Hmm...where'd we put that key? Ah, here it is...
Gee, the old office looks the same as we left it last spring. There's our database server, still quietly chugging along after all these years. Plenty of graphs and charts all over the walls...lots of spreadsheet printouts...some faded photos from Camp Should-A-Been.... Say, this is new: we seem to have some earplugs left over from last year's Finale. Well, we'll save them for this May – after all, what are the odds that American Idol will produce a really good Original Winners Song™ song in back-to-back years? Even the Mayans didn't go that far out on a limb.
Anyway...yeah, we're back. Your humble trio of What Not To Sing editors, not knowing when to quit, are ready to chronicle to ups and downs and ins and outs of AI's soon-to-be-christened twelfth season. As usual, you won't see too much of us before the semifinals get underway – we'll be watching, but we typically keep our opinions of the Audition and Hollywood episodes to ourselves. What's there to say, really? After all, we already know that the over-pimping and mis-pimping of contestants in January will reverberate throughout the competition, just as it does every season....
...Or perhaps not. For reasons inexplicable, we have a feeling that the producers might be about to surprise us this year. Nothing captures a successful businessperson's attention more tightly than the realization that his brand is slipping. We've seen some signs the past few months that 19E might finally be taking the competition seriously.
All joking aside, it began with Home. After a decade of tedious treacle and pap – and, let's not forget, a decade of having decent commercial success peddling said TT&P to U.S. pop radio stations – the Idol machine caught everyone by surprise by commissioning something dramatically different for their 2012 champion. It couldn't have worked out any better: "Home" was a triple-platinum success, and it was even adopted as an Olympic anthem by a rival network. True, considering the laughingstocks that their coronation singles had become, it was only a minor roll of the dice by AI's risk-adverse producers...but we don't even want to think about how they would have reacted in Season 12 had the song flopped.
Since then...well, three-fourths of the judging panel is new, and that's almost surely a plus. We're fine on having Randy Jackson back; it's almost traditional. We admit to having very low expectations for Mariah Carey, but one never knows – we had very high expectations for Kara DioGuardi, and you see how that turned out, so please forgive us if we think the Idol Fates owe us one.
We're considerably more bullish on the other two new judges...yes, really. Despite being (in our personal opinion) a painfully weak vocalist, Nicky Minaj is a young, high-energy, plugged-in pop superstar, complete with real rapper feuds and everything. Um, yeah. Seriously, and unlike past AI judges, she has an in-prime career to maintain. We can't see her giving standing ovations and comically insincere platitudes to the next wannabe diva who trots out I Have Nothing or And I Am Telling You...., and that alone is a plus. And if the producers have Minaj sing live on a Results Show or two...well, hey, she knows how to put on a show, and we know where the mute button is on our remotes. It's all good.
We hope that 19E didn't choose Keith Urban because they wanted a stereotypical judge with a British (or in this case, Australian) accent at the end of the table. Rather, we hope that after spending years keeping true country music at arm's length, the producers have finally accepted the fact that it's the genre in which American Idol has had the most long-term success, both critically and commercially. Like Minaj, Urban has a hugely successful contemporary music career to think about, and that should keep his critiques tightly on-point and focused. Remember, if only two of the four judges turn out to be useful, that would still be a high-water mark for Idol. By two.
We were also amused but encouraged to read of 19E's reaction to the reported Carey-Minaj dustups this fall. In every comment, both on and off the record, they seemed embarrassed and almost apologetic, assuring one and all that the situation was not orchestrated and would be rectified in time for the live shows. Perhaps it was all a publicity stunt, but we doubt it: Idol seems to be marketing itself this season as the established American TV singing competition of record. We'll see if this newfound desire to be taken seriously lasts into the spring; we truly hope it does.
There are still plenty barriers to be overcome, of course. For starters: how quickly and smoothly will the show get us from the early auditions to live performances? January and early February have dragged mightily the past few seasons, and they've taken the show's ratings down with it. Will the producers finally do some chase-cutting in 2013, a la The Voice, or are we doomed to spend three weeks watching stock footage of jetliners landing at airports, plus cheesy time-lapse photography of an arena filling up with contestants?
More importantly, what's in store for the music catalog? This has been American Idol's Achilles heel since before Achilles was born. We've spent so much time in the past harping on this topic that we'll spare you for the time being, except for one little aside to the 2013 quarterfinalists who are reading this (you know who you are): now would be a very good time to get in touch with the pop stars and indie favorites whose music you want to cover. If not, you'll be stuck choosing from the pre-cleared list that AI brings us year after year....
...But with this little caveat: if you choose any song that has already been performed three or more times on American Idol, we at WhatNotToSing.com will hold you fully responsible for the resulting carnage. Really. We don't plan on bashing the producers any longer; it's a waste of everyone's time. We'd prefer to have all brand-new songs every week, but just for 2013, we'll settle a full season of songs that have only been done once or twice before in competition. They're pre-cleared, and damn it, there are over 800 of them to choose from! (Seriously, 993 songs have been sung on AI to date, and only 145 are off-limits by the Three Strikes Rule.)
We're dead serious about this, by the way. We'll put up with duets and trios and (ugh) quads; we'll slog through hour-long results shows, we'll even learn to love Mariah Carey's critiques. But, enough is enough: if we can't browbeat the producers to clean up their acts regarding their perennial stale music, we'll spend a year ragging on the contestants to do it for them.
And with that little tirade out of the way...that's it from Project WNTS for now. :-) Enjoy the auditions, and we'll catch up with you when the competition episodes begin.
- The WNTS.com Team