Wednesday, January 16, 2008

American Idol: Kinder and gentler?

Ordinarily, I have little use for the "American Idol" audition episodes, either for viewing or for blogging, but with all the talk about how this season would be "fixed," plus the fact that my usual Tuesday shows have been swallowed up by the oblivion that is the writers strike, I decided to watch and write briefly about night one. Spoilers coming up just as soon as I buy a barrel horse...

Well, you could tell the difference immediately, as the season started off with somebody who could actually, you know, sing, in Skinny Joey. We saw, I think, 10 of the 29 people who got Golden Tickets, including kickboxing Kristy Lee Cook (who once upon a time had a record deal, though this isn't an "Idol" no-no; I believe Tamyra had a similar deal that fell apart before season one), former child singer Beth Stalker, R-rated movie opponent Brooke White, and legacy-minded Chris Watson.

As Fienberg argued, though, is there any way that Angela Martin -- pretty, outgoing, not a bad singer, and mother to a cute little girl with a debilitating medical condition -- doesn't sail through to, like, top 3? At least? She's like the perfect "Idol" storm; the only thing that would make her more electable is if she was a Marine who would get sent back to Iraq the minute she gets voted out.

We still saw the freaks, of course, though the show pretended to be nicer to them. The judges apologized for laughing at that guy who thought he sounded like Paul Robeson, and they were beyond gentle with middle linebacker Temptress, who was sweet and polite, but couldn't sing a lick. At the same time, once you know that contestants go through two or three rounds of producers before they even get to the judges table, it makes the new Up With People spirit ring as false as most things "Idol." Everyone knew Temptress couldn't sing, but they put her on camera so they could show how Simon had learned his lesson from last year's "bush baby" incident. The producers and Simon loudly insist that they won't send people through who are just trying to get on camera, but the hairy guy in the belly dancer costume couldn't have been more blatant about his intentions. ("I was gonna sing 'Dontcha' until you stopped me" is about the most self-aware line I've ever heard on this show.)

So, yeah, we saw more talent than we usually do this early in the season, and the judges were nicer to the people whose only sin was self-delusion. But this portion of "Idol" is still largely about the freak show, which is why the ratings will be higher than for any other chunk of the season save maybe the last two episodes.

And now I'm going to watch an episode of AMC's new Bryan Cranston show, "Breaking Bad," to cleanse myself.

What did everybody else think?

25 comments:

Fred App said...

I liked two things so far about this season. First, that you did get a chance to meet some people who are actually going to, you know, compete. And secondly, that even the crazies brought something to the table other than just being bad. I could have done without so much screen time for the woman who thinks being a dork is a good thing, but the guy in the Barney Rubble vest with the song about abstinence was amusing, and the guy with the "I'm Stalking Paula" song was hilarious. How can you top a lyric like, "If I were Columbo, I'd Peter Falk her"?

Bobman said...

Oh my God, I can't believe they let that stalker guy get that close to the judges table without being tackled by the six security guards off camera. That guy was either the best actor on television or legitimately insane.

And yes, audition rounds are a freak show. It's funny, I started watching Idol because I'm such a fan of music so I like to hear the (albeit kinda rare) good vocal performance, but it's tough not to get dragged into the freak show and competition aspects.

AndyW said...

This thing just draaaaaaaged for me. Did we really need 10 minutes (seemed like an hour) of glittery Janis Joplin girl? Or 10 minutes of Princess Leia? Or two segments on chest-waxing boy (OK, we might have needed that one). Even perky mom with disabled baby went on and on and on. The pace just felt way too slow.

Tom said...

About 2 years ago, I got on a Columbo kick and watched all 5 seasons and every TV movie in the period of about 6 months. My wife hated me for it. But last night she had to thank me because she would have never got the Peter Falk joke if I hadn't.

KC said...

Personally, I feel allowing professional singers or those with previous record contracts to audition is a cheat. Granted they are undiscovered talent but it never feels right.

Also, these audition episodes will never stop feeling like a visit to the local mental ward to laugh at the crazies, no matter how kind or patronizing the judges have become.

Although Paula looks at home, one benefit is that this round tends to make her look stable.

Tom said...

Oh...and the stalker has to be a comedian. That song was too clever for your typical head-full-of-crazy.

Kristin said...

Any comments on the low ratings? Lowest in 4 years for American Idol. I think that is significant since there is the writers' strike. Very little new stuff for American Idol to compete with.

Before the premiere, it seemed everyone was talking about how American Idol would 'save' tv during the strike. I find it very interesting that it lost viewers rather than gained them.

I am hoping that this season is different...less of the try-outs and more of the Hollywood parts before they narrow it down so much. We hardly ever get to see any of that process, and I think it would be very interesting to see why some obviously talented singers are cut.

I fast-forward through the try-outs, only wanting to find the gems. All the freaks have been seen before. It used to be original, now it's just old hat. Everyone knows there are nuts out there...why even bother showing them anymore?

BGF said...

I am really disturbed by the no R-rated movies girl, if only because THERE'S NO WAY SHE'S 24. She's only 24 if there's a portrait of her aged by ten years and IT'S ATTACHED TO HER FACE.

Sorry, had to get that out.

Tom said...

Low ratings are realitive. It still had 33 million people tuning in. I think the ratings are down because it's coming off of a week year. If they put together a good crew, I think you'll see it build. Not necessarily build on 32 million since the early episodes are always higher than the middle part of the season. But it will build year-to-year.

I think they're doing the right thing by focusing more on the contestants. People want to root for their favorites. And last year we got so little info about these people nobody could pick a favorite. It might hurt them in the short term but they will reap the benefits in the long term.

Kristin said...

11% off from last year's premiere. I think that is significant. We shall see, I guess.

Considering in the last week two former contestants were dropped from their labels, I wonder if the audience is starting to tire of these oddball winners.

Anonymous said...

Alan, you need to be a guest judge or mentor.

BigTed said...

I wonder if the lower ratings have nothing to do with competition in the time slot -- or lack of it -- but reflect the fact that people are starting to turn away from TV in general.

When there's not that much on, maybe folks are discovering that there are other things to do between 8 and 11. Like play outside, or talk, or read books! (Or, more likely, watch DVDs, surf the Internet and play videogames.)

Little Miss Smoke and Mirrors said...

but with all the talk about how this season would be "fixed,"

I know it's not what you mean, but isn't every season "fixed?"

Alan Sepinwall said...

I wonder if the lower ratings have nothing to do with competition in the time slot -- or lack of it -- but reflect the fact that people are starting to turn away from TV in general.

I think that's part of it. (In addition to the fact that every show, even the biggest hits, are in ratings decline by this point. The fact that the ratings went up last year surprised everybody, including the people at Fox, because that's just not how it ever goes.)

I remember back when I was running my "NYPD Blue" site, and every spring ABC would pull the show off for six weeks in March and April to try out some other show and avoid airing repeats. The new shows almost always failed, and every single time the show came back in late April or early May, the audience was smaller than it had been at the end of February. People just got out of the habit of watching it, and they didn't come back. I fear the WGA strike, while I suppor the cause absolutely, could do the same kind of damage on a far grander scale to the TV business.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I know it's not what you mean, but isn't every season "fixed?"

You can certainly find lots of Melinda and Blake fans who would say that about last season.

Dark Tyler said...

Wow. Was it just me or that was the most boring thing on TV since Heroes went off the air?

Love the stalker guy, though.

Matt said...

Alan, when does Breaking Bad premeire?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Sunday at 10. I'll have a thing about it on Friday.

XWL said...

"I fear the WGA strike, while I suppor[t] the cause absolutely, could do the same kind of damage on a far grander scale to the TV business.

Care to explain why people watching less primetime in the United States would be a bad thing?

I think a smaller market, might lead to more, rather than less, quality programming. When it sinks in that no show can get more than 15 million, even on network, then there'll be more room to nurture along a show that only averages 5 million fans (but committed, and likely to buy the DVD sets).

I think quality shows will find quality audiences, and entertainingly crappy shows will find their entertained audiences, too. It's just a matter if Hollywood is smart enough to find a way to equitably slice up the smaller pies that come with smaller audiences (and both sides will have to make concessions, applying old residual rules to new media is a bad idea, and the biggest sticking point at the moment).

In the post WGA-strike world, NBC might not cancel a show like Freaks and Geeks and a show like Cupid might get a chance to grow.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I think a smaller market, might lead to more, rather than less, quality programming. When it sinks in that no show can get more than 15 million, even on network, then there'll be more room to nurture along a show that only averages 5 million fans (but committed, and likely to buy the DVD sets).

You underestimate the short-sightedness of network executives. As the audience shrinks, they're going to go for the cheapest possible programming that can get the biggest possible audience. That means reality TV, and lots of it.

drake leLane said...

That night, HBO Family aired Return of the Jedi with Princess Leia in slave girl garb, right before AmIdol came on.

What a weird experience revisiting a boyhood fantasy, and then having it quickly ruined by Ben Haar.

Ross Ruediger said...

That guy who ended tonight's show (Wednesday, the Dallas auditions) was one of the great moments in the show's history. Not only should he be allowed to record that, but a music video with him in that pimptastic getup is a must.

On the other hand, any other version of that song could never top that audition. It was some of the greatest bad TV I've ever seen.

Julie said...

I think the slightly lower ratings has to do with the fact that there were less new episodes on TV in recent weeks. This means less eyes watching TV and less eyes seeing the promotions and commercials about the Idol premiere.

I honestly didn't even know Idol was starting up this week. Granted, I'm a loyal TiVo user so I often don't watch an episode of something until days or weeks later meaning the promotions for a show airing that week is lost on me. Not to mention the fact that I very rarely watch the commercials at all.

Tom said...

In reference to the stalker guy...here he is:

http://www.offtheedgeproductions.net/Paulmarturano.com/index.html

He's an improv comic and composer.

Tom said...

Let's try this again:

http://tinyurl.com/22b3u3