The first three and a half months of Season 13 had been pretty sedate. The judges were mostly useful. The song choices were newer and fresher, although not always a whole lot smarter. The voting results were sensible, almost like Camp Should-a-Been in real time. The cast was pretty good -- no obvious superstars-in-the-making, but no trainwreck engineers either. The new producers...eh, some good new ideas, some not so hot ones. All in all, it had been a fairly typical First Season of a New Epoch, as contestants, judges and fans alike tried to gauge the lay of unfamiliar land.
Then came the Top Five results night, whereupon a whole lot of stupid broke out...onstage AND backstage.
In the subsequent days, as we read various Idol analysts take on both the producers' unwise 'twist', and Caleb Johnson's impolitic comments to the media, we grew wistful. What would our old friend Leo, The Idol Guy, have to say about this dual-edged mess? After all, in the past, we at least had his funny and trenchant commentary to look forward to whenever something colossally stupid happened on American Idol.
Lo and behold, we didn't have to wonder for very long, for this weekend in our inbox came the following missive, which Leo graciously gave us permission to reprint.
Alright, who woke up and handed the producers the Idiot Ball? I was going to write you about how this season was, by Idol standards, very well executed. No overrun goofs, creative themes, sharp judging. And then they go shoot themselves in the foot with this nonsense.
Someone must have gotten confused and thought Idol was Survivor. Of course, they go head to head nowadays, but still. It’s like the ghost of Mike Darnell was summoned to make that decision. Sheeeesh. All it does is inject drama into something that...doesn’t really need it.
Oh, and speaking of the idiot ball, how about Caleb calling some of the people who sent him song suggestions "retards"? I wouldn’t be surprised if that was enough to send him home this week - you are more qualified than I am to say if he would deserve to go home or not.
"The Idiot Ball". As usual, Leo captured the essence of the situation in one phrase. Granted ratings were down sharply again this season (though pretty much every network series's ratings have plummeted here in the era of YouTube, Netflix, and streaming video on demand.) But, nothing had gone spectacularly wrong until last Wednesday night.
Of the two blunders, we'd have to say that the producers' was probably the more damaging. We don't mean to excuse Johnson's choice of terminology (editor Nick's first cousin, and therefore Amy's first cousin once removed, has Down's Syndrome, so the WNTS staff is quite sensitive about the so-called "R-word"), nor to understate the lack of judgment it takes to diss one's own fanbase in an interview when there are only three singers remaining between you and a million-dollar recording contract. But, Johnson is 22 years old and in the media spotlight for the first time. Gaffes happen. America will decide whether any special action is required. If Johnson ends up a shock boot this week or next, or if he winds up the ultimate winner, c'est la vie. As the old saying goes: in nature, there are neither rewards nor punishments; only consequences. (From a WNTS standpoint, we hope only that the ratings and rankings he receives from the Idolsphere remain as impartial as possible, though if he makes another unanimously panned song choice, we realize that all bets are off.)
Speaking of bets... Editor Brian is a longtime, and very successful, Texas Hold-'Em player. He will tell you that the best poker players will bluff on occasion, but only when it serves their long-term interests. More to the point, a good player never bluffs if he is not prepared to have it called. Either he has an exit strategy, or a Plan B (e.g., a marginal hand that could still turn into a winner with some luck), or he is willing to invest a few dollars to gain a psychological edge in the later play...or, in the worst-case scenario, his situation is so dire that failure only means that he's knocked out of the game sooner rather than later.
We know so little about the new AI producers that it's impossible to say whether they are "good" poker players or not. Perhaps they know something we don't (e.g., Simon Fuller plans to fold up shop after the season, so there was little to lose?) Perhaps they were just following instructions from their network masters at Fox? Whatever the reason, it's clear that they had their bluff called on Wednesday night on live national television, and it did not end well. Their impromptu offer of one week's immunity was rightly shot down by two contestants. (In fact, in post-show interviews, it seemed that the three 'yes' voters were almost relieved at the outcome.) They were forced to show their cards, and it turns out that Sam Woolf, the v-e-r-y reluctant teen "hearthrob" whom they'd already saved from elimination once, was the low vote-getter. Had it instead been one of the other four, all of whom are averaging 4-stars here at WNTS, the AI honchos could have pleaded that they were only trying to give America the Final Four that fans and commentators had openly desired. Instead, as Leo put it, a gaping foot wound ensued.
Gaffes and boneheaded bluffs aside, most Idol junkies are in agreement that this is indeed the "right" Final Four for everyone involved, save perhaps for 19E. Johnson, Jena Irene, Jessica Meuse and Alex Preston have been consistently good (and every so often outstanding) since the live shows began. We personally are backing no horse in this race – none of the four would be an ideal winner in our books, but any would be a deserving one. Similarly, it has not been a great season, but it has been an interesting one, and in the wake of AI12, that's not so bad.
We'll be back after the season with our annual recap, and we sincerely hope that nobody conks Per Blankens and Co. on the head with The Idiot Ball in the interim. Although, if it means we'll get another great email from Leo, maybe that wouldn't be so bad after all.
- The WNTS.com Team