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American Idol Lowers Its Age Limit: Bad Idea or Worst Idea?

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There were a lot of criticisms of American Idol last season. Was the biggest problem that the show was poorly cast? That it focused too much on the revolving-door drama at the judges’ table and Simon Cowell’s departure? That Ryan Seacrest began to steamroll over the show with increasingly egocentric hosting?

Or was it just that there were too many icky old people singing?

Idol seems to have gone with the latter explanation. With Justin Bieber continuing to fascinate America’s tweens, the show will lower next year’s qualifying age for contestants from 16 to 15. After the jump, a few reasons I think the change won’t help Idol, and may even hurt:

* Remember American Juniors (above)? If you’re lucky, you don’t. OK, to be fair, 15 is not quite as low an age bottom as Juniors used, but there’s a slippery slope here. It’s hard enough to find an undiscovered adult singing star; there are very few Michael Jacksons or Britney Spearses out there—underage singers with the stage-readiness and self-possession of seasoned stars.

* One thing that bears that notion out is how the voting progressed this season. Idol came down to a final of Crystal Bowersox and Lee DeWyze though the same democratic process that gave us Adam Lambert and Kris Allen last year. There were some younger finalists and semifinalists this year, but they were generally weaker and less assured on stage—and some, in fact, might have had a stronger shot if they’d waited a few years.

* Much like Idol’s decision to allow instruments on stage, this smells too much of trend-chasing. (This year, we were supposed to get a wildly popular singer-songwriter winner, because supposedly that was what the kids were into.) As with any other kind of TV trend-chasing, the problem is that the wave you plan to catch a year in advance often will already have crested and broken by the time you get the season on the air.

* Finally, I’m simply not sure Idol has the capacity to create a Bieber in this day and age. I’ve broached this idea before, but an artist like Bieber—who comes from nowhere and builds bottom-up support through social media like Twitter—suggests that there is already an Idol-like counterforce out there that the TV show can’t replicate.

But what do I know? I wanted Crystal to win and America didn’t agree with me on that either. Also, I am probably somewhat blinded by my age and the consequent cloud of grave-stench that envelops me. Do you think this will save Idol in the post-Simon era?