Thursday, March 14, 2013

It's time for AMERICAN IDOL to say goodbye

As longtime readers of this blog know, for years a regular weekly feature was reviewing AMERICAN IDOL. I could usually count on at least one memorable performance, two dead-on comments by Simon Cowell, and twelve idiotic statements by Paula Abdul. At the time the show was fresh and people were actually talking about it the next day. There are so few shared TV experiences anymore. IDOL and GIRLS and that’s pretty much it. And both are similar in that they feature a lot of masturbation.

I eventually stopped critiquing IDOL because it became so formulaic and predictable that I stopped giving a shit. Apparently, so has America. Although the ratings are still good they’re a shadow of what they once were and actually winning and becoming an AMERICAN IDOL now only guarantees you’ll be asked to sing the National Anthem at spring training games. I think the only way people would pay to see Taylor Hicks is if their ticket would also include admission to the rides and other attractions at Six Flags Magic Mountain.

And then the big blow – Simon Cowell left. Yes, he’s still around, doing the same act on another show, but that’s like Lucille Ball leaving I LOVE LUCY to do HERE’S LUCY. Replacement judges have come and gone and the franchise has trudged on.

So I decided last night to check back in and see how the show is faring. It’s the first time I’ve seen it this year. The open auditions are tedious and Hollywood week is an exercise in making Millennials cry so I waited until the live show and the contestants had been whittled down to ten. New judges, new format, new excitement is what the producers and Fox promised. How’d they do?

Same old same old.

AMERICAN IDOL is now completely by-the-numbers. There’s only one new bright spot, which I’ll get to later. The Top Ten were just faint carbons of previous contestants. They can all sing, or, to be more accurate, BELT. But no one stands out. No one is original. No one is a star. So who cares? It’s like voting for State Treasurer.

The musical theme was songs once sung by former American Idols.  In other words:  songs we've already gotten clearance on.   

The judges have been swept out save for Randy Jackson. That’s like the final episode of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW when everyone at WJM got fired except Ted Baxter. This year’s panel includes Keith Urban, who’s engaging and handsome and likes everything (even his wife’s last seven terrible movies), Mariah Carey who fulfils the Paul Abdul role of being a complete vapid idiot (one of her critiques last night: “Hashtag: Pow!”), and then that one bright spot I was talking about – rapper Nicki Minaj.

She dresses like a drag queen who works the noon-to-six shift at the corner of Santa Monica Blvd. and Cherokee, shows up late for a live show, talks in a nasal monotone New York accent (picture Selma Diamond on morphine singing hip hop) but says wildly entertaining absurd things. None of the judges give any guidance or musical insight that is remotely useful and constructive, but that’s what we’ve come to expect from all of these dunderheads other than Simon. The trope of the night was “comfort zone.” Every contestant was either in or out of his or her comfort zone. But Nicki at least tries to say something unexpected. So what if half of what she says is insane?

And Ryan is… Ryan.  Just biding his time until he can oust Matt Lauer. 

The show was two hours, which included the usual amount of padding. The first contestant didn’t begin singing until seven minutes into the program. Those seven minutes were filled with introductions, screaming applause, and pleas to download the new IDOL app. Do the math: ten singers, each singing for two minutes. That’s twenty minutes of performance in one-hundred-and-twenty minutes of airtime.

The contestants were all central casting versions of past hopefuls.

There is Curtis, the fat African-American gay guy. Janelle, the blond dumb Kellie Pickler. You’ll notice that half these kids have weird names. That’s become an IDOL staple. If you can sing and your name is Mary, you’re toast. Change it to Maribelliah.

Devin is the sensitive gay kid who looks like Tin Tin. Angie is the All-American cheerleader with big hair and voice. Gotta have one of those. And at some point she’ll lose out to an African-American contestant to prove that the show isn’t biased. (Nine black ex-contestants are suing the show claiming racism.) This was Nicki’s critique of Angie’s singing: “I love the way you walk in heels.”  Bravo!

Paul is the gay Clay Aikens kid who claims he’s not influenced by Broadway but if he were singing "Anarchy in the UK" it would sound like a show tune.

Candice is this year’s Jennifer Hudson. A heavy-set African-American with powerful pipes. Am I the only one who is reminded of “The Crying Game” when I watch her on stage?

Lazaro (unusual name? Check) is the obligatory challenged contestant. He stutters. There’s usually one who has some physical or emotional disability to draw the sympathy vote.

Also there’s Kree (unusual name? Check) the white belter. Instead of critiquing her, Nicki explained how she makes buttermilk waffles in the morning, when to put butter on, when to microwave them, etc. and then said that’s what Kree’s performance reminded her of – making waffles. Okay, it makes zero sense, but can you honestly say you saw that one coming?

Burnell (unusual name? Check) was the hip R&B dude. And finally, Amber, the gorgeous black contestant who can belt loudest of all. Mariah commented on the theatrics of her performance. She liked “the wind in the dress flowing. I know someone else who does that. I can’t think of her name.” How about Marilyn Monroe? Ever hear of her? Even the studio audience laughed at how stupid that remark was. Nicki said, "I would pay to see you wear pink lipstick."  Ellen wasn't this funny once.

A couple of times the judges gave singers standing ovations – all except Mariah who admitted that her dress was too tight. She was stuffed into it like a sausage casing, and let’s just say Randy Jackson could have gotten into that dress with less effort.  

Time was I’d review AMERICAN IDOL every week. This concludes my AMERICAN IDOL review for the season. It's tired, it's over, it's time for Ryan to anchor the NBC Nightly News.  If Nicki says something really goofy, please let me know.

Levine. Out.


Florence said...

Always happy to see a masturbation joke in the blog, but is Girls really a shared TV experience? Not wading into whether it's good or bad, but more people watch The Weather Channel.

But I will be laughing about Selma Diamond on morphine singing hip-hop all day.

Scooter Schechtman said...

What is this, "Crappy Reality Shows And the Men Who Love Them"?
I've never seen such bitter heartache.

Debbie R. said...

I'm with you. After Nicki started talking about waffles, I got up and and turned the TV off and went to bed.

Canda said...

I think about all the people you described in today's blog when MTV does "Rock The Vote".

Barry Traylor said...

As I was never interested in watching IDOL the fact that is still on tv slips under my RADAR.

Mac said...

The best vehicle for Simon Cowell would be a private jet back over the Atlantic, but with just enough fuel to get halfway over the Atlantic.

Terrence Moss said...

FOX needs to let this show go.

I stopped watching after the Lambert season, which was the show's peak for me. He turned that shit out. And it's been downhill ever since.

FOX also needs to start planning for a post-Idol future. I doubt they're doing that. They will drag this out another two seasons because this is their flagship and they'd rather do that than nurture any other shows that may keep them afloat until the next hit.

And TV as a whole has got to get away from these damn demos. It's killing the business.


Mary Stella said...

I stopped watching a few seasons ago. I like The Voice instead.

Happened to catch Taylor Hicks performing on television over the weekend. He was serenading Paula Deen while he cooked with her on her show and they talked a lot about the restaurant he opened. Such a versatile performer! She asked if he ever performs at his restaurant. Of course he does. A singing gig's a singing gig.

John said...

(picture Selma Diamond on morphine singing hip hop)

Season 2 episode of "Night Court", right?

"Idol" may be one of those shows that just needs a rest before a reboot. It's become routine, and shows like it have become so commonplace, that there's no buzz on it anymore. But I'm not sure if Fox or Cowell (who I assume still has part ownership) want to go for a hiatus, as opposed to milking the former cash cow until it's nothing but leather and skullbones.

Max Clarke said...

Nice mention of Selma Diamond, she was very good in "My Favorite Year" as the seamstress/head of wardrobe for the television show.

MikeFab said...

My wife and I used to watch "Idol" regularly during the first few years, when there were actually some fairly talented singers competing. About 5 or 6 years ago, I noticed I was enjoying the show less and feeling sort of weird about even tuning in to watch it. Especially when I realized that some of the best singers were getting zapped by jealous "tween" girls. Then one morning after watching "Idol" the night before, I stumbled upon your blog, which really gave "Idol" a deserved ass-whipping, and it was as if a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders. Finally, someone else shared my growing disdain for that stupid show.

I'm proud to say, I haven't watched it since reading your blog that day, and I've been a regular reader of this blog ever since. Thanks Ken. Oh, "The Me Generation" was a very entertaining read. We're about the same age, so much of the book was relatable. And I grew up mostly in one of your favorite towns....Bakersfield!

Pat Reeder said...

I used to watch "Idol" because my wife is a singer and liked it. But I jumped off that train after the Jennifer Hudson season, and even my wife has tuned it out now. Thank you for noticing and blasting the fact that they all seem to think that singing means belting every note. I also hate the tortured ululating they do on the end of every lyric line. Want to impress me? Find the right note and hold it for more than 1/25th of a second. It's that style of overwrought oversinging and phony emotionalism that's made pop music so unlistenable.

Nothing more annoying than being in a store and you can't remember what you came in for because some chick on the music channel is screeching and wailing her head off at maximum volume from start to finish. I'm glad that Adele seems to be killing off that style, except now we're inundated with a million third rate copycats trying to sound like Adele. Let the sky fall on the lot of them.

Zack Bennett said...

Oh, come on, Ken. You don't have to hide it. We all know you're only dissing "Idol" because you prefer "The Voice", which prominently features a Levine.

Wayne said...

Speaking of saying goodbye, Google Reader is going away. For a replacement, any suggestions?

McBrewster said...

They need to bring it back for one more season with the original judges. Then Nygel Lithgowe should devote the rest of his life to trying to spend all that money!

A Fan said...

I'm thinking you should turn your blog into a podcast. I betcha lots of people wold love to hear the sarcasm in your pice as you read this stuff out loud.

Jeffrey Mark said...

A young woman I occasionally work with was on the show and went to Hollywood week. She isn't bitter she got blown out, but she thinks the show truly sucks these days. All of the women sound the same as does all of the guys. I can't even remember past winners except for Taylor Hicks and where the hell is he these days. Oh, and what about that David something - the little guy who won some years back. Where is he today?

Hollywoodaholic said...

Yes it's Spam, and, speaking of Spam, there's some in this thread with a plug for some satellite dvr product. But look, the show still showcases good singing talent (Kree is the next Trisha Yearwood, and that's NOT a bad thing), Nikki Minaj is a hoot to watch (skip the rest), and if you do DVR it, as you must, you can watch a two hour show in about 25 minutes, as you suggest. Plus, it's one of the few things you can watch with your kids that doesn't fast forward them straight past puberty to jaded adulthood.

Bill said...

I was in Vegas a couple of weeks ago and Taylor Hicks was playing there: in a venue at the Paris that holds about 50 people. Most people were waiting for the "Dueling Pianos" act to start.

RareWaves said...

So how am I now supposed to get Selma Diamond on morphine singing hip-hop out of my head?

I've always loved your way with words. "The contestants were all central casting versions of past hopefuls" speaks volumes.

chuckcd said...

Is that show still on?

cshel said...

It's too bad you didn't watch sooner, Ken. There were some strange contestants you would have enjoyed just before this last cut.

This is the first year I probably won't keep watching. I'm torn because I looove Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban as judges. She gives great advice actually, and they don't love everything.

But the contestants they ended up with are really boring. Not that they can't sing, I just don't care. Every other year there were people I looked forward to seeing perform. This year, not a one. I'd rather see some personality and originality, with a little less singing talent. Preferably both.

I guess I still have The Voice to look forward to.

The X Factor is god awful.

Eleanor said...

Ken, you missed some rather entertaining lead-up episodes where Minaj was the best, funniest, and dare I say - most thoughtful - of judges Idol has had in a long time.

I am serious. i knew next to nothing about Nicki Minaj until this season. What I learned was she has an active, imaginative - even logical - brain, and her comments about the contestants were generally spot on. She is not a dummy - she's a smart businesswoman, if one can get past the wigs.

And, she IS the new Simon - or was. Last night's episode found Nicki to be bland in her comments, so you didn't truly get a good representation of the fun she brings to the show.

Yeah - waffles. Sure. But you missed when she told Kree that she was her wife.

I also actually enjoyed when she called the female contestants "little lady bug" - there was a genuine sweetness to it.

One thing Minaj and Urban did - they actually listened to each contestant and tried to offer advice. Urban has been a bit more tactful when he didn't like something; Minaj - not so much. She is the one who will say the performance is bad. As for comments that only offer a compliment about clothes or swag - well, mark that comment as "if you can't say something nice..."

NOW, here's the thing. Since the judges really have no input other than comments from here on in (or so we have always been lead to believe; I don't think they ever have much input as to who proceeds on American Idol), I think Minaj may continue to be as bland as she was last night. I think she feels her "work" is done.

I hope not, but she was not the Nicki last night that we've seen in the past few weeks.

Anyway, for me, it's still entertaining to watch since, well, I don't have cable.

James said...

Okay, was Selma Diamond the first female tobacco addicted baliff with the raspy voice or was she the second tobacco addicted baliff who was short and fat?

Victor Velasco said...

Selma Diamond, yes! Either her or Betty Walker of "Hello, Ceil?" fame

Anonymous said...

Not even Howard Stern can help!

rick said...

i was a regular viewer of Idol up until 2010. Simon left and left a huge hole that has not been filled. To me, all these singers sound alike..all have great voices and they always end their song with that expected high note. Its all been done before and much better. I saw it once last season and I was bored to death.
....and from 2006 to 2009 I wouldn't miss an episode. Now, i could care less.

90 minutes or 2 hours that could easily be cut to 30 minutes.

jbryant said...

I, too, used to watch the show regularly, but this season have sampled it only once--last week's whittling down to the top 10. Kree stood out, and a couple others were fine, but I didn't see anything to keep me coming back. At this point, there's far more entertainment value in just reading Dave Holmes' hilarious recaps on New York magazine's Vulture site. Minaj seems to be by far the most interesting/astute judge; Urban is fine; Mariah is, um, present; and Randy is Randy (unfortunately).

One thing that Holmes and others have noted is that it seems like the producers are trying to engineer a female win this year--after several white-guys-with-guitars wins that haven't exactly lit up the charts--by ensuring that most all of the male contestants are gay (or at least read as gay). The theory goes that the little girls who vote the most often won't throw enough support to a gay contestant for a win.

jbryant said...

And oh yeah, that Candice Glover is pretty darn good, too. Maybe I will tune in a bit to see what she does. Or just check out the clips online.

Cap'n Bob said...

Couldn't disagree more about Minaj. I don't watch AI, but I saw her on The Tonight Show a month or so back and she annoyed me with every word she spoke. The accent was bad enough, but the vapididity of her remarks and her attitude made me want to leap through the TV screen and strangle her. I can't get past those idiotic costumes, either. Not my bag, as we used to say in the Dark Ages.

Thanks for the review, though, Ken. It assures me that my decision to miss this show is correct.

Fred said...

The BEST moment on American Idol. Not phony, not contrived, and damn good singing.

Jeff said...

Okay, was Selma Diamond the first female tobacco addicted baliff with the raspy voice or was she the second tobacco addicted baliff who was short and fat?

I presume you mean on NIGHT COURT. Selma Diamond ("raspy voice") was the first female baliff. Florence Halop ("short and fat") was the second. Both died of lung cancer. I'm sure the first question the producers asked Marsha Warfield was, "Do you smoke?"

Anonymous said...

I have read your blog since 2006. Was in your first Sitcom Room and to me, this was the funniest post I have ever read. Inspired. Spot on. "And both are similar in that they feature masturbation," On the floor. Thank you. Thank you. As a musician, thank you. You are my hero.

Mark Bennett
Class of 2007.

YEKIMI said...

Maybe they should just start featuring screeching, middle-aged menopausal women and call it "American Midol"....oh wait, there's already a show like that.... It's called "The View"

ChicagoJohn said...

AI is one of those reality shows that figured out a winning format, nailed it, and then never changed. Except for the one thing that gave it life: Simon.
Everyone hates Simon. But Simon was the foil. You need a foil, yes?

The weird thing is that X Factor took all of that potential magic, and removed all spark by putting the vast majority of the decisions into the hands of the judges. So you were basically watching the judges vision of what each person should be doing, instead of their own originality... thus stripping out the only original portion of AI, the performer.

Jake Mabe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jake Mabe said...

Hate the show. Only watched a handful of episodes the year McPhee and Hicks (or whatever their names are) were in the running, and then only because of an Elvis night.

My wife likes Keith Urban, so I've seen snippets this season. I like nice guys like Urban, but I also know what drives shows, even "reality" shows like this one. Simon Cowell was IDOL's J.R. Ewing. Without him, it sucks, even more than it did.

But I'm biased. I like scripted shows (in the true sense) that actually employ writers.

Lorimartian said...

The most irritating aspect to me, in addition to the screaming and unbearable vocal gymnastics (the latter especially is why I can't stand to listen to the phony Christina Aguilera and it's sad that she is some kind of standard by which to judge vocal quality), is when the "talent" announces that he/she is going sing "Feelin' Good" by [insert name of artist here]. "Feeling Good" was written/composed by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley for the musical "The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd." It was not written by the artist that the contestant has chosen to emulate. Amateurs, you bet. AI should encourage references to the REAL songwriters so viewers can be better informed...but, alas, I realize music education is low on AI's to-do list.

Mike said...

And Ryan is… Ryan. Just biding his time until he can oust Matt Lauer.

You laugh, but Seacrest would probably do a good job as a news broadcaster.

Paul Kelly said...