So let's recap, shall we? After a flawed but entertaining eleventh season, and while still holding the mantle of the most popular non-sports show in the country, the American Idol brain trust had a few issues to deal with over the summer. Two-thirds of the judging panel quit, and the remaining one-third was a guy whose primary talent is knowing how to say "So-and-so's in it to win it!" in every language known to mankind. (Icelandic: "Sven er í því að vinna það!!") The series hadn't had a new song cleared for broadcast since roughly 1941 ('Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy' by The Andrews Sisters, which David Cook's great-grandfather turned into an acoustic grunge ballad.) Although the most recent coronation song was a multi-platinum hit, the show's last five winners all shared three main physical traits: not much melanin in their skin, proficiency with a certain six-stringed instrument, and of course a...aw, never mind; this is still a family website.
All of these issues were certainly problematic, some perhaps more so than others, but 19E and Fremantle had momentum at their backs, vaultfuls of cash in the bank, and seven months to get everything straightened out. What could possibly go wrong?
Fast forward to April of 2013. The producers shelled out almost $40 million for their 2013 judging panel. Here's what that money bought. One judge can't remember the theme from week to week (well, maybe Pearl Jam covered 'The Closer I Get To You' and we just missed it.) Another is probably the most effective, most insightful game-night judge ever, with the minor drawback that she's also the most vain and annoying living creature within a radius of ten parsecs (and our correspondents on Alpha Centauri assure us: nope, keep looking.) Oh, did we mention that the aforementioned duo isn't speaking to one another? A third is a nice, inoffensive guy who surely lies awake wondering why he didn't take the plum job offer with Australian Idol instead. And the fourth? "Natasha je v nem na výhru!!" Oy.
Meanwhile, the music of AI12 has been breathtaking. No, really: you need an oxygen mask to stay awake. The quarterfinalists and semifinalists did their part, choosing 55% new songs and an average song age of under 17 years, suggesting that maybe American Idol really was about finding the best unsigned singer in 2013. Then the Finals began, and Nigel Lythgoe got into the act. Since then...double oy.
All you need to know about the Final 10 show is that it featured three covers of coronation songs. Then came The Beatles. Then Motown, disguised as "The Music Of Detroit" as if we wouldn't notice. Then a Rock, No Ballads night, except about half of the contestants chose exactly that while the producers looked the other way. The Finals' average song age is 35.2, and its Freshness Factor is 15%...yes, you read that right, f-i-f-t-e-e-n percent. We've heard precisely six new-to-Idol songs out of 40: Temporary Home, She's Leaving Home, I Will, Like A Prayer (and here we thought duets were useless), You May Be Right, and Bring Me To Life.
We swear to God in heaven that we are not making the following statistic up. Since the Finals began on March 13th. 2013, the WNTS staff has added precisely one (1) new record to the Artists section of the database. One. In four weeks. Really. See if you can guess who it is. The answer is below – warning: have your oxygen mask handy, and a defibrillator might come in useful too.
And with the Idolsphere completely up in arms about this absolutely unconscionable state of musical affairs, with the show's fans in mutiny, with AI hemorrhaging viewers to the point where it's now seventh in the Nielsen ratings behind even Person Of Interest (a show which we didn't even know existed until recently), with virtually every professional Idol analyst begging them to get new, hip and modern, pronto, the producers announce that the half-theme for Week Five of the Finals will be...The Songs of Burt Bacharach.
Let us not mince words: this is no accident, no absurdity, no mere miscalculation. This is a gigantic middle finger from Nigel Lythgoe, Ken Warwick and friends to the loyal fans of the show. They read the boards and blogs and media coverage, too. Even if the Bacharach theme had been decided upon in advance, and even if Burt Bacharach himself had been booked as a mentor, any well-meaning, halfway-competent production crew would have pulled back and said, "Whoa! We can't go through with this. Our credibility is in the toilet already, and this would just flush it. Maybe Mr. Bacharach will consent to mentor the kids anyway, helping them choose and sing the modern material they themselves desperately want to perform. If not, well, we hope he understands when we tell him we've changed our minds." Instead, 19E consciously decided to respond, "$%^*& you. It's our show. We'll do whatever we damn well please, and you'll damn well watch it. If you keep bitching about the ancient music, next week's theme will be The Songs of Stephen Foster." In short: the floggings will continue until morale improves.
As for the WGWG "problem", well, Idol has that solved too. 100,000 hopefuls tried out for Season Twelve last summer. We'd guesstimate that about 30,000 of them were guys. After several rounds of initial screenings, then callback auditions for the cream of the crop, then a brutal multi-round stress test in Hollywood, then more cutdowns and a televised quarterfinal from Las Vegas, and finally after half of the 2013 Finals, having eliminated 29,999 of them, 19E was pleased to announce that the best unsigned male singer in the United States of America in 2013 is... Lazaro Arbos. This punch line intentionally left blank.
This...is American Idol, at least as it currently stands.
(Oh, yeah, if you're waiting for the answer to our brain teaser above, here goes. Don't say we didn't warn you. The only new artist that we have added to the 12-year WNTS database in the past month is Charlie Askew. He did an original song in the Tour Sing-Off the night after the Finals began; we treated it as a Wild Card episode. In other words, one month into the Finals proper of Season Twelve, not one song has been performed in competition from an artist who hadn't already been covered on the show.)
If this editorial sounds like our usual after-the-Finale recap after a particularly crappy season, you're right. That's exactly what it is. The reason you're seeing it in April instead of June is because, quite honestly, we're not sure we're going to make it until the Finale.
American Idol stinks right now, and we don't write that lightly. It has nothing to do with the five remaining girls, who have been nothing short of stellar despite being forced to sing their
parents grandparents' music. Nor does it have anything to do with Arbos, a very brave young man with a severe disability who worked up the courage to audition for American Idol (and if you've ever known any severe stutterers, you know how much guts that took), but who wound up being taken advantage of shamelessly by a production outfit desperate for any lifeline to stop its sinking ratings.
No, the problem are the people in the production offices who allowed their flagship product to fall to such depths of insanity and inanity. The ones who decided to stack the deck this season when casting the finals and who managed to botch even that simple task, as if they learned nothing from the messes they made out of Season Three and Season Eight. The ones who are completely tone-deaf to the people who made them as rich as they are to the point where they think an Average Song Age of 35 years is a jolly good idea. The ones who hired two spoiled brats who believe that a combined $33 million isn't enough for them even to pretend to get along for three lousy hours a week, to judge an escapist talent show for a country where 15% of adults are unemployed or underemployed and one in five children live in poverty.
The ones who managed to eradicate, in one short year, any traces of the "Holy crap! Who'd have believed she could sing Whole Lotta Love that well!!" moments that folks cheerily discussed on Facebook, and at work the next day, and over dinner the next night.
We don't write any of this lightly. Outside of the Idol production crew themselves and a handful of longtime analysts like MJ, Ken Barnes, Rodney Ho, Michael Slezak and The Idol Guy (whose own editorial this week is pretty much identical to ours; please check it out), we're not sure that anyone has spent as much time "working" on this show than we have. Certainly no one has spent more fully unpaid hours chronicling its history, its details, its trends, its ups and downs, and what its long-suffering fans like and don't like. Our goal hasn't been to tear down American Idol, but to try to make it better. And we were willing to continue doing that for as long as the show aired.
But, enough is enough.
This will probably be the last editorial you see from us this season. We'll continue to add performances to the database through the end of S12, and we'll compile approval ratings. (This week though, we have utterly no intention of watching the show, so our regular reviewers can relax, mull over the performances and send in their report cards any time through the weekend. There will be no overnight ratings. There are only two possible outcomes: Arbos gets voted off, or a girl gets saved. We're not wasting three hours of our lives listening to Burt Bacharach songs to find out which it is.) We'll finish our Database Spruce-Up project so that the full history of the show's first 12 seasons is available to posterity. And, yes, we'll do one last hopefully-entertaining snarkfest at Camp Should-A-Been this summer.
In 2014, one of two things will happen. If American Idol does a complete housecleaning, giving virtually everyone connected to it the pink slip they richly deserve (we'd keep Ryan Seacrest), and re-invents itself as a modern, engaging, electric, and fair music talent search competition with a completely new format (Pimp pieces? Six weeks of auditions and Hollywood? Unlimited voting? Guess again), we'll be back and we'll pretend this godawful year never happened. It'll be like Pam Ewing's "dream" season of Dallas.
If not, we'll still be back...covering The Voice.
Lastly, if you're wondering about the title of this essay, here in America we have about fifty different colloquial phrases for "to vomit". "Ralph" happens to be one of the lesser-used ones. It seemed apt to go with "nadir."
- The WNTS.com Team