The lights are dark, the theater is quiet, and the janitors are sweeping up the last of the confetti. Newly-crowned David Cook and runner-up David Archuleta are making the rounds of the talk show circuit, while back in L.A., the rest of the Top 10 are rehearsing for the summer tour. The judges have left on a well-earned vacation, and the Idolsphere's bloggers and forums are ramping down for the summer. Another American Idol season is over, in other words.
But somewhere out there, sitting around a conference table full of empty coffee cups and Chinese food containers, the staff of 19E and Fremantle are laying the groundwork for Season Eight. Significant changes are in the works, or so we hear. Season Seven, though generally considered by the Idolsphere to be an improvement over Season Six, was still regarded as something of a disappointment. Word is that the suits from Fox Entertainment have been flown in to help out – yes, those would be the same geniuses who brought you Who Wants To Marry A Millionaire and The Moment Of Truth. Thankfully, the Keystone Kops are all dead and The Three Stooges are...well, like we said, they're on vacation.
To our disappointment, nobody from 19E offered to fly us in for consultation. Still, ever the good sports, we're willing to offer what we think are a few good suggestions free of charge. If the producers like them, just send us some Chinese food in return. Chicken lo mein with extra carrots, please.
Two Season Seven innovations that we'd like to see made permanent:
Musical Instruments — This was the producers' best idea in forever, though not everyone across the Idolsphere agrees. True, instruments were sometimes little more than props, and they may have helped a few contestants advance further than they deserved to (though we think those downsides will fade as the novelty wears off.) But overall, they added a welcome new dimension to the show, and they played a huge role in some of the finest performances of the season. Best of all, we expect they'll encourage stronger, more well-rounded musicians to audition, starting this summer. Call us dumb, but we can't quite figure out what's bad about expanding and deepening the talent pool.
No-Nonsense Hollywood Week — Again, we recognize that this isn't a unanimous sentiment. Some Reality TV fans missed the awkward group performances and the snarky backstage dramas, but not us. We think there's ample drama in watching a field of struggling young musicians battle head-to-head in the most pressure-packed week on television, with only 24 tickets to the Big Dance on the line. Besides, Josiah Lemming's meltdown on "Stand By Me" was one of the most memorable moments in the show's history, and it happened onstage, not in a hot tub at 3am. If you want to sit in judgment of obnoxious famewhores in contrived situations, go watch Big Brother.
We'll withhold judgment on these changes until the producers have a chance to work the kinks out.
iTunes Downloads — An outstanding idea on paper, but the cost in practice turned out to be very dear indeed. Because of the additional copyright hurdles, contestants were hamstrung all season with ancient themes and ridiculously limited song lists. We're hopeful that the huge sales spikes of original recordings like Hallelujah, Billie Jean, and Over The Rainbow will persuade copyright holders that it's truly in their best interests to have their music performed on American Idol. But if not, the producers need to have the guts to pull the plug on this noble experiment.
The Mosh Pit — It's not the pit itself that annoys us so much as (a) the utterly clueless college girls that the producers stocked it with, all chosen for their cuteness rather than for having any idea what to do stageside at a rock concert, and (b) the directors' incomprehensible affinity for floor-level shots through all those off-tempo-waving arms. We'll give them one more season to get the pit right, and if they don't, we're coming to Hollywood with a cement truck to fill it in. In mid-episode.
The entire Idolsphere seems to be in rare agreement on these topics.
Themed Semifinal Weeks — These absolutely, positively have to go. If that means not every performance in a semifinal episode is available on iTunes the next day, so be it.
Nine (Or More) Performances In An Hour — Enough with the drive-by episodes, already. How can the most lucrative, audience-retaining television show on earth not be able to finagle an extra half-hour out of its network to do its job properly? News flash to Fox: most of us are allowed to stay up later than 9pm. Even on school nights.
Readers' Digest Condensed Songs — "I heard the news today oh boy woke up got out of bed I'd love to turn you on (applause)"...um, no. Listening to classic songs being torn to shreds isn't entertaining. Dump the 90-second limit in favor of two minutes, or longer if time permits.
Hour-Long Result Shows — These affronts to nature, a by-product of the Writers' Union strike, are already off the Fox schedule for 2009. Never again.
We're not holding our breath on any of these coming to fruition, but we can always dream.
Leaner and Meaner Preliminaries — The comically bad auditions every January are still modestly entertaining, but let's face it, they're getting old. This year, Idol brought us ten hours from the seven audition cities and three hours in Hollywood – 13 hours of preliminaries in all. Slogging through all that filler is becoming a chore. And after all that time, there were still several semifinalists who were total unknowns to America. Let's cut to the chase faster. Might we suggest seven hours of auditions (one hour per city, which is more than enough), four hours in Hollywood, and two new hours called Meet Your Top 24? Show the contestants preparing for the semifinals, give everyone some face time, and allow us viewers to hear and see all of them before the voting competition begins. (Note that this would be a very convenient time for contestants to address matters like previous recording contracts or insalubrious incidents in their pasts.)
Overhaul the Voting System — Seven years of disenfranchisement is enough. It's time to produce a voting system that strikes a fair balance between casual voters and rabid power dialers, not to mention giving a legitimate say to people who don't have an unlimited AT&T text messaging plan. We offered a few suggestions in a previous editorial that might do the trick while keeping the overall vote totals obscenely high enough for the producers' liking.
No More Manipulation — We admit this is a little like asking water to flow uphill, but we're optimists at heart. Seriously, at some point the producers have to address their public perception problem and their underlying conflict of interest as both agents and "impartial" referees. For starters, why not appoint an independent ombudsman of sorts whose job it is to oversee the competition and who answers directly to the viewers? It might be only a symbolic gesture, but at this point things have gotten so foul that even well-intentioned symbolism would be welcome.
Light A Fire Under Randy Jackson's Posterior — We were going to title this one "Fire Paula Abdul," but we know that's not happening. To be honest, the problem with the judging this season wasn't sweet Paula, who was only a bit more incoherent than usual, as much as Randy, whose tank seems to be nearing empty. A frightening number of his critiques this year were...well, we'll be polite and say "puzzling." With one judge critiquing performances that were totally different than what viewers at home saw and heard, and a second critiquing ones that hadn't even happened yet, all the pressure is unfairly on Simon's shoulders. The show requires at least two competent judges. If Randy can't be brought back amongst the living, then either he or Paula have to be replaced, or a fourth judge has to be added to the panel.
Raise The Audition Age — We still say AI should forget about opening its doors to 14-year-olds; the show is neither impartial, mature, nor sensitive enough to handle it. Despite the producers' misguided (and disturbing) fantasies, the next Miley Cyrus is never walking in to audition. However, why not raise the maximum age to 30, or even higher? These days, middle-aged musicians sell a lot more records to teenagers than teens sell to middle-aged folks.
We'd describe our expectations for next season as modest. There's no doubt that Idol is getting a bit long in the tooth. Still, the show remains an unprecedented ratings machine. For all our criticisms of the producers, we appreciate that they made a serious, good-faith effort to upgrade their product in AI7. We hope they stay on that path, cut down on their blunders, and reject any pressure from the network honchos to turn AI into another smarmy Fox reality series. Though we do sometimes wonder if the show might be more entertaining if the judges were hooked up to lie detectors:
Randy: "Dawg, that performance of With You was the bomb!!"
Mechanical voice: "(*Beep*) That is a lie. Nobody's that stupid."
- The WNTS.com Team