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Amateurs Need Not Apply?

The belated AI8 audition schedule plus some announced rule changes have us concerned

A merican Idol has finally announced its long-delayed audition schedule for Season Eight, and there's good news for you Bay Area fans.  The first audition will take place in San Francisco on July 17th, and the producers have given you nearly 20 minutes to rearrange your schedules and get in line.  The other seven audition cities will be revealed from the tarmacs of their respective airports, and as long as you can get through the security checkpoints quickly enough – don't forget to put your 3oz. containers of makeup in a transparent plastic bag – you too might have a chance to sing for Randy, Paula, and Simon before their private jet takes off for the next audition city within the hour.

OK, as usual, we kid.  But the delay in revealing the eight audition cities this summer (you can find the full schedule at AmericanIdol.com) is curious, as is the short lead time and the strangely fanfare-free way that Idol made the announcement.  As we longtime fans know, the producers normally can't order lunch without fanfare.  People routinely travel hundreds of miles to audition, and unless you're living out of your car like Josiah Lemming, this isn't something most folks can do on a whim.

Could it be that AI has lost confidence in the grass-roots, open audition format they pioneered?  In fairness to them, it must be tiring to hear and reject the same people year in and year out.  Last year's Top 24 seemed to have an unusual number of professional singers who were sought out and recruited to audition.  As a result, there were fewer Average Joes and Jos in the competition than ever before.

It looks as though AI8 is following that path.  In golfing terms, it's becoming more of an Invitational than an Open – literally, in fact.  In addition to the eight open auditions in July and August, there are reportedly invitation-only events planned for the same cities in September.  (You heard it here first: the producers will make it appear next January that all of the auditions in a city were open and took place on the same day, because history has proven that they are biologically incapable of leveling with their viewers.)

Moreover, and for the first time ever, contestants who made an "elevator ride" in the previous season are eligible to audition again.  Prior to AI7, once you made the second-to-last cutdown in Hollywood, your eligibility was over.  This "now or never" ultimatum was one of the many ways the producers brought pressure on contestants to sign their professional lives away to 19E.  We suspect strongly that they'll bring back Kyle Ensley, the final male contestant cut in AI7.  No doubt the producers didn't want two very strong and likable teenage boys competing in the same season.  Yes, we think this was all prearranged;  yes, the producers' M.O. is becoming that predictable;  no, we don't think they'll ever change no matter how many times the cigar keeps blowing up in their faces.

As we have better things to worry about this summer, we'll shrug our shoulders for now and wait to see how this all plays out.  We do like our Top 24s to be heavily stocked with talent.  Still, we liked the amateur nature of Idol and we would hate to see that sacrificed for a semi-pro format.  This year's enormously promising winner was a Kansas City bartender and indie musician.  As one of our co-editors observed, there probably are 500 David Cooks walking around New York City alone.  We'd like to see more of them and fewer plants and retreads, please.

- The WNTS.com Team

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