American Idol’s Blame Game

April 8, 2011 Blog, Entertainment

it's all giggles and teeth whitening until somebody gets hurt

How bad does American Idol miss Simon Cowell? Ratings and viewership aside, Idol revealed its need for a critical voice in last night’s upset that sent Pia Toscano, a judge favorite, packing.

This season, judges Jennifer Lopez, Steven Tyler, and Randy Jackson make for a rather soft combination. Encouragement abounds as contestants receive “glass is half full” criticisms. Positivity is a fine thing, but most of voting America don’t have the musical ear to properly engage in a competition that is supposed to revolve around singing ability. The love-fest goes on completely deficient of the “meat and potatoes” sort of information that viewers use to inform their votes.

American Idol has always been a bit of a popularity contest. But without a judge that reminds the public that it is a singing contest, the competition’s vocal axis is on tilt. Contestants Haley and Stefano (sorry ladies), even the bizarre Casey, would likely be gone well before Pia even sniffed the bottom 3 if the judges were — to borrow Randy’s phrase — “keeping it real.”

In fairness, what Pia brings in vocal prowess she lacks in stage presence and personality, but as Simon Cowell was always ready to remind viewers: “this is a singing competition.” And hellfire, save matches, that girl can sing.

The judges were quick to place blame on America for what surely was its mistake, but the problem of talent being sent home too early has deeper roots. With no critical musical guidance America is left to decide the only way it knows how: with their eyes. Not their ears. Just a year ago Simon was closing his eyes while contestants performed in an effort to project how good of a recording artist they might be.

Over the years American Idol has become less about finding talented recording artists and more about making marketable stars, which admittedly is a large part of an Idol winner’s post-show success. Just don’t be surprised when Cowell’s X-Factor, and maybe even NBC’s The Voice, turns out a better end-product. And all because their judges won’t be afraid to hurt a few feelings.

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