Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Sepinwall on TV: What's wrong with 'American Idol'?

Today's column is my obligatory annual screed about all the problems with this season of "American Idol." The difference is, this time, I'm particularly bitter.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

I agree this season has been slow. I also hate the mosh pit and the phone in questions. The ratings may be better if the results show was the half hour - review of performances, guest performer, results, the end. They are dragging that out for ratings, and it is not working. And why are the contestants so unfamiliar with the songs. Don't they have time to listen to a part of the catalog that they are selecting from? Example - why didn't anyone sing Neil Diamond's Red, Red Wine - very easy and Castro could have done the UB40 version of it the regae, more interesting, way.

Nicole said...

I completely agree that the results show needs to go back to half an hour. I know Fox wants to milk the ratings as much as possible, but the call-in is boring and the group sing is horrible. I usually don't watch the results, or else just come in the last five minutes because the mentors haven't been worth my time to watch.

The mosh pit is the worst idea ever because half the time the camera shoots the performer from such an angle that the hands block part of the performer. And they are idiots and sway for the most inappropriate song.

I suppose I shouldn't be shocked at the extreme lack of musical knowledge of these contestants. Part of it may be age, because the older ones seemed to have a clue, mostly David Cook, but if being a musician is your life dream then ignorance of musical history is unacceptable. Especially when wikipedia is just a click away and can provide at least a basic knowledge of the mentor's background.

I suspect many of them want to be stars instead of musicians, as this is the type that the show mostly attracts.

Adam said...

I blame some lame, un-contemporary theme weeks, but I also blame America for bouncing Asia'H Epperson, Chikezie Eze and Michael Johns too soon. None of them were going to win this competition, but I have a feeling they'd all have bene more interesting what what we've seen. And, hell, had David Hernandez dialed down the cheesiness a little bit and gone into a different line of work before the show, he could've been entertaining us until the top five.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Adam, are you turning your back on the tier system?

Adam said...

If your goal in watching American Idol is to see who becomes the next American Idol, the tier system still makes sense as the best way to organize the show in one's head.

Where it has some weakness is that the analysis is indifferent between "interesting failures" and "boring failures" -- i.e., Amanda Overmeyer wasn't going to win, but seeing her pressed into uncomfortable genres might have made for better tv than Brooke White, who was never going to win either, but who also was never any better than the first week of the semis -- it was like that, over and over again, only less so.

It's been a while since we had folks as limited as Brooke and Clifford go this far -- Nikki McKibbin was final three, after all -- but I feel like the two of them have much more potential to be interesting recording artists than someone like McKibbin or Diana DeGarmo ever did.

I also think you underestimate how bad other seasons were -- season four had Carrie and Bo, but it also had Anthony Fedorov and Scott Savol in the final five, neither of whom were as good as anyone in this year's final twelve.

Where you're dead right is that other than David Cook, no one else has been having any fun in the competition.

lungfish said...

The group song is always ghastly (to use one of Simon's fave adjectives)... I mean I get embarrassed watching it. I hope that's not supposed to entice people to buy Idols on Tour tickets. Now I just fast forward through it (along with 40 other minutes of the results show).

One more thing I need to get off my chest- this year's song by Ruben that they play during the clip montage of the booted contestant is really old-fashioned and bad.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I also think you underestimate how bad other seasons were -- season four had Carrie and Bo, but it also had Anthony Fedorov and Scott Savol in the final five, neither of whom were as good as anyone in this year's final twelve.

Yes, there were more lows in season four, but there were also more highs, mostly from Bo, but also on occasion from Carrie, and Constantine, and even Anwar (his What a Wonderful World was better than pretty much every non-Cook, non-ArchieOnImagine performance this year). I have a bunch of songs from that season on my iPod. Other than a few tunes from Beatles Night Part One, plus the various Cook remixes, there's nothing this year that I ever need to hear again, even though I greatly prefer this bunch overall to the season four cast.

Joe said...

The format for the show is basically unchanged (viewer calls, aside) so you have to look what changes from year to year.

This season has an average cast made to look below average by terrible song choices. Compounding that, or caused by that, no one is having fun. No one is projecting to the audience.

Dolly. Neil. Mariah. ALW. Ouch.

Now that the contestant pool is smaller, I'd rather see each singer complete a song. Give me one full song, well chosen, rather than snippets of two.

Past song selections have been more popular, Top 40 type songs. For example Bo sang Freebird, Satisfaction and Remedy down the stretch. Carrie: sang some Shania Twain, Elvis, Martina McBride.

No one would notice the mosh pit or bad dancing or anything extraneous if the songs and performances were entertaining.

As for the results shows: TiVo is key. Cut to the chase.

Adam said...

Two theories: (a) the problem at this point is that the show's been around for a while, so the only new competitors for the top of the pool are mostly going to be folks who weren't old/mature enough to compete before (YDA), or older people whose life experiences prevented them from competing before (Carly). Especially once they opened the door to older, more "rock" singers like Bo and Daughtry, I suspect the top part of the talent pool has already given it a shot and we're faced with diminishing returns. But, yes, Daughtry's "Hemorrhage" in the semis was better than anything we've seen all this season.

(b) I wonder if it's the professionalism that's hurting this season -- they're too well-coached from the outside, too risk-averse to really shoot for a unique, star-making performance. It's almost like the Amazing Race, where the goal is to do well to not get eliminated, and not take risks until the end.

You know who I miss? Josiah Lemming.

Adam said...

Quick clarification: "It's almost like the Amazing Race, where the goal is to just do well enough to not get eliminated, and not take risks until the end."

Eric said...

Adam - given what you said about the talent pool, I wonder if maybe an Idol all-not-quite stars edition might be in order. Open up a competition with everyone who finished, say, 3-12 (or 2-12 if you can get Clay's agreement that he won't compete.) Then, the week before the finale, have a week where all the #1s compete against each other, and America Votes, with the winner getting $1 M. or something.

Yeah, this idea is half-baked, but probably no more so than Survivor: All-Stars vs. Fans.

Eric said...

Oh, and given what Alan said in the article, Lord Andrew acts as the Simon on his shows in England (Any Dream Will Do is the one I watched) and usually gives good feedback there as well. Those shows, though, suffer from the opposite problem - the contestants are singing pop songs when the winner will be singing Broadway. Songs from the show they're competing for were mostly used during the group sings, and for sing-offs between the bottom two. (IIRC, the results show was the same night as the main show. The two lowest vote getters had a sing-off and ALW decided which went home.)

Nicole said...

I've always preferred the system used in the ALW shows in that he gets to decide who leaves from the bottom two and then the public only has control when the final three are decided.

In this case, the winner needs to actually be able to sing in a musical 8 shows per week, so crazy fan bases can't entirely hijack the process or else the shows will flop. It is interesting to note that a part of the cost of the call goes to a Performing Artist Fund, but that may be because the show is on BBC and profits aren't the goal.

I guess in this case, the producers don't care if someone like Taylor Hicks wins and then doesn't sell records? Actual singing ability isn't so much a requirement for AI because many flaws can be hidden in a studio. I also wonder if kids are still flocking to see the group tour as much as in the past.

Mrglass said...

What's wrong with Idol this year: the contestants are completely boring. How can someone as forgettable as Syesha even be in the top4? Bring back Sanjaya.

LA said...

Spot on, Alan.

And if I could add one more, I'd say the judging is tired and played out. I am repeating myself from other weeks, but seriously, how many times can you listen to "yo dawg, you're in the zone," or "you look adorable and I love you" and have it remain meaningful, let alone entertaining (Paula's meltdowns aside). Randy playing on a Journey album long after they were relevant hardly gives him any cred, and Paula was a 3-note wonder herself.

I realize the judging isn't the real problem with this show, but it's certainly not helping.

Here's another thought. Maybe Idol has run its course and the glory days are gone forever.

Anonymous said...

Bravo Alan!

I've always hated the theme nights, with a few notable exceptions, but this year they were absolutely horrible. Painful. Drivel. Yuck.

I liked the Martina McBride night -- that was good. Bon Jovi night was a surprise...and fantastic surprise. It was even fun to have Latin night with Gloria Estefan. And J Lo last season...loved it. She was so cute with the contestants.

Those mentors actually seemed to have fun with the contestants, and they actually helped them.

There are so few memorable SINGING moments this season...no Constantine singing Bohemian Rhapsody, no Anwar singing What a Wonderful World, no Bo singing acapella, no Kat singing Somewhere Over The Rainbow, no Fantasia blubbering and singing her coronation song, no Clay Aikan singing Don't Let The Sun Go Down on Me. There are a handful of David Cook moments, but nothing else has felt really downloadable to me.

The songs selections have been so weird...I can remember in past seasons I would hear a song, and I'd run to the computer to download it.

(ugh...I'm watching the TIVO'd AI from tonight...Jason just mutilated Bob Dylan...shameful...)

Or maybe America is just running out of talent? LOL

(Ugh...Archie is singing an Elvis ballad...)

I think the whole presumptive AI winner pre-crowning of li'l David has taken all the fun out of this season. It should be called American Teeny Bopper Idol.

Kristin said...

1) No more mentor nights. If they must choose mentors, how about some super-important voice coach or producer who can help them choose songs, change arrangements, and hone their skills?
2) Move the themes up a decade or two - there's almost 20 years of modern stuff we never get to hear
3) Don't choose the final 24 based on having diversity in singing styles...actually choose the BEST singers, even if that means 4 rockers or 5 ballad singers or what have you
4) Shorten the elimination night to a half-hour
5) Have a new guest judge every week to liven things up and remove one of the 'regulars' so that there is a rotating judging pool

dez said...

^By removing "regulars," you mean Randy & Paula, right? Isn't Simon the lynchpin of this show? :-)

Kristin said...

I don't mean removing any judge...just rotate one out once a week. But, yes, now that you mention it...I do mean Randy & Paula! Ha, ha! They really need only one judge who is always positive...what they really need is someone else who will be blunt and even mean when necessary.