Monday, August 02, 2010

Open letter to AMERICAN IDOL producers

I’m sure hundreds of thousands of people are offering their suggestions on how to resurrect AMERICAN IDOL. So why listen to me? Simple. I produced AfterMASH.

IDOL is very much at a crossroads. Last year was a disaster and you’ve lost the only real reason to watch the show, Simon Cowell. Trust me, people don’t tune in to see the 30th heavily tatted boring belter from Arkansas with a baby out of wedlock and a dad in prison attempt to sing the theme from ALADIN.

First off, I applaud you. You’ve already taken two very bold but necessary steps – firing Kara Dioguardi (every guy’s ultimate nightmare blind date) and firing Ellen DeGeneres (Oh, right, she “resigned” because IDOL was occupying “too much of her time” – three whole hours a week). I’m not worried about either of them. Ellen can go back to hosting her daytime show (which she does with considerable charm and ease) and Kara can return to writing inspired song lyrics like this:

Ooh, ooh baby
Touch me and I come alive
I can feel you on my lips
I can feel you deep inside
Ooh, ooh baby
In your arm's I finally breathe
Wrap me up in all your love
That's the oxygen I need, yeah

So what you’re left with is Randy Jackson, and that’s like going off to do the MASH sequel with Father Mulcahy.

You can change the set, the format, lower the age requirement to 10, revise the voting procedure, have the kids do Kia commercials instead of Ford, order Ryan to come out of the closet, whatever you want – it’s not going to make a difference.

Who you hire as judges – THOSE are the most important decisions you will ever have to make. Everything else you can fix. But if you hire the wrong people, you’re dead. The audience will tune in initially out of curiosity. But it’s not like before where they’d stick around for half a season or more until you finally drive 'em away with Sinatra Week. If the new arrangement isn’t clicking, they’re gone. Jewel as guest mentor isn’t going to keep them.

You need real personalities. You need distinctive characters. Not just names. Not just celebrities. Number of number ones don't mean anything. Neither is having your own line of perfume. Be a star on MTV or QVC, not Fox.

The names I hear you’re interested in are Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler. Now I’m willing to give them both a chance but honestly, I’m skeptical.

J-Lo? What exactly does she bring? Other than the fact that she’s a Scientologist so she’s a certified loon. Is she funny? Opinionated? Outrageous? What? From what I understand she’s the richest person of Latin American descent in Hollywood. That makes her qualified to judge THE APPRENTICE not AMERICAN IDOL. Yes, she’s versatile. She’s an actress and a singer. She’s slept with Puff Daddy and Ben Affleck. But the only time I’ve ever heard her speak is on red carpet arrival shows and when Sam Rubin and Kathy Ireland come off with more personality you reeeeeally gotta wonder.

And Steven Tyler from Aerosmith? Isn’t this just Ozzie Osbourne with slightly better diction?

Obviously I’m not on the inside. I don’t know who you’ve contacted and who has passed other than Howard Stern (I’d enjoy that but I worry he’d send ever tweener screaming back to the Disney Channel) and Elton John (who I think would be Captain FANTASTIC). I’m sure a lot of qualified candidates realize it’s a suicide mission. Good luck being prepared to Simon. Personally, I would consider Neil Patrick Harris and Harry Connick, Jr. Both were sensational as guest judges. But for all I know you did consider them and neither was interested. Oscar Levant would be another great choice but unfortunately he has a conflict. He’s dead.

I may be wrong and I hope I am because I loved AMERICAN IDOL when it was good. But I get the feeling with Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler that you’re settling. And you can’t afford to. Not now. Not anymore. You can no longer survive missteps like Ellen and Kara. As Simon would say, “you have to nail it.” Otherwise, this year America is going to vote off YOU.


Jonathan said...

Sebastian Bach proves himself to be both smart and funny every time I hear him talk. And they could go with the male version of Paula: David Lee Roth. But it will be tough to replace what Simon brought: brutal and spot-on honesty, and a unique way with metaphor. Bottom line for me is that the show has outlived its interest and utility. It's time to go.

phillyfilly said...

How about Quincy Jones as a judge? Now that's credibility.

Keith said...

Alice Cooper and Kristen Chenoweth

Graham Powell said...

How 'bout Liza Minelli? She knows music. She's crazy. She's a perfect fit!

Minuses: she's starting to look a lot like Robert Blake.

Bob Gassel said...

Stop dissing AfterMASH...maybe it wasn't the success everyone had hoped for, but it was certainly more worthwhile than the last few seasons of MASH.

Any chance to hear the words of Larry Gelbart is good enough for me.

Anonymous said...

I like Jonathan's suggestion: David Lee Roth. Or, how about...Triumph the Dog (re-name him Simon the Dog to avoid NBC lawsuit), Adam Lambert, Jerry Lewis, or Chris "Mad Dog" Russo from Sirius radio?

Anonymous said...

Fred Allen and Senator Claghorn.

KOKORO said...

Giving American Idol new judges is like giving Sophia Loren another facelift. Harry Connick was auditioning so heavy for the job I thought he was going to actually crap charm and piss whimsy. Liza Minelli? She's dead. It's just that no one's told her. Steven Tyler? Replace the Coke cups with Stoli. No one replaces Simon Cowell, although with all his expertise as a music producer how is it that when left to his own devices with all the world's musicians at his disposal, the best he could come up with was Il Divo? Four tuxedoed operatic metrosexuals? The Beatles meet the Gay Mens choir. Living proof that it's much easier to slam people trying to do something creative than to actually do something creative.

doggans said...

Who should be the new judge? Three words: Weird Al Yankovic. Smart, funny, musically knowledgeable, full of personality, and would bring in the oft-underestimated Geek Demographic.

Only downside? He's far too nice to fill Simon's shoes.

Anonymous said...

Love the David Lee Roth idea! Credible, perfect with the one-liners, very quick on his feet with the quips, and he would be "over the top". Make it so!

peepl: The slang Arkansas version of "peephole" as in "I'm goin' down yonder to look in dat der peepl and see some girly tings"

Anonymous said...

Harry Connick JR would be on my short list. He was fantastic working with the kids and giving them honest feedback.

Also why not Dolly Pardon, I think she would be great. Not only would we get some great wigs and outfits, she knows the business better than most. She does it all so she knows what it takes to be a singer/songwriter. She is also great with the soundbites.

that's my two choices..... Harry and Dolly! I love it.

Sally creeping down the alley said...

"Otherwise, this year America is going to vote off YOU."

We should be so lucky.

blogward said...

Larry David? Er, how about Roman Polanski? Great analysis Ken.

Tom Quigley said...

Started thinking that an ideal judge to replace one of the departing panelists might be Barry Gibb, but then also started thinking "What if he offered all his criticisms in that irritating falsetto singing voice?" We'd probably end up being treated to an hour of...

GIBB: (singing)

"Well you can tell by the way I stuck out my tongue
That I didn't like the way that song was sung.
You sang too loud, you sang it all wrong --
You completely killed and butchered that song.

So it's not all right, not okay, And you'd better listen to what I say.
Your odds of winning are pretty bleak,
And you prob'ly won't be back next week.

Based on your performing,
I'm-a giving you the warning
That you're barely alive, barely alive.
Your singing's a pariah --
You could lose out to Sanjaya
'Cause you're barely alive, barely alive...
Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! -- Barely alive! Barely alive!
Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! -- Barely aliii--iii--iiii--iive... Yeah!"

And then Randy would give Monsieur Gibb a sideward glance with the observation: "A little pitchy that time, Dawg...."

Jason Crane | The Jazz Session said...

I love the Oscar Levant idea. In fact, my next "Ken Levine dream post" would be a transcript of a Levant-judged Idol episode. Make it happen!

sean in ashburn said...

American Idol is dead. Long live American Idol. Simon Cowell not only has plenty of money but great timing. I don't think Kara Dioguardi is a bad person; just on the wrong TV show. Why Ellen DeGeneres even considered doing AI is beyond me. Ken makes some good points but the biggest point should be the show is dead. Let's move on.

Tom said...

Kathy Griffin?

jackscribe said...

Here's a win-win thought. Move the lovely Ryan over to the judge table and bring in hot Cat Deeley (from SYTYCD) as hostess. The third judge: eat a little crow and bring back Paula!

Kirk said...

Sandra Bernhard and Ozzy Osbourne.

Rebecca said...

Tom Quigley, your Barry Gibb song was awesome!

Tom Quigley said...

Thanks, Rebecca!... I'll be here all week (don't forget to tip your waitress)... :-)


Bob Gassel said...

My dream panel...Brian Wilson, Jerry Lewis, Norm MacDonald, Sarah Silverman

Cap'n Bob said...

I thought my Scientology radar was pretty sharp, but this is the first time I've heard JLo is one of them. Is this true, Ken, or are you just being funny (which you are, BTW).

As a judge, I hear Phil Spector isn't busy, other than fending off Bubba in the showers. They could set up a monitor at his place on the table.

Pat Reeder said...

J-Lo can offer the contestants her expertise on the most important factor in getting your songs on the radio: payola.

I liked Simon Cowell because he was funny, brutally honest and was actually part of the music business. I also didn't like him precisely because he was part of the music business. He was the guy who created Il Divo and whose key to success was always to have whatever marginally talented celebrity was currently hot on TV rerecord one of my most hated tunes, "Unchained Melody." If singers didn't ululate like a terrorist at Ground Zero, and actually hit notes and held them, he'd dismiss them as "cabaret" or "too Broadway." Those weren't necessarily traits of cabaret or stage singers. They used to be traits of the greatest pop singers, like Frank Sinatra and Keely Smith. Simon has a narrow definition of pop, which coincides perfectly with my definition of "juvenile, overproduced crap."

VW: "Slugh" - What I groan whenever I listen to an "American Idol" singer.

J S Swanson said...

How about Joan Rivers & William Hung?

Unknown said...

Harry Connick & Neil Patrick would be awesome! Simon was good because he was RIGHT! He came off as rude because he didn't sugar coat it, he told it like it was and was honest. All of the past contestants have said they respected what he said the most. So don't replace him with someone who's just going to be an ass, that's not going to work. Steven Tyler will suck, J. Lo won't be much better.

Honestly, I feel this will be the last year. The guest mentors are only there to push their latest CD or tour. I mean Miley Cyrus? Seriously?? She can't legally drink (not that she doesn't). What the hell did SHE know?? Barry Manilow was AWESOME! This has become a show about selling crap, not finding talent. It's an awesome show because we have found some real and amazing talent (Daughtry is fantastic), but while it has always been a show and about ratings, it's even more about ratings and money now.

I REALLY want it to continue because it can be a really fun show and find us some very cool talent. But I just don't see that happening because they only care about money, which will doom the show. :(

stevin said...

Very funny and insightful as always, Ken. How about Mikhail Gorbachev and Rita Moreno (to attract more young viewers)? Or Sandy Koufax and Debi Mazur? Jimmy Cliff and Fergie (the princess, not the singer)?

Steve H S said...

How about Mikhail Gorbachev and Lesley Ann Down? (to attract the younger viewers) Or Jimmy Cliff and Vera Wang? Donnie Wahlberg and Madeleine Albright?

Anonymous said... guys are really missing out on the "big" picture.
Of course, the solution is a spinoff show, "American Idol Judge!",
where people from all over the US compete to get the coveted position of judge on American Idol!

Michael Tassone said...

Boat race celebrity shows need to die in a fiery, twisted car crash that fills the air with wails of agony.

Oh wait, did that already happen?

Greg said...

Ted McGinley, Tanya Roberts and Dick Sargent (if you can't exhume Oscar Levant).

stevin said...

Patti Smith and Bob Schieffer?