When ‘Idol’ Becomes Idle

When Jordin Sparks was crowned “American Idol’s” sixth season champ back in the spring of 2007, I swore I’d never watch the reality wreck again. Why? Let me count the ways: 1) She couldn’t belt it out like Kelly Clarkson, 2) She couldn’t emote like Fantasia, and 3) She couldn’t captivate a crowd like Carrie Underwood. Oh, and she was beyond boring. Despite my disappointment, I tuned in the following year to witness faux rocker David Cook sweep the floor with that Monchichi lookalike David Archuleta. Was it lackluster? That’s an understatement. Did I still watch every single minute of every single episode? Yes. Will I do the same for the upcoming season? Without a doubt. I should be ashamed of myself, but at this point, I’m too lazy and addicted to care what anyone thinks of me. “Idol” is my guiltiest pleasure, and I’ve come to embrace it. However, just because I’m tuning in, doesn’t mean that everyone else will join me on January 13 when Season 8 kicks off.

Last season the ratings dipped. Granted, an 8% decline isn’t enough of a drop to freak out about (especially when more than 27 million people still tune in), but if the show doesn’t deliver early on this year, more and more disgruntled fans might consider flipping the channel. So, what to do when “Idol” becomes idle?

The small ratings slip might have forced executive producer Ken Warwick to switch things up, but perhaps after seven powerhouse seasons he knows that a makeover will keep the show relevant. Maybe he’s just flexing his muscles behind the scenes now that his former co-producer Nigel Lythgoe has left to devote his time and energy to the sensational “So You Think You Can Dance” and the dreadful “Superstars of Dance.” In any case, a change is gonna come — make that changes — and without having seen any of the alterations in effect, I have to admit that some sound promising, while others sound like mistakes. Take a look:

Definite Changes

In an effort to bring some more “credibility” to the show, fewer freaks (Mary Roach), delusional dorks (Michael Sandecki), and hot messes (William Hung) will be featured during the auditions.

VERDICT: Boo! Don’t the producers realize that we voyeurs want to see as many sad clowns as possible? Guess not.

Character Development

With Hollywood Week finally becoming Hollywood Weeks, we’ll actually get to know the contestants and their stories, unlike in years past when the Top 12 could easily consist of strangers.

VERDICT: Yay! Remember when Kelly Clarkson came out of nowhere in the final few weeks of the first season? She had virtually zero TV time until the finals. Blasphemy! Thankfully, that shouldn’t happen again.

Wild-Card Round

For the first time since the show’s second season, the judges will select the final three contestants that will comprise the Top 12.

VERDICT: Debatable. As much as I don’t trust the public opinion (hello, Taylor Hicks), I think the judges have enough power as is. Shouldn’t the viewers get to hand out the golden tickets? I dunno. This could be very good… or very, very bad.

Top 12

With the semi-final round being comprised of 36 contestants — as opposed to the usual 24 — and with the judges determining the wild-cards, the makeup of the Top 12 won’t necessarily be split evenly among males and females.

VERDICT: Finally! If more women (for example) deserve to make the finals, let them in! I think everyone is tired of the 6/6 split. The best singers should be in the finals. Not cute talentless hunks (Ace Young), not grandma-selected safe bets (Kevin Covais), and definitely not Sanjaya.

New Judge

The new kid on the block is songwriter-producer Kara DioGuardi, the mastermind behind Xtina’s “Ain’t No Other Man,” Gwen Stefani’s “Rich Girl,” and Pink’s latest hit, “Sober.” Will she rely on her professional experience like Randy? Will she battle with Simon? Will she ultimately replace Paula? (All parties deny this rumor). Will she tell it like it is and risk hurting the contestants’ feelings?

VERDICT: Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Well, at least we hope so.

Shorter Results Show

Wednesday night’s results show will be pared down from one hour to 30 minutes.

VERDICT: Rejoice! Now you’ll have more room on your DVRs for quality programming like “Rock of Love Bus” and “The Real Housewives of Orange County.” Plus, you’ll only have to fast-forward to the 26th minute of the show as opposed to the 56th!

Rumored Changes

Fewer Themes

Rumor has it that viewers will no longer have to witness pop tarts trash country classics, crooners butcher Broadway tunes, and divas destroy Big Band standards.

VERDICT: Phew! We can handle Billboard’s biggest hits, “songs from the year you were born” night and maybe a “movie soundtrack” theme, but an evening with Burt Bacharach must be banished!

Younger Mentors

In a perfect world, Season 8’s finalists won’t have to pretend to know who Neil Diamond is, let alone sing songs from his infinite oeuvre. Same goes for Andrew Lloyd Webber and anyone else with liver spots.

VERDICT: This can’t happen soon enough. Did the producers ever think to invite anyone other than an octogenarian to mentor the finalists? It’s time. It’s time to tell Kelly Clarkson that in order to help her with her comeback, she needs to remember where she came from and make a triumphant return to the “Idol” stage. It’s time to enlist Rihanna and Chris Brown — no matter the cost. It’s time!

I’m still a tad skeptical, but I’ll admit that the changes seem extremely promising, especially the addition of Kara. Hopefully, “Idol” won’t let us down like it has so many times in the past. Wishful thinking? Anyway, tune in to FOX on Tuesday, January 13 at 8pm ET to see if the top-rated show can manage its makeover, or to see if “Idol” remains idle.


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