By now, you've probably heard the devastating, Earth-shattering news, which will affect the lives of people around the globe: Ellen Degenres and Kara DioGuardi are OUT as judges on American Idol. (We'll give you a moment to compose yourselves.)
After Simon Cowell called it quits from the show after the completion of the most recent season, the scramble to shake the show up was a task that became equivalent to trying to sell tickets to a fun park that lost its best rides. Shortly after bringing back executive producer (and So You Think You Can Dance? judge and show boss) Nigel Lythgoe, the agenda of getting the judging panel straightened out had quickly been put into overdrive. And just as we've learned about the exit of two of the show's judges, strong rumors are pointing to their replacements being Jennifer Lopez and iconic Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler.
So, let's get a discussion going: Is American Idol salvageable? Is there anyone out there that can fill the shoes stuffed with un-cashed million-dollar checks of Simon Cowell?
The way I see it, the only way to resuscitate Idol, is to rediscover what made it special in the first place. What would that be? Well, let's put this into perspective. I remember when the TV spots for the first season of Idol were being aired. It seemed like just another crappy reality show competition, filled with a bunch of delusional, untalented, overemotional wannabe pop-stars crying on cue for the cameras to get their 15 minutes of fame. However, there was one X-Factor (ha, ha, get it?), and that was Simon Cowell. The sight of Simon utterly eviscerating these fame-hungry nutters was remarkable and it quickly became a must-see. While some saw him as cruel, he was brutally honest and his criticism was almost always based on an accurate diagnosis. More importantly, the show didn't go over the edge with Simon berrating the talentless saps, as within the judge's panel, it contained the key element of balance.
Yes, that balance to which we were introduced was flawless: Paula Abdul was nurturing and encouraging, Randy Jackson was practical, and Simon Cowell represented the element of danger in life itself. It can be fun and filled with love, but it's also cruel and no matter how positive and outlook you bring, cold, hard reality is always waiting around the corner to punch you in the face. However, focusing too much on one perspective can be redundant. While the way in which Simon smacked-down the dreams of legitimately horrible singers was done in a style completely his own, the crux of that could be reproduced if the balance at the judge's table returned.
At some point, as the seasons piled-up and the money was raking-in, even that original trio of judges seem to have lost their ways in maintaining this dynamic. So, it's not exactly about who they get, so much as how it's done. The judges have to maintain that tight balance between danger, compassion, and practicality in order for viewer interest, as well as the talent standards to be maintained. That's definitely something that was lost when Kara DioGuardi was brought on board, who seemed to add very little constructively and played no part in the dynamic. Plus, the addition of Ellen Degeneres last year was a clear sign that the creative team had completely lost perspective on the show's key elements. Her presence never felt authentic and she was basically a season-long "celebrity guest judge" who always played it safe with criticism. The light-hearted comedy and occasional wit she brought to the table was offset by the fact that she brought zero credibility to the job of judging a music competition and it was quickly becoming a glorified version of the trainwreck cattle-call that is America's Got Talent.
In short: It all has to matter again. The show has had its good seasons, as well as its share of duds. Going on 8+ years, the the prestige of the "title of American Idol" seems have naturally diminished since Kelly Clarkson first took the stage as the season 1 winner to sing "A Moment Like This." If whoever they ultimately get to fill the judge's table can maintain a good balance, they could help proliferate the water-cooler moments that made American Idol the show that dominated TV for nearly a decade, and avoid continuing as the fake love-filled snooze-fest it has become. If the judges can make it interesting, while maintaining talent standards, then the show will be relevant. The odds, however, are not currently in its favor.
What do you think? Is America ready to be over Idol? Or does it still have some juice left?
On a sidenote: I can't believe I had THIS much to say on American Idol.