Wednesday, May 09, 2007

idol musings...

There are whisperings of another fourth-place shocking boot with the name Melinda attached to them. (That danged fourth-place is a curse.) But you know what, if she goes tonight, I doubt it will set off explosions over watercoolers across the country, unlike the shameful early exits of Tamyra Gray in season one, season three's LaToya London and, most recently, the shocker of Daughtry.

My friend Dave asked a question several weeks ago, as the final round of season six was beginning. He wondered if American Idol had "jumped the shark," in response to an online article predicting the snoozefest that was to unfold as the weeks went on. I wasn't sure how I felt about the show hitting that phase of its life quite yet, chalking up my own ambivalence about season six to the residual love and enthusiasm I had felt for season five. It couldn't measure up, I reasoned, but hopefully I would become as deeply entrenched in the weekly attempts the new kids would give us as I had in all of the other seasons. Just probably not to the same extent.

The problem is that I'm as ambivalent today, heading into the final three show, as I was going into the first of five weeks of auditions. So what is up with that?

The Houston Chronicle says this is the worst season of Idol, but places most of the blame on the lackluster contestants. I appreciate the point, but I'm not going to go that far. Because, while there is somebody directly to blame, I don't think it's any of this year's cast of characters.

The four we have remaining are legitimately good performers, although each of them has had their requisite moments of suckiness, but I don't care about them. I don't care who wins. The people with whom, in past seasons, I would have passionate and sometimes explosive conversations about who was better than whom don't care who wins. Some have stopped watching.

Why?

Because the contestants aren't the stars of the show. The show is the star of the show. And the contestants are day players.

One of reasons I've always enjoyed American Idol is because, as the weeks wear on, we get to know these kids. We get to know their families. We get to know their personalities, their likes and dislikes. By final six time last year, we knew that Elliott Yamin was nearly deaf in one ear and battled diabetes. We knew that Kellie Pickler's dad was in prison, due to be released shortly and that she had been raised by her grandparents. We knew that Taylor Hicks had traveled from wedding to wedding, trying to make it as a musician in the Birmingham area. And we knew that Chris Daughtry had two adorable stepkids that he loved to death.

We knew Rocky Covington, Bucky's twin brother and we could pick out Ace Young's brother Ryan from a mile away. We waited to see if Katharine McPhee's dad - McPhather - would bawl after her performance. And Mama Yamin became everybody's mom. Everyone was familiar. And beloved.

What do we know about this group?

I know that Melinda used to be a background singer. LaKisha is a single mom. Blake is a beatboxer who does wacky impressions. And Jordin is 17. The only family member I recognize is Chris Richardson's dad, and he's gone now.

But thanks to this season, I know who Akon and Robin Thicke are. And I didn't even sign on for that.

The more we're able to get acquainted with these kids, the harder we root for them. And, despite extending the results episodes to a painful 60 minutes, the show is focusing more on becoming a variety hour than a competition. Instead of giving us a peek inside the lives and hopes and dreams of these finalists, we're given random person on the street interviews. Rather than a question and answer segment with Blake, we're treated to yet another "you're gay, no you're gay" exchange between Ryan and Simon.

And instead of celebrating the show, its history and its cast by bringing back beloved Idol contestants to hawk their current wares, we get Fergie. At least next week we'll get a visit from Elliott Yamin and, presumably, Daughtry will make an appearance the following week to perform live the going away anthem. I don't know what they've done with Taylor Hicks.

The show this season has taken a serious deviation from its successful formula, and that could very much explain the dip in the ratings from last year. I don't think it's jumped any sharks quite yet, but until or unless the producers remember how this show went from summer replacement to national cult phenomenon and make some adjustments next year, those sharks will continue to circle.


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22 Comments:

Anonymous MA said...

Now here is something we can agree on. The lack of interest in this season is not due to lack of talent. There have always been off nights and I feel as if we often look at previous seasons with rose colored glasses on. IMHO there have always been a few clunkers that made it into the top 12. But I definitely feel like we know NOTHING about these contestants. And that is American Idol's fault, not theirs. I also dislike the pimping of other artists. I mean, Pink is infamous for not clearing her songs for performance, yet she will perform herself? Robin Thicke, Akon, all useless performances that weren't even live. It really is insulting to the contestants I feel. This is their show, their big chance... it should be their time to shine.

2:21 PM, May 09, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said Jen and Ma -- I couldn't agree more. Don't know why they got away from the whole personal interest angle of the contestants. And I could care less about their guest singers they have on results night. Who cares? I wanna see more of the kids! I think your post should be sent directly to AI, Jen. You rock!

2:36 PM, May 09, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i have always felt that they need to let these contestants sing what they are comfortable with so we can see what the excel in rather than singing songs from before they were even born - Yes growing up I loved the BeeGees but I do not watch American Idol to see them or even artists from today - I wish they would let the four left, each sing - tonight - one of their favorites from this season. I am sorry, but, I would have even enjoyed an old Bon Jovi song last week rather than the one they were promoting. But MA you are so right - we really do not get to know the contestants - What a sad season!
Connie

4:10 PM, May 09, 2007  
Anonymous Johanna said...

Jen -

I could not agree more... thanks for putting it so clearly and succinctly. Now, can you pass the word to TPTB?

4:27 PM, May 09, 2007  
Anonymous Robin said...

Good commentary. I only really started watching the show (from the beginning of the season to the end) a couple years ago and I love both Carrie and Bo. It was fun to watch them do really well or not so well. Last year was great with Taylor and Elliot and a bunch of people with questionable talent but lots of personality. This year, we know what we know about these contestants from what we learned at the beginning of the season. Then it seems like AI left them. Hopefully next week we can learn a little bit more about the final three.

4:33 PM, May 09, 2007  
Blogger Dave said...

I think one reason they stopped some of the "human interest" angles is that it corrupted the voting, especially early on. There has always been a direct correlation between face time and votes and it seemed that they gave some people extra TV time (Kelly Pickler, Scott Savol, Anthony Fedorov) at the expense of others (Celena Rae, Melinda Lira, Aloha).

However, once we got to the top 12, there's no reason not to give each of the kids some face time. There's enough filler in each hour that they could afford to cut back on some of the judges's inane banter or advertising to show the singers, not the other crap they pack in to the show just to make money.

4:51 PM, May 09, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jen you are so good! I agree with your post 100%.

Last year I loved those kids, it was exciting, it was like we kinda knew them. We don't really know these kids.

AI has a good thing going, lets hope they catch on to their mistakes. If they don't they will lose their audience.

Dori

5:43 PM, May 09, 2007  
Blogger Laura said...

Oh, how I completely agree. The performance shows are alright this season. Though in previous seasons, there were video montages instead of random audience questions that are clearly rehearsed and probably scripted. I mean, how many times have we seen the footage of Carrie carrying the bucket full of cow milk on the family farm. We haven't gotten any of that this year. They hardly even show the "family and friends" in the audience with the exception of Phil's wife. Since everyone in the country knows that Jordin is 17, she clearly has to have a guardian there with her - I don't think I have ever seen her parents. But Ashley? The sobbing mess-of-a-13-year-old? Yeah, I could pick her out of an arena. WTF?

Now regarding the results show, that is just crap. The prerecorded pimped performances I just fast-forward through every week. I don't know if they think they are pulling in viewers by having "current" performances on the show, but they aren't. I don't think Akon's #1 superfans are going to ruin their street cred by turning on American Idol. I can see what is in it for the artists, but so what is in it for Nigel & Co.? That is beyond me. The Idol challenge is a waste of time, Ryan frequenting The Grove is a waste of time. Ugh. And, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD PLEASE DO A GROUP SONG ALREADY! And honestly, I wouldn't mind the hour format, or even filler in the hour format, if they weren't omitting some of these key items from seasons past.

My favorite TV shows all seem to be in shark-jumping mode right now (Idol, The Office, and Gilmore Girls, for which I am currently in a state of mourning). Maybe this is a sign that I need to get a life. (Nah)

5:48 PM, May 09, 2007  
Anonymous Tanya said...

I agree with almost everything youve said... except about Taylor Hicks. I haven't watched this show since the beginning but I've come to think last years winner performs at the finale... yes?

7:16 PM, May 09, 2007  
Blogger jennifer said...

Used to. But nobody from season three was at the season four finale and nobody from season four was at season five's.

But Prince was.

7:25 PM, May 09, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jennifer, I just re-read your post about the final show. I'm glad we get to see Elliott next week and Chris at the finals, its about time!!!

What's with Taylor not being on? I think that's kind of crappy. What do they have against him, or is it the other way around?

I forgot that there wasn't anyone from season three at the season four final, but I thought Carrie sang at the season five's final.

I've always been told "if it isn't broke don't fix it" or "don't mess with a good thing". I guess the "Big Shots" at AI never hear that.

Its just disappointing the way AI is handling things now.

Dori

8:58 PM, May 09, 2007  
Blogger Dave said...

And don't forget that Prince got not one, but two songs.

9:02 PM, May 09, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know what would be a great song for LAkisha, although I am afraid for her, she should sing "I will Survive" They need to let them sing what suits them!
Connie

9:06 PM, May 09, 2007  
Blogger jennifer said...

You're right Dori. Carrie was there at last year's finale. I had forgotten. She started off the show and sang with Taylor and Kat. My bad.

Maybe Taylor will be allowed to make an appearance. It's still odd, though, that he's not been by yet this season.

9:15 PM, May 09, 2007  
Blogger Dave said...

For all the people who believe that the votes don't count, Taylor is the ultimate example of the fact that they do. Do you really think the Idol TPTB wanted him to win? He is a marketing nightmare, as evidenced by the fact that he's fallen off the face of the earth.

I think they're equally afraid of a Lakisha or Melinda victory because frankly, I don't think they'll sell a lot of records.

9:18 PM, May 09, 2007  
Blogger jennifer said...

Exactly right Dave. That's why they're pimping Jordan harder than they did Underwood.

9:20 PM, May 09, 2007  
Blogger Kristi Mantoni said...

AMEN Sister!!!

10:53 PM, May 09, 2007  
Blogger Shruti said...

This is a realllly great post (says a lurker and a lover).

I think that I read on TwoP that Taylor is performing on the finale show and that Katharine McPhee has insinuated that she might be as well.

But the fact remains that no one genuinely gives a shit about Akon or Robin Thicke, but everyone who watched Idol would give their right nut to see some of the past Idolists again, if not performing, at least just interacting with the Season 6 idols. (There are pictures of McPhee and Jennifer Hudson, I think, among others, chit-chatting with the top 24 and giving them "advice.") That would be 10000 times better than Ryan's man-on-the-street.

I love Ryan and the judges but the show is becoming slowly more about them; the fact is they should be just the background for the actual stars - the performers. When they show "reviewing last night" clips and half of them are Ryan and Simon doing their you's-a-fag routine, something is wrong.

11:12 PM, May 09, 2007  
Anonymous tracyintpa said...

All of the above and then some. Each of you are dead on target. Idol has really been frustrating this year. I am a huge Taylor fan and I went to 3 of his concerts this year. Taylor has a NEW single out, does anyone know about it? Apparently not... and why not? Because TPTB on Idol have turned their backs on Taylor. They have not mentioned Taylor once this whole season, not his album, his tour or his single. Why wouldn't they have Taylor on to help him launch his single and album? Taylor has been horribly mismanaged. AI has treated Daughtry as if he won and they aren't taking no for an answer. The Taylor fan base is very frustrated by the treatment Taylor has received by Idol. I heard he will be on the finale.

I agree Jennifer we knew more about "chicken little" than we know about even Blake, Melinda or Jordan. I loved knowing the back stories of the contestants, and being drawn in to them. Basically Idol is becoming a bloated Star Search. I fast forwared through Akon, Robin Thicke and Pink. I just didn't want to hear it. In fact when Akon was performing (before I hit fast forward) my brother in law stopped by, he doesn't really watch Idol, and he heard Akon, and he said, "does that guy think he is going to win singing like that?". I said, dude, he is a "star" not a contestant. I cracked up then hit my favorite, the fast forward. Everything about this season from the auditions, to the judges, to Ryan's stubble has been annoying.

8:01 AM, May 10, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

someone needs to send a copy of this article and these comments to the producers at AI -

10:17 AM, May 10, 2007  
Blogger angelof_mercy81 said...

Agreed. I personally couldn't care less about the guest performers hawking their CDs. What happened to the backstories, to the behind the scenes stuff? I saw Haley Scarnato on Idol Tonight, and she was talking about how surprisingly goofy Melinda could be. Where's the footage of that? I'd love to see it.

And what of their families? By this time last season, Elliott's mom, Claudette, was a familiar and even beloved figure at the shows. I wouldn't know any of the families this year if I tripped over them. Unlike previous years, when I loved all of the final 3 or 4, this year I'm just...apathetic. I've watched this show faithfully since Season 2, and this is the first time I've felt this way. And from what you all have said, I'm not alone in that feeling.

10:54 AM, May 10, 2007  
Anonymous Johanna said...

Wow! It's great to know you're not alone! My myspace page says "I am unhealthily obsessed with Americal Idol", but I may have to take that down... this season has been the cure to that disease!

Last season, I regularly read about 6 different AI blogs, and scoured the internet for gossip, finding out what the contestants were rumored to be singing. I would find out the theme and then think of songs that I thought they should sing the next week. This season, I watch the show... and I read this blog... and that's it. Sure, I get more done at work, but what's the fun of that?

At first I thought that maybe I just had to have a schoolgirl crush in order to care (Bo and Taylor, and even Clay when he was singing). This article and all the comments have helped make a connection between some things I've noticed while watching the show and the reason I don't feel anything toward this season.

The success of last year's finale is making them try to turn this show into the Grammy's or the VMAs or some other performance-based vehicle, but I actually don't watch those shows, I like AI for the competition and the contestants. We now spend so little time with each contestant, and so much time on harping "Idol Gives Back" or whatever.

We haven't had ANY of the major stars from last season back to guest appear (Pickler does not count as a "major star"... but a visit from any of the top 5, Paris, Chris, Elliot, Katharine, or Taylor)... Carrie and Bo appeared during last year's top 24 rounds, then Carrie appeared at the finale to "pass the crown." We could have heard from all of them to substitute for the who-cares "real" star variety hour that I also fast forward through. I thought at least part of the role of this show was to help promote the success of past idol contestants.

And then this season's contestants are getting the shaft on the front end of the stick, because whoever wins will have a hard time selling records when they haven't built up a rabid fan base. Other than the "Sanjayanistas," which was really more anti-Idol, I haven't heard or seen of any real fan groups to rival the "Soul Patrol", the "E-Train", etc.

Sigh... it was always fun to whine and complain about TPTB when they were shamelessly pimping contestants I didn't like (Carrie) or shoving someone's sob story in my face (Pickler) or screwing with the music choices less-than-favored contestants made in horrid "Idolized" CDs (Bo), but this is way worse - now they're ruining the show! This show- pimping is creating widespread apathy that has nothing to do with the quality of the contestants.

I just hope that somehow this message gets back to Nigel and Co., because I don't think Idol can take for all its "unhealthily obsessed" fans to get cured!

P.S. About the only point of anyone's that I think I disagree with is that the gay contest has gotten any worse this year. I think that's stayed about the same (still as ridiculous and offensive as ever), but the big change in the judges' corner is that Paula's a lot less fun when she's lucid!
:-)

12:13 PM, May 10, 2007  

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