The growing backlash among viewers and critics this year made it plain: Fox needs to upgrade American Idol before the franchise gets seriously stale. So why have the first two changes announced for the network's top-rated reality TV singing competition focused on stuff that doesn't need alteration — namely, the departure of savvy producer Nigel Lythgoe and the addition of a fourth judge, Kara DioGuardi? The arrival at Idol's New York auditions Monday by DioGuardi — a singer-songwriter who has worked with the Jonas Brothers, Carrie Underwood, Paris Hilton and fellow judge Paula Abdul — is particularly puzzling. Given that the judges' remarks are often the show's most leaden part, that's the last thing that needs expansion. Whatever. Here are five ways we hope DioGaurdi actually improves American Idol.
1. Pick better contestants.
Due respect to David Cook and Jordin Sparks, but the past two Idol seasons have felt hobbled by a collection of mostly underwhelming contestants (yes, Sanjaya Malakar and Kristy Lee Cook, that's a swipe at you). Fifteen minutes trolling Greenwich Village clubs would net better singers than Idol offers all season; maybe DioGuardi can raise the bar a bit.
2. Get Paula off the crazy train or on it, entirely.
Stress over competing with DioGuardi (who, frankly, combines Randy Jackson's credits and Simon Cowell's attitude with Abdul's sex appeal) will either push Idol's only other female judge completely over the edge or force her to get it together at last. Ratings-wise, female viewers love a good soap opera and male viewers love a good catfight. Everybody wins!
3. Upgrade judges' comments.
The judges' banality became a serious problem last season: Jackson was incomprehensible, Abdul was hopelessly trite and Cowell was too egotistical to be entertaining. A fourth judge shortens everyone's comments, and surely someone smart enough to make Paris Hilton sound like a singer can make this group interesting again.
4. Upgrade the auditions.
We are so over the hours of audition shows ricocheting from intentionally bizarre freakazoids to poignant features on real contenders. DioGuardi built a business on digging up new talent, so maybe she can coach some kids with potential into even better audition performances.
5. Sexual tension.
If all else fails, she can flirt with Cowell and watch Ryan Seacrest, right, go all Fatal Attraction on national TV. Because any woman tangles with that bromance at her own peril.
Eric Deggans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8521. See his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/media.