Tuned In

Dead Tree Alert: When Judges Won't Judge; Plus, Last Night's Idol-imination

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Tony Duran / FOX

My column in this week’s paper-and-iPad TIME is about the success of American Idol‘s new judging panel, which has done a 180 from the Simon Cowell era by abandoning meanness—and, pretty much, any other form of criticism. Idol’s ratings are up (if slightly) for the first time in a few years, but we now have a panel composed essentially of three human Facebook Like buttons.

And what’s wrong with that? Among other things:

The problem with liking everything is that it becomes meaningless to like anything. Deciphering Idol judges’ comments now requires kremlinology: you listen for the shadings that distinguish “That was great!” (I truly loved your performance) from “You know you’re great” (I like you too much to specify why your performance was bad).

I do not expect Idol to change one thing in response to my criticism. (See, again, those ratings.) And, judgment or not, America still had to eject someone last night. Quick spoilers after the jump…

…yes, Casey Abrams was ejected last night, this time with no Judges’ Save to save him. Did he deserve it? At this point, there’s no one of the remaining Idol finalists I really want to see win much more than another. (Unless wanting Haley not to win counts.) But good or bad, I liked having Casey around because I at least went into each week curious what he would do. So much for that.

One interesting thing about the elimination last night: Idol, as it sometimes does, announced its safe contestants in random order last night, meaning that there was no “your bottom three.” The cynical side of me—which is the only side that watches American Idol, as the non-cynical one is reading poetry at the time—believes that Idol might want to do this to make the outcome seem more suspenseful than it is. Say, for instance, one contestant is running away in the voting and Idol would like to throw us off the scent. (Producers have said before that they don’t release vote totals for this reason; Carrie Underwood, apparently, won every single week’s voting her season.)

If so, my guess for the runaway leader right now is Scotty McCreery, but that’s just a hunch. Who’s your favorite to win now? And do you want the judges to be more judgmental, or me to be less judgmental of the judges?