It was one of the more unnecessary announcements -- "revealing" who the new judges on American Idol would be. Anyone who is on Twitter, Facebook, or the planet already had seen the names of the new judges plastered everywhere. So here's the unshocking news: Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler will be joining the only judge who even tried to hold on to some semblance of dignity last year, Randy Jackson, on the judging panel. The best news out of today is that we're back to just three judges as four was unwieldy, farcical, and unnecessarily time-consuming.
We now have three actual performers on the panel, people who have had to practice and rehearse and put themselves out in front of an audience to be judged. That's a good thing. We also have two superstars who might eclipse the talent they are judging and become more important than the contestants. That's a bad thing. I hope that the new two can keep their egos in check (something our dearly departed judges were incapable of doing) and realize that this is a show about discovering and helping to launch new talent. It's not about the judges.
As I think back over the past nine seasons, what stands out are the performances. I remember Kelly Clarkson's playful "And Stuff Like That There," Fantasia's moving "Over the Rainbow," David Cook's simmering "Billie Jean," Adam Lambert's haunting "Mad World," and, last year, Casey James' plaintive "Jealous Guy." Those were the moments that resonated and the moments where you understood the mission of the show. I remember only one moment from the judges and that was Paula's loopy critique of a performance that hadn't happened yet.
I'm a tad concerned when I hear JLo say she's looking for the next Michael Jackson. But with her pop background, it's understandable, if a little worrisome. I'd prefer she, and the rest of the judges, keep an open mind and don't try to find a "type." I hope they go into the audition rounds and each successive week looking for the best performer regardless of genre. I am heartened that she'll be joined on the panel by a genuine rocker, Steven Tyler, who, I hope, will look beyond the bubble gum and search for someone with a bit of an edge, someone whose talent runs deep.
The real surprise, or the real new news, from today's press conference was not the announcement of the new judges, but the announcement of the new procedures and the new people behind the scenes. The introduction of Jimmy Iovine, legendary producer who has worked with the best in his long, amazing career, gave immediate credibility and gravitas to the press conference. This is a guy who knows music, probably better than anyone else, and is deeply passionate about finding new talent. He spoke of the show looking for originality and using producers like Timbaland and Polo to work with the contestants on "recreating the magic." He will act as mentor and along with "the best producers in the world working with these artists" will help the contestants improve from week to week. Even if you don't win, having people of this magnitude to work with you is invaluable.
Iovine stressed how the goal is to make the music "better and more interesting" than in past seasons. To that end, the approach will be "developing the young artists the way they would anyone who signs with the label." With Sony ending its association with American Idol, Iovine promised there will be changes now that a new record label is on board. "We're going to bring our best game at Interscope," he said. "Our producers, our creativity and our enthusiasm so that what you see on this show is something you've never seen musically. I can guarantee that."
Nigel Lythgoe mentioned some changes in the middle rounds, which sounds intriguing. Most interesting was doing away with the awkwardness of taking someone out of their comfort zone. No more country singers doing show tunes! They really appear to be interested in working with the contestants to make them the best they can be. So they will have themes based on decades, not genres, allowing the contestants to work and develop within their genre, honing their skills, every week.
Especially after today's press conference, I'm looking forward to giving American Idol another chance after the disaster caused by confusing, insulting, and petty judging last year and the silly themes of the prior nine years. Now that those responsible for trying to make a mockery of the show are gone, maybe it can go back to being fun again? I actually heard Randy Jackson say today that it's not about us, it's about the contestants. That's what we've been waiting to hear for a long time.