Fixing American Idol: How to Save TV's Last Blockbuster Series
A billion dollar franchise is on the line.
I think the problem stretches back to last season, the show's most-watched edition, in which disappointing, charisma-less winner,Taylor Hicks, rode to victory on the backs of middle-aged moms and grandmoms everywhere.
Things have only gotten worse this season, as a field of lackluster contestants -- briefly relieved by the curiously perfect timing of teen idol Sanjaya Malakar -- have yielded mostly predictable results and an anticlimatic finale.
Tonight, we'll see Pretty Girl Jordin Sparks (a close family friend tells me relatives are upset that fans have taken to calling her Pretty Betty -- as in, an attractive version of Ugly Betty star America Ferrera) up against beatbox guy Blake Lewis. I'm going to wait until after the performances tonight to deliver my prediction -- which will be wrong, like all my other ones.
But once the winner is announced and host Ryan Seacrest continues his quest to become the 21st century Dick Clark, Idol producers must upgrade a series which has single-handedly propped up the Fox network (and saved us all from the showbiz travesty which is George Lopez's sitcom).
Here's a few ideas:
ACTIVELY RECRUIT CONTESTANTS. When CBS's Survivor found that open casting calls kept attracting the same kind of people, they recruited a more diverse group that helped revitalize the program.
Idol expands its open casting calls every year, yet culls increasingly blander lineups. Sparks was even rejected from the Los Angeles auditions (she won a contest that flew her to Seattle for another try), and Doolittle only auditioned because she was accompanying a friend.
Experts tell me editions of Idol presented overseas had the same problem; eventually, the same sorts of contestants keep showing up to open casting calls, and more compelling talents refuse to debase themselves by submitting to the process. Time to take the initiative and find new voices.
UPGRADE THE CELEBRITY COACHES. NOW. Every celebrity mentor who performed on Idol this year sounded markedly worse than the contestants themselves. And some - say, balding, paunchy disco icon Barry Gibb - have little connection to the current pop scene.
It's time for coaches who are better performers and teachers. Who wouldn't tune in to see Prince or even Michael Jackson put these kids through some changes?
COMBINE JUDGES' VOTES WITH THE PUBLIC'S. One of the biggest post-Idol problems for winners such as Ruben Studdard, Fantasia Barrino and Taylor Hicks is that their musical styles are not the most popular genres, limiting their chances to live up to the Idol title. More guidance is needed from the presumed industry experts.
GET PAULA BACK ON THE CRAZY TRAIN, OR GET HER GONE. It sounds awful to say, but since Paula Abdul has toned down her nonsensical asides and oddball behavior, she has become a platitude-spouting bore. Where's the pointless affairs with contestants? The nonsencial comments after performances? The inexplicably bad chair dancing from a former choreagrapher anytime a good looking guy steps up to the microphone?
STOP PADDING THE SHOWS. The trade magazine Variety noted last week that ratings for Wednesday Idol editions are far higher than for Tuesday; nearly a third of last Wednesday's audience just tuned in for the ejection episode and hadn't watched the competition on Tuesday.
Time to stop filling out episodes. Cut the results show back to a half-hour and don't even think about interrupting the competition for a week of charity fundraising. Cool at is was to see Idol raise $70-million for the needy, it required hoodwinking the competitors and the audience about what was going to happen that week.