Watch closely, and you can see a one-time TV juggernaut working just a little too hard.
It's true, American Idol's ratings are still high enough to skunk most of the competition. But Dancing with the Stars' strong return over the past few weeks has nearly equaled the blockbuster singing competition's success with key viewers.
Thanks to all the kibitzing around onstage, Idol's live show last Wednesday grew so long the climatic ending was cut off for those recording the program on DVR. And Entertainment Weekly gave voice to many fans' frustrations with the show's participants by asking in a blunt headline: "Why can't they sing?"
Forget about the nine hopefuls still struggling to win Idol's top prize — often it seems the show itself is trying WAY too hard to prove it's still tops at its game.
Last week, as poor Didi Benami endured the interminable process of landing in the bottom two, matched against himbo Tim Urban — like the show's teenybopper fans were sending that Zac Efron clone home early — host Ryan Seacrest seemed more interested in pushing judge Simon Cowell's buttons.
Minutes earlier, as mighty moppet Katie Stevens was revealed as one of the bottom three (and later given a reprieve), viewers were distracted by judge Kara DioGuardi arguing over whether Cowell gloated over her predicament, given that Stevens hadn't been following his advice.
True enough, no one but Benami was likely surprised by her exit last week. Still, isn't the show supposed to be about the singers?
Too many times, Idol has begun to feel like a grown-ups dinner party where the kids are trotted out as entertainment. But mom and dad are too busy drunkenly arguing over the guest list to notice what the kids are actually doing.
Bottom line with Idol; this year, there is one really great singer and performer in the competition, St. Petersburg's Michael Lynche, with trippy bohemian Crystal Bowersox a close second. Unless Lynche falls off the stage or catches that laryngitis that put Paige Miles out of our misery, he and Bowersox will likely fight for the crown.
Idol needs to get back to being IDOL — an amped-up showcase focused on finding the best undiscovered pop singer in the country.
Anything less is a waste of talent.