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Idol Watch: Jesus, Saves?

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Ray Mickshaw / FOX

Ray Mickshaw / FOX


Brief spoilers about last night’s American Idol double elimination, and longer complaints about “the new rule,” after the jump:

Jorge and Jasmine are going home—no big surprise in either one, though I expected Jasmine to hang on a bit longer. The big news out of last night’s Idol was the “new rule” affecting eliminations, and let me take a deep breath and get it all out: 

Each week, the lowest vote-getter will continue to be eliminated—with one exception. The judges will have the power to spare one bottom-finisher form going home per season. The decision must be unanimous; the judges can use it only once per season; and they must use it before we reach the top five contestants. (I think; Ryan’s ambiguous wording was “up until the top five,” so I suppose that could include the top five round.) If they choose to spare a contestant, no one goes home that week, and there is a dual elimination the following week. 

Whew. Couldn’t they have just hidden an immunity idol and been done with it? OK, let’s go over the reasons this is a bad idea: 

It’s bad TV. American Idol is, first and foremost a TV show. Currently, it ends each week with a dramatic climax, the elimination of a contestant. Now the producers have decided to add, almost every week, an anticlimax, since someone will be eliminated—but not finally eliminated—then will sing America’s Least Favorite Performance from the previous night, and then will hear the judges say, all except (possibly) one time, that, yeah, they are in fact going home. Did the judges’ save, or lack thereof, add any suspense to last night’s eliminations? Well, get used to it.

It probably won’t save anybody. Look at the examples they listed to explain the new rule: Jennifer Hudson, Chris Daughtry, Tamyra Gray and Michael Johns. (Michael Johns? Really? I mean, I know the dude had his fans, but I must have suppressed the memory of the national outcry after he was sent packing.) Daughtry and Gray finished fourth, and thus would not have been saved by this rule. Jennifer Hudson went on to become one of the most successful Idols, but let’s not be revisionist: she was never going to beat Fantasia that season, much as I’d have preferred her to Diana DeGarmo in the final. And finally: Michael Johns? Really? 

It probably won’t help anyone’s career. And may even hurt them. Suppose Daughtry had been saved. Suppose he managed somehow to hang on and beat Taylor Hicks. He’d have lost the street cred that being rejected by Idol gave him—it proved that he was good, but that he was just too real for the reality show. It demonstrated that you, his fan, were more discerning, and thus had a real connection with him. Because you got him. I’m having a hard time seeing how Hudson could have been more successful post-Idol, and she could well have been hurt by the pressure to fit the teen-pop-star mold had she won. I could see the judges’ save benefiting someone who had talent, but needed a few weeks’ more exposure on national TV—say if Daughtry had been booted in 10th place, not fourth—but I can’t think of an actual example from Idol’s past. 

It spoils the fun. I love The Amazing Race. I know a lot of people who love The Amazing Race. But I do not know anyone who thinks the show benefits from the nonelimination rounds it nonetheless insists on having. At this point, being outraged over the occasional unjust ousting is part of the show, like the bad audition rounds, Simon and Ryan’s weak gay jokes, Paula’s verbal staggers into la-la land or the Ford Focus commercials. The things that we hate about Idol are as essential to our experience of the show as the things viewers love about Idol. Why screw with it? 

It’s un-American (Idol). Yeah, I know I’ve said repeatedly that I don’t see the point in getting outraged over the “fairness” of a reality-show phone vote. But come on—to the extent that Idol sells itself as an exercise in democracy, in which you choose your next pop star, it needs to be pure. To the extent that the show is a metaphor for anything, it’s just a little creepy to introduce a change that says that we have too much freedom and need it curbed.  The home audience should own the result 100%, including the screw-ups. Give us the right to get it wrong! How many people in the Idol audience really think we need to be saved from ourselves? 

It fixes the wrong problem. Sure, people get ticked off over unpopular eliminations. But if you think that Idol has problems, do you think that’s the biggest one? Even close? How about fixing, oh, I don’t know—bloated elimination episodes, poorly chosen theme weeks, erratic judges’ criteria (and erratic judges) or a semifinal process that seems (at least this year) to winnow out interesting artists in favor of more consistent but boring ones? How about giving contestants the option of writing and performing their own songs? 

That’s just me, of course, but I’m curious to hear what you think is broken about Idol. And did this new change fix anything?