‘American Idol’ Will Never Be the Same

by | May 29, 2010 at 5:00 AM | American Idol, RealityTV, TV News

Simon, Paula and Ryan on the Season 9 'American Idol' Finale (Photo: Fox)

Simon, Paula and Ryan on the Season 9 'American Idol' Finale (Photo: Fox)

With the end of every ‘American Idol‘ season comes a torrent of speculation — and this season will be no different.

After Season 7, it was, “Will Paula Abdul leave ‘Idol’?” She did.

Last year, it was, “Will Simon Cowell leave ‘Idol’?” He did.

This time it’s, “Is ‘Idol’ over?” In some ways, it is.

As I said in our final ‘Eye on Idol‘ live chat of the season on Thursday, it’s not really the end of ‘American Idol,’ but it is the end of ‘Idol’ as we know it. And, well, I do feel fine.

There are plenty of reasons for ‘Idol’ fans to be optimistic.

For starters, no show has dominated television the way ‘Idol’ has over the past decade. Shows like ‘All in the Family’  and ‘The Cosby Show’ each owned the airways for five consecutive years — and that was when there were virtually only three channels on TV. ‘Idol’ has been the top-rated show for six years running, even considering its dip in overall numbers this season, facing competition from hundreds of networks every Tuesday and Wednesday night.

It was really a matter of time before it fell from the top.

That said, ‘American Idol’ picked a terrible time to have what was arguably its worst season ever (I’m looking at you, Season 6). A light-on-talent top 12, a seemingly limited song list and uninspiring guest mentors led to less interest. And all of this happened with the looming departure of the show’s biggest draw: Simon Cowell.

So while it might be true that ‘Idol’s reign at the top of the ratings could be over and it might be destined to only be — gasp! — a Top 10 show, here are some thoughts on how the show can face its unclear future:

1. Replacing Simon: The big question, of course, is who is going to replace Simon Cowell on the judges’ panel. The best option is not Howard Stern or Tommy Mottola or Harry Connick Jr. or Piers Morgan. It’s no one.

It’s really that simple. No one can fill the hole left by Cowell, so why try? Any replacement will feel like a cheap imitation, and will only serve to remind us Simon isn’t there and someone is trying to be like him.

Maybe it’s time to shuffle the panel up a bit. Reviews were mixed on Ellen DeGeneres’ contribution this year, but I think she mixed things up a bit, added some funny lines and showed a good grasp of music. She represents the fans on the judges’ table, and that’s perfectly fine with me. She deserves a second year.

I’m unclear as to Kara DioGuardi’s contract status. She original had just a one-year deal, but obviously came back for another year. If her contract is up, I wouldn’t mind giving Sharon Osbourne a shot. She brings kindness, compassion, a critical eye, and some music industry chops.

And Randy Jackson, well, as useless as the “it was a little pitchy in spots” and “it was just a’ight for me, dawg,” analysis can be, Randy has earned the same right Simon and Paula and should decide for himself when it’s time to go.

2. Better talent: It’s time to face facts — the voting public is not good at choosing talent when the field is too wide open. The Top 24 was fairly strong this season, but with the voting process starting with 12 girls and 12 guys, the options are too spread out for a reasonable choice to be made.

The judges should continue to make the selections until the Top 12 overall finalists are chosen. And, while we’re at it, let’s drop the gender split. It’s completely arbitrary and talent, not gender, should determine who stays and goes.

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3. The music. It seemed like song selections were limited this season, and by the looks of the lists made available on iTunes before each week’s performances, they were. Sure, music rights for television are expensive, but this show has been making huge cash for nearly a decade. They can afford to expand the list.
At the same time, you might have heard that Rickey Minor and the band are leaving ‘Idol’ and heading to ‘The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.’ It’s been a fun ride, but I’m excited for a new sound infusion. The producers would be wise to step up the game a bit. Rickey’s band and backup singers — oh, those backup singers — were often responsible for the lounge-act feel that many performances took.

The House Band — a collection of L.A.-based musicians under the direction of musical director Paul Mirkovich — brought some life into the performances on “Rock Star: INXS” and “Rock Star: Supernova” a few years back. That’s an option that could up the stakes on the musical front.

4. All-Stars. Ten is a nice, round number, and it’s been a heck of a decade. Why not cap the show’s run — or set the stage for a full reboot — by bringing back a dozen or 24 previous contestants who didn’t win and would like another shot?

Many previous ‘Idol’ finalists have gone on to bigger and better things, and maybe an ‘all-stars’ season goes against the original spirit of the show. But it could be forgiven with the right cast, and it would give fans a chance to see some familiar faces back on the ‘Idol’ stage.

After that, producers could give the show a complete makeover with an entirely new panel of judges, some rule changes and format adjustments. Or we could call it a great, 10-season series, and get ready for Simon’s return in Fall 2011 with ‘The X Factor.’

I hear it’s gonna be huge.

Paula Abdul Returns to Send-off Simon:

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