Monday, December 15, 2008

Sepinwall on TV: 'American Idol' plans some changes

In tomorrow's column (available online today!), I look ahead to some of the proposed format tweaks for next season of "American Idol" -- which, on paper, sound like a step in the right direction.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow. I feel like Kyle Chandler in Early Edition.

Matthew L said...

And if the producers do a poor job of dividing up the initial semi-finals groups, which they often did in the first three seasons, it means that bad people (a Corey Clark here, a Matt Rogers there) might get through from lack of competition.

Good point. Plus, if I remember correctly, in season 2 the eventual final three (Reuben, Clay, and Kimberley) were all in the same semi-final. This meant that Clay was eliminated and only came back as a wild-card. So that's possibly the bigger risk with the old semi-final format.

But it's not like the current semi-final format stopped bad singers (say, Sanjaya) from getting through, or necessarily ensured the good singers made it. Sadly, you're always going to have bad singers get through to the finals and good singers fall short. So the question is, which format is more entertaining for the viewer. And I think the tension of people having only one chance to make it through is a lot more interesting than the current format, where the semi-finals feel more like an extension to the finals than an entirely different stage.

Matt said...

A simpler solution to the "bad singer" issue--don't invite bad singers to Hollywood Week(s). I don't watch Idol, but this has always boggled my mind--was Sanjaya one of the best 32 (or however many) singers they found in auditions? IF so, that's somewhat frightening. If not, then WHY THE HELL WAS HE MOVED ON?

I understand that it's not just about singing ability, but also charisma/star power and having interesting stories to tell for television, but even so...

Alan Sepinwall said...

-was Sanjaya one of the best 32 (or however many) singers they found in auditions?

From what I recall, Sanjaya did not sound terrible in his audition. Maybe he sounded like the best kid in the glee club or something, but he could carry a tune and seemed to have a personality. Then he froze under the studio lights when the semi-finals began, the judges started beating up on him, the little girls didn't care, and after a while he started to embrace his badness and deliberately started doing things to piss off Simon.

dark tyler said...

I was hoping they'd try what Simon's been doing with his American Idol knock-off, The X Factor, where each one of the 4 judges is assigned one group of singers to mentor throughout the competition. The competitive nature among the judges themselves is more often than not the highlight of the whole show.

Then again, imagine the 6 poor souls that would have either Randy or Paula as an exclusive mentor! Cowell would win by default. Solution: bring in better judges. If only.

Alex said...

I'm glad they're doing something, anything, really, after last season. I've never been a fan of the "drama" of Hollywood week, but if it's between cutting down auditions or more Hollywood, I'll take the later. My ultimate solution would be to cut out Hollywood altogether and just have a 1-2 hour "Meet the Contestants" show before the finals start, but the chances of that happening are pretty slim. As it is, I'm guessing someone noticed that AI took a lot of flack for the dual chorus of "you're being really mean, guys"/"believe it or not, we'd like to see some good singers" and decided to modify the format.

I'm interested to see what path Kara takes. She's coming in fresh, so she doesn't have a signature trait like the 3 stooges, which will be nice for a change. I've heard that she'll be honest, but she'll try to be gentle while doing so (less druggy than Paula).

krystle-ab said...

Yjru tried having four judges here (Australia) and it really didn't work. In the end theyhad to go back to three and got rid of our version of Randy (Mark Holden)...

Dan said...

I'm surprised AI hasn't been shaken up before now. Simon Cowell's other TV venture, X Factor in the UK, has undergone quite a few shakeups over its 5 years. New judges, new categories, etc.

I'm not sure why SC doesn't implement some changes like that i AI -- but it's probably a copyright issue, because XF isn't technically the UK version of AI. That was Pop Idol (which finished ages ago).

AI's new format seems curiously old-hat in comparison, though. Would US audiences not like judges four judges with categories (girls, boys, groups, over-25s)? From what I've seen, Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul were always hopeless. I'm surprised they haven't both been replaced.

Maura said...

Changes are needed, of course, but I'm skeptical about "behind-the-scenes, who plays well with others" footage. I'm barely interested in the segments they already do on contestants' backgrounds. I don't want to see fighting and attitude. When I want that, I watch Top Model. I just want to hear the kids sing.

I'll be grateful, though, if they cut back on the freak show aspect of the auditions. I also read somewhere that they'll be cutting the results shows back to 30 minutes. Or was that just a dream?

Alan Sepinwall said...

It was a dream.

Mark B said...

~In tomorrow's column (available online today!)...~

Anonymous said...
Wow. I feel like Kyle Chandler in Early Edition.


But now you have to use the information to make things right!

Adam said...

Because information wants to be free, Alan and I went back and forth yesterday as to whether the 24-to-20-to-16-to-12 format yielded better semifinal performances that that which preceded it.

I went through the lists of performances and my memory, and came up with the list of highlights below, but there are two big caveats:

(1) After season 3, they raised the age limit, significantly improving the overall pool; and
(2) When you give a semifinalist as many as three chances to be stellar, it's more likely that s/he will.

That said, the performances I remember best, by season:

1: Tamyra Gray, "And I Am Telling You ...", Ryan Starr, "Frim Framm Sauce" (maybe, depends on your threshold), Clarkson "Respect", Guarini "Ribbon in the Sky"

2. Kim Caldwell, "Come To My Window", Clay, "Open Arms", Ruben Studdard "Superstar" (a top-ten-Idol-ever), Clay, "Don't Let The Sun ..."

3: Metzger, "Walkin in Memphis," Fantasia, "Something To Talk About," LaToya London, "All By Myself", George Huff, "Lean On Me"

=========

4: Constantine, "Kiss From A Rose", Bo, "Whipping Post", Bo "I'll Be", Anwar "What a Wonderful World", and not much from the women. Underwood, maybe.

5: Gedeon McKinney, "A Change Is Gonna Come", Elliot Yamin, "If You Really Love Me", Daughty,"Hemorrhage", Paris Bennett, "Midnight Train to GA" (among my favorites), Ace Young "Father Figure", Mandisa, "Never"

6: Blake Lewis all three songs -- Somewhere Only We Know, Future Insanity, All Mixed Up; Melinda "My Funny Valentine"; Lakisha -- And I Am Telling You, I Have Nothing; Gina Glocksen -- one of the three, at least.

7: Cook, Hello; Archuela, Imagine; Syesha, Me & Mr Jones; Castro, Hallelujah; Brooke, You're So Vain; Chikezie, I Believe To My Soul; D Hernandez, Papa Was a Rolling Stone.

Make of it what you will.

LA said...

My feeling, despite what the producers are saying officially, is that they are trying to squeeze Paula out. I'm not sure when her current contract expires, but bringing in the new female judge is probably a tactic to make her uncomfortable. Paula's been a wreck for awhile now.

Matthew L said...

Because information wants to be free, Alan and I went back and forth yesterday as to whether the 24-to-20-to-16-to-12 format yielded better semifinal performances that that which preceded it.

By my calculations, by the end of a 24+20+16 semi-final process, you will have had 60 different performances. In a comparable 24-person one-shot semi-final process, you only have 24 performances (plus another 8 or so for the wildcard). Twice as many performances, but from the lists you provided, it doesn't look like we're getting twice as many memorable performances. (And, yes, I realise the numbers are increasing for this season.)

If you only have one chance to make it, and you know that 3/4 of the people in your episode are not going to make it through, it hopefully will motivate you to try and really pull something incredible out. If you know that only 1/6 to 1/4 of the people are going home, your odds of staying in the show are pretty good, and you just need to stay out of that number.

In other words, you go into the semi-finals knowing you're likely to be eliminated, and so you have to prove that you deserve to go through - you have to try to be the best in the episode. Which is a lot better than trying not to be the worst.

Maura said...

My feeling, despite what the producers are saying officially, is that they are trying to squeeze Paula out. I'm not sure when her current contract expires, but bringing in the new female judge is probably a tactic to make her uncomfortable. Paula's been a wreck for awhile now.

Paula is a huge wreck, and I think she brings in some viewers who just like to watch her weekly meltdown. I usually change the channel. I can't stand to watch it.

Paula probably does need to go, but, after Randy's cheerleading over every single thing David Archuleta sang last year, no matter how bad it was, he needs to go more. Did he make a deal with Daddy Archuleta? Any credibility he might have had completely disappeared.

It was a dream.

*Cries*

Adam said...

In other words, you go into the semi-finals knowing you're likely to be eliminated, and so you have to prove that you deserve to go through - you have to try to be the best in the episode. Which is a lot better than trying not to be the worst.

That's my assumption as well, and it should hold until the Week of 16, when each contestant has a one-in-four shot of being eliminated. You'd expect them all at their best that week, but it's not reflected in the performances -- if only because those who have already proven themselves may see it as an opportunity to coast.

LA said...

Maura - I *totally* agree w/you about Randy. Maybe the producers' long-term plan is to eliminate both of them. I guess what I'm saying is I think it's obvious they're gunning for Paula first.