When they introduced the Judges' Save to American Idol five years ago, saner heads in the 19E/Fox/Fremantle brain trust recognized the many important reasons why the gimmick needed to come with a hard and fast expiration date. Thus, it was decreed that the new toy must be used no later than the Top Six in any given season. Moreover, if and when it was used, two singers would go home the following week, serving the dual purpose of keeping the season on its broadcast schedule while allowing for it not to be used in a given season if the situation so warranted.
Sadly, those saner heads have apparently moved on to other jobs. Among the innumerable ways that the producers made a complete mess out of Season Twelve is that they didn't advance enough semifinalists into the Finals to make their scheduled closing date of May 15th. Instead, 19E foolishly put through one fewer contestant than they needed, relying on the judges to use their Save at some point to bail them out. The Curious Case of Lazaro Arbos followed, and the rest is history.
(We should pause to direct some venom our own way here. After all, we were the fools who started a website dedicated to performing statistical analysis on American Idol. That means, we actually believed at one time that it would be a good idea to apply concepts like standard deviation, geometric means, and linear regression trends to a series whose production staff can't even count to eleven. Our bad.)
About a month ago, we wrote about the conundrum the show faced in using the Save by its historical Final Six deadline. We predicted at the time that there would simply be no good occasion in which to use it, and indeed there wasn't. It soon became clear that the producers "solution" would be to extend the Save's reach by one week. Our colleague Ken Barnes even came up with a twisted but reasonably plausible rationale that 19E could use if challenged on it: the Save was always meant to be used in the first half of the Finals, and since there were only ten finalists this year rather than the usual twelve, it was thus okay to wait until just five remained.
And so the Top Five episode came and went, Janelle Arthur was the lowest vote-getter, and most world-weary Idol viewers watched her reprise You Keep Me Hangin' On "for her life" on Thursday expecting fully that she would succeed. Arthur was by far the lowest-rated finalist remaining (the WNTS staff liked her a lot better than most of America apparently did, for whatever that's worth), so her preordained reprieve would be a less-than-satisfying bandage on the producers' self-inflicted wounds. Still, at least the whole Judges' Save kerfuffle would finally be behind us, and we could finally get this difficult season down to its stretch run.
Perhaps it was just 19E thumbing their nose at viewers yet again, but the
producers judges stunningly allowed Arthur to leave. Maybe they thought they could flip off Father Time as well. The upshot is that American Idol now has three weeks to get rid of two contestants.
Rather than list all of the copious, obvious reasons why extending the Save this late into the season is a supremely stupid idea (as he often does, The Idol Guy beat us to it anyway), we'll concentrate on just one.
This week is the Final Four show. That's when America essentially votes for who they believe deserves the honor and thrill, based upon their overall body of work, to enjoy the traditional homecoming trip and the accompanying hero's welcome. Just the two words "Elliott Yamin" is enough to make every longtime American Idol fan recognize how special this can be.
This year, sorry America: if 19E doesn't like who you select, they'll just overrule you. That means if one of the three would-be advancers this week is the low vote-getter next week, they'll miss out on a literally once-in-a-lifetime thrill, simply because the producers of American Idol can neither read a calendar nor keep their damn thumbs off the scale. And yes, just the same two words "Elliott Yamin" should make everyone realize how heartless this is, because were the Save available back in AI5's Final Four, there's no question it would have been used on Chris Daughtry.
As we've also written before: being Idol fans, we can forgive all sorts of stupid when it comes to this show. But, we can't forgive malice. Extending the Save, and thus changing the established laws of their land by fiat in the middle of the competition, was dumb, but we can't fight that. Quite honestly, we factor it into the expectations equation when we decide to watch every January.
But, was it really too much to ask Nigel Lythgoe and Co. to do it like adults, at least? Instead, 19E did so in the most cowardly and craven manner possible: by not even being forthright enough to announce the change to their loyal viewers. Instead, by pretending it's business as usual, it's like a scene straight out of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, in which Oceania's adversary changed literally in the middle of a speech: "We are at war with Eastasia. We have always been at war with Eastasia. And the Save has always been available beyond the Top Six." Orwell intended 1984 to be an apocalyptic warning on the abuse of power; Mr. Lythgoe apparently thinks it's an instruction manual.
The only sane solution at this point is to announce that the Save is jettisoned, to allow the next two weeks' results to play out organically, and to insert a "Special All-Star Something-Or-Other" into the schedule for the week of May 8th. The Finale cannot be moved; way too many guest stars on the 16th would be unavailable. Maybe it's not too late to bring back the eleven previous winners for a fun, one-night Tournament Of Champions, with the victor earning a nice donation to their favorite charity? Anything is better than using the Save this late.
But, alas, while Stupid and Malice are integral parts of the Idol equation, Sane is not.
The sorry part is that all of this, like almost every American Idol fiasco before it, was easily foreseeable and completely avoidable. We still believe that Simon Fuller, to save his flagship series, needs to pink slip the entire production crew moments after the confetti stops falling after the Finale. But, in the meantime, he should consider adding one very junior staff member to its ranks: someone who could at least prevent his current crew from violating the 12th Rule of Evil Overlords time and time again.
- The WNTS.com Team