American Idol announced its new judge panel yesterday, but overshadowed in that announcement were some less-headline-grabbing changes that—producers hope anyway—may make more of a difference in the kind and quality of music Idol produces.
For starters, legendary producer Jimmy Iovine will join Idol as an in-house mentor for season 10. (His Interscope is Idol’s new music-label partner.) In addition, the show plans changes in the performances, some specific—no more forcing contestants to sing outside their preferred genre—some more vaguely described. (Producers say they want to encourage performers to be active on stage, a not-so-veiled reference to the tree-rooted performances of Crystal Bowersox and Lee DeWyze.)
The plain, unvarnished goal: to get American Idol producing actual major recording artists. In a press conference yesterday, producer Nigel Lythgoe more or less said that Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood are the only real stars the show has produced.
Agree with his assessment or not (in sales terms, those two are by far the show’s biggest artists), is this what Idol needs? Some of it couldn’t hurt. Making country artists sing Motown, &c., may have had curiosity value, but it made for a lot of cringeworthy performances and isn’t too accurate a picture of how real-world artists are developed. (Yes, versatility is nice, but it isn’t mandated.) And count me among the viewers who think that celebrity mentors have not brought much to Idol—or at least that the good ones have not outweighed the duds.
In the end, though, for Idol as a TV show, I think what matters is producing a TV show: weekly performances that an audience is engaged and invested by. It’s important that the show not seem a joke, but I’m skeptical that there’s really that much of a practical halo effect from the show’s producing millions-selling stars. Certainly the show’s ratings fell off post-Underwood—eventually—but that’s as likely attributable to age, familiarity or any number of other factors. As for Iovine: I can’t question his credentials, and hope he can be tough and constructive—but if so, would Idol have been better off getting someone like him as a judge, not a mentor?
Of course, as someone who mainly watches Idol for the chance to post snarky comments afterward, I may not be the one to ask. So, fans: what are you missing from Idol, and do this changes give you that?