Christina's incessant critiques and constant fight picking well. He picks great songs and is a 'mentor' and a bonafide talent worth listening to. Blake judges on emotion - down home, southern - I-liked-all-ya'all- emotion. He's the only judge on this list to be an emotional judger. He's on this list because he is the yin to Adams yang. He does better with the women because he is supportive and by the end becomes the truest and most endearing fan of each of the members of his team. This really appeals to the women - even the women in the audience (we all want to be on his team!) His emotional conversation does little to help the male contestants - even the country ones. But, he still a favorite. He's so nice and so darn cute and buoys up his contestants in the best way to help them truly shine - so I just love him - how can I not?

8. Gail Simmons Top Chef -I love Gail in the same way that I love PR'sNina & Michael - for her strong, mostly not positive opinions of everything. She is a culinary expert and she knows it...and she shows it with every bite.

7. Kara Dioguardi, American Idol & ? - I don't think she is judging anywhere currently (and yes she still gets a place on this list) - she was judging a song writing competition - but I never saw it. She is still my favorite Idol judge to date - she knows about songs - and it was a great idea to have her judging singers. She is really qualified to do it. Not in the 'I used to be a pop artist - and I can dance - Paula Abdul' kind of way...but in a 'I write songs and look for people to sing them and I know what to look for' kind of way. I thought her critiques were most helpful. I miss her on Idol.

5/6. Nina Garcia & Michael Kors Project Runway- they aren't really a team and are often times not on Runway together or at all. But both are vocal about what they like and don't like and don't mind standing on their own to express it. I love when they really disagree. I love when they just tell designers how horrible their creations are. I mostly love that they know why something works (or doesn't) and they can totally back it up. Fashion and Style aren't exactly universally objective. So, it is helpful to hear Nina & Michaels firm, if not oft times catty, opinions.

4.Simon Cowell X Factor- I didn't fully appreciate Simon until he left Idol. I always thought he was too mean - and sometimes ridiculously so. Did he have to say it in such extremes? Awful. Dreadful. Horrible. I The guy is the original British curmudgeon. Grumpy, moody - but discerning. When he left Idol - there was no discerning voice - and America needs to be told whats what - when emotions are high. His arrogance seems staged on X-Factor. They amp it up. But, he still knows what he is talking about.

3.Nigel Lithgoe So You Think You Can Dance- I'm not sure if he's in this group because of his judging or because of his show. He has been the most consistent on the SYTYCD panel - he has endured all of Mary Murphy's screaming, is British (a seeming requirement for every show), has doubled as Executive Producer to Idol- all the while offering actual dance insight and appreciation. He is also the one to fill the revolving judges chairs on that panel - and I love him just a little bit more for this. Neil Patrick Harris, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Debbie Reynolds, Christina Applegate were great in their guest spots. I simply LOVE the revolving guest judge chair! The choreographers are great fill-ins on this panel. I just really like the whole lot of them. So - Nigel is number 3 - Nigel and his show and his panel, really all that is SYTYCD. (Except Mary Murphy's screaming and Tyce DiOrios smugness - those I could do without.)

2.Len Goodman Dancing With the Stars- One of the least notorious of the British curmudgeon judges, Len is the hardest to please, the least emotional (but he can get there) and is the most properly discerning dance judge on TV. He calls himself an old fuddy duddy - and his refusal to accept more modern versions of ballroom classic dance - proves that he is. But, DWTS is best served by this grumpy gus and his funny metaphors.

1.Ben Folds The Sing Off- He is by FAR, one of my favorite judges ever. He knows music so well, can identify what is good in a performance more specifically than anyone -and  he can be down right critical without being mean.  He may not be the most controversial judge - but I really think he can help in ways no one else can.  His immense communication and knowledge of music and structure make him an expert - and he's fun and funny too.  **Side note - I'm not judging these judges based on their 'real careers' clearly - Ben Folds is an amazing musician - who can't sing very well.  His performances are fun - but his singing is not good - and he sings every season.

In summation:  I like the British grumpy guys and the ones I think are actually experts in their field and who aren't JUST trying to jump start their 'real careers' or get in the limelight once again.  Excellent judging comes from knowledge not name.   There is a plethora of reality tv judges and more to come. What about the new mentors for this summers Duets?  I think Kelly Clarkson will be a fast favorite. Is it possible that Howard Sterns or Britney Spears could be good at this? They both seem more name than knowledge...and who else will X Factor pick?  I say go with someone who has something to say - not something to promote.

PS - The worst of the judges can be summed up in 2 words: Nicole Scherzinger.  More discussion on this and her worst of this field cohorts another day.

1 comment:

  1. Love the list. Love that Nicole made the list in her own way...nails on a chalkboard!