10 suggestions for saving American Idol
On Monday, FOX executives said the work to fix American Idol would begin immediately after the season finale.
So being the helpful blogger that I am, I figured I’d lend my suggestions on how to save the show in the face of tumbling ratings and stiffer competition.
And while Season 12 didn’t live up to expectations, it’s not as though the show didn’t do anything right.
We had a fabulous final three in Candice Glover, Kree Harrison and Angie Miller — perhaps the best final three in years.
Idol changed the Vegas round format so that everyone in the Top 40 was featured. The meant no more mystery contestants showing up in the semifinals who we’d never heard before. That meant everyone sang twice on live TV before a fan vote was cast.
And, in a long overdue move, Idol featured former contestants almost exclusively on its results shows. Hey, they helped make Idol the show that it is. Why not help promote what they’re doing post-show?
But that’s also an example of how disjointed and rudderless Season 12 was. American Idol couldn’t even get that quite right.
By the end of the season, we were getting guest performances from will.i.am (again) and Alicia Keys. Why? They certainly didn’t run out of past Idols.
And Idol came up with a brilliant slogan leading into Season 12: “Others dream, we deliver,” driving home the fact that it’s the only singing show on TV that has produced stars, not to mention countless other singers who have charted at one time or another.
I would have had Ryan Seacrest repeating that slogan every time a former contestant took the stage.
After all, if Cassadee Pope and some of the Season 4 Voice contestants get the success they deserve, it might have been Idol’s last chance to make such a claim.
Now, ways to save the show …1. Freshen up the song list: If you want to attract younger viewers, you need contestants singing songs those fans are familiar with. Ditch the Beatles. Ditch Motown Week. Never again have a Burt Bacharach/Hal David Week. And, for crying out loud, if you’re going to have a Now and Then Week, boot songs that pre-date the contestants’ parents. That week, the top four sang songs first released in 1926, 1933, 1937 and 1941. Freshening up the song list also means the singers might know the songs they’re asked to sing. And that just might lead to better results on show night. Dah.
2. Let the singers choose: For the first eight weeks of the finals, contestants chose what they sang, albeit off a limited song list. Then we get to the final two weeks of the season — the most important two — and that choice is taken away. They get to pick a grand total of one of the six songs they sing in Top 3 week and the finals, and that has to be a song they’ve performed earlier in the season. This format has led to stupidity in the past and did again this year when Jimmy Iovine had Kree singing Pink’s “Perfect” on Top 3 night. Again, if the singers get to sing songs they love, with the title on the line, the chance of a brilliant, impassioned performance would seem to increase, don’t you think?3. Advance enough singers to fill the schedule: I can’t even believe I have to type that. But the idiotic decision not to have a wild card in a year when the female talent was so phenomenal not only robbed Aubrey Cleland and Breanna Steer of a chance at performing in the finals, it also left the show a singer shy when the judges (wisely) decided not to use their save at any point in Season 12. Was anyone really surprised when Ryan Seacrest announced that surprise twist on Top 4 night — that no one would go home? Heck, no one could go home!!! The show didn’t have enough singers left for anyone to go home.
4. Shorten the shows: This won’t happen because of what it would mean to advertising revenue, but I’d bet lots more people would be willing to commit to Idol if performance shows got shorter as the contestant pool got smaller (which used to happen) and if all the results shows were a half hour instead of a full hour. Once the number of contestants drops below eight, the shows seem every bit as bloated as they are, with hodgepodge duets unfairly thrown in to fill time. Instead, the only short performance show is the one that should be longer — the final match-up between the top two. Talk about backwards.
5. Let the Idols appear on iTunes chart: You know what, it’s fun to head to iTunes each Tuesday to see where the singers from The Voice land on iTunes. How about that run of #1 singles Cassadee enjoyed in Season 3? Exciting, huh? Idol, of course, is worried about ruining the results show suspense. Which is silly. If every download counts as one vote, but you let everyone cast 50 votes online with a single click of the mouse … well, you’ve probably already figured out what the Idol folks can’t.
6. Give the show a sense of direction: That rudderless feeling I talked about earlier — more examples. On the first results show in the finals, Ryan divulged the exact order of finish. It never happened again. On three results shows, we were provided updates on past Idols who didn’t perform — Adam Lambert, Constantine Maroulis and (for some reason) LaToya London. Why did that happen only three times? Pick a plan, Idol. Then stick to it. Give us a sense that someone, anyone, is at the controls.
7. Well, not quite anyone: Season 12 was such a mess, the producers need to go. Pronto. Even when they know the answers — Nigel Lythgoe has repeatedly said broad themes seem to lead to better performances — they seem incapable of committing to it or seeing it through.8. As for the judges: Cut the number back to three. If you find a third judge who can work well with Keith Urban and Nicki Minaj, I’m not sure they have to go. Keith is one of the most earnest judges the show has found. Nicki was born to be on TV. But make her show up on time. And, for heaven’s sake, take away her Twitter access during the season. Also, please, give the new judge a screen text before making the hire. The Mariah mistake might have been the biggest mistake of all in Season 12.
9. Find better guys: Hey, it’s great that Idol has a female winner for the first time since Season 6. But the male talent in Season 12 was so poor, it sure felt like the show stacked the deck to ensure a female winner. If that wasn’t the case … wow! Bottom line: Any drama that could have come from speculation over whether a girl would win ended more than a month before the finals.10. Find better talent, period: Like I said, Idol had a fantastic top three. In terms of depth, the Season 12 cast will go down as one of the weakest ever. If I was Idol, I’d be concerned about that summer tour. It wouldn’t be so bad if The Voice wasn’t airing at the same time with clearly superior talent. Sure, The Voice attracts its share of pros (Tony Lucca, Sasha Allen, Judith Hill). But check out the Season 4 Top 12 and you’ll also find singers you used to meet on Idol, like Danielle Bradbery, Amber Carrington, Garrett Gardner, Holly Tucker, Sarah Simmons. Lots of other talented young singers were already cut on The Voice.
Idol needs to find more of that talent for Season 13. A deep cast adds an air of unpredictability to the proceedings. Remember Season 10, when Idol offered up Pia Toscano, Casey Abrams, James Durbin, Paul McDonald, Jacob Lusk and the out-of-the-blue Haley Reinhart in addition to the finalists. That was fun.
Idol Season 12 was not nearly as fun.
And fun, FOX executives, should be your primary goal in putting together the next season of American Idol.