Wednesday, September 22, 2010

American Idol Announces New Judging Panel/Other Changes

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.


  1. It really should be about the music...not the judges or anything. If there is a judge that we like, all the better, BUT... The contestents are the ones we watch, learn to love...grow with etc.

    I surely hope with the new faces & new rules it will somehow get back to the good ole, Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, David Cook days..JMO

  2. So glad there will be no theme weeks. What was the purpose of that anyway? I just think about how Casey could have really shown himself if he could have chosen exactly what he wanted to do each week instead of having a limited selection. But then I have to remind myself - Casey is where he should be! Everything happens for a reason, right!

  3. @CJFan_Audrey (Twitter)September 22, 2010 at 1:12 PM

    This is a glimmer of hope for the show. Perhaps it will be more about finding real artists instead of the next 'commercial sounding' star. I think JLo will be good with Randy, not sure how Steven Tyler will do, but I guess time will tell. Hopefully they will push 'true talent' this time around and be more helpful and constructive with their feedback, but I won't hold my breath.

  4. I'm excited to see the new and improved idol! It should be quite interesting to see how this all plays out. I especially want to see how Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez fit in...I personally wanted Brett Michaels and Shania for their two jobs. I am willing to give them a chance, though...

  5. Amen!!! Wonderfully written as always, I agree with every word. Looking forward to seeing what the season has to bring!

  6. Totally agree Shari. With all the negative press over Season nine and their attempt to recover the loss of Simon it does not look good for AI. Will viewers give the show another chance? I think they will as least briefly. It's almost as if AI has been sabotaging itself lately. First Paula, she was very entertaining if nothing else, Kara, while being qualified was always competing herself, then Ellen, I don't think I need to say a word, and now Simon is gone. AI has tried to keep us in suspense all summer while deseperately trying to stay valid. Not surprized!!!!!!!! After last season they need to be making some real changes alright. I am surprized anything good came out of Season nine. They can thank Casey James that some of us will give them another chance. The fact that AI aired the pre-taped footage of Kara's infatuation of Casey and continued that theme for a time almost made a mockery of Casey James and his talent.(BTW,a performance in itself) I was almost glad when she started unfairly judging him to make up for it. In spite of it all, he will undoubtedly be one of the biggest (if not the biggest) talents to come from that show and in my opinion saved Season nine from total embarassment. A season that was without a doubt all about Simon (a fact that did not escape Kara) and what he wanted at any given moment. Think of the finale for example, which, in my opinion not only took away from Simon's contributions to the show over the years, but also took away from the shows purpose. Enter Casey E James, a real, pure talent to make season nine and it's finale one that will have a purpose after all. To many of us with a southern upbringing it was obvious from the beginning that he was carefully plotting a course to be remembered while expecting to leave the show any given week. After all it is true that you catch more flies with honey. It was apparent that he did not fit in but was able to make friends behind the scenes and set precedence for the show several times. This should change the show and it's prospective in the future. Season nine's parade-like finale for Simon (even he looked uncomfortable at times) was another way AI took away the moment for the contestants. With the exception of Casey James who stole the show when he sang the first line of his song and we all knew who was coming out next to join him. AI gave the biggest moment of the night to Casey James almost as if to apologize for bad judging and their attempt to portray him as all looks no brains. He had endured with grace, humility, and dignity through it all. How refreshing!! He entered with a simple dream of furthering his career by making enough money to pay his bills, eat better food, etc. I wonder if this simple guy is prepared for the future ahead, and for that season nine only will be memorable.
    As for the new judges, Jennifer Lopez getting on the same level as these contestants is questionable, and her superstar status along with Steven Tyler a rock legend, is sure to take away from the contestants. One thing is for sure we will be all ears and eyes to see if is will work, at least for a time. I think it will have to undergo yet another makeover in the future. In my opinion with it could easily be all over but the crying.

  7. Good point, I agree with Anonymous that Bret and Shania would have been a better fit. They are more down to earth. I think more contestants could relate to them and vice versa. They seem to be at a place in their lives where fame and money are less important than respect for their accomplishments. I don't think this will come across with a judge like J LO, even if she is taking her role seriously. And I fear Steven Tyler will be intimidating to the contestants due to his Legendary status. And Randy will again fade into the background as unimportant. He could become a fixture until his contract is up.

  8. I personally liked the theme weeks on AI. How else can you tie in and compare the performances if they don't have a common theme? I do think the themes should have been more current.

    I like Randy as a judge but the addition of J-Lo and Steven Tyler - good luck with that. I would have preferred the likes of David Foster, Jon Bon Jovi, Elton John or Bryan Adams. (I know, they probably wouldn't be interested.)

    I also think that if it's a singing contest, maybe the use of instruments does confuse the issue. Don't get me wrong - I LOVE Casey and I'm glad he did what he did - but maybe there should be another show that deals with musicians who play an instrument and sing and leave American Idol to the singers only.

    I look forward to watching Idol as I have for the last 8 years (missed that first year, darn!) I'm always blown away by the talent these contestants have. It also really makes me sad that so many go undiscovered and unappreciated.

  9. I love Nigel... He is making a difference... and a lot of this sounds promising... Time will tell...

  10. Thank you for your well written and very interesting article Shari. I'm excited to hear of all the news for the upcoming season of American Idol. Time will tell if all these changes will make the show more interesting. It sure sounds like the producers are very optimistic about the revised format and so I am looking forward to Season 10 with the hopes it will attract more viewers and renew the faith in its present ones. I really enjoy this show and its purpose of finding new artists, introducing them to America and the world and setting them in a position so they could make it in the big time music world and on their road to success.

  11. Mississaugamom2 ~ Sorry. I can't agree about the instruments, although you do echo the thoughts of many. I think AI has run it's course as a purely singing competition and needs to evolve to hold the interest of the viewers and of the labels. This is about finding good artists. Good performers. Good entertainers. Think of the greats - besides the obvious guitar players, think Elton John and Billy Joel and pianos. How said it would be to exclude talents like these from a show like this? Altho not everyone chooses an instrument, even if they do play one, and that's their choice. (Did you know Lady Antebellum is an excellent pianist?! Just heard that from my hairdresser today- ha - not Gino!) AI is going where it ought to go >>> forward. I for one am anxious to see what happens and will cheer for it's success!! Hey - we need more successes in our world. Not less. I think this all sounds positive. Thanks for the excellent summary of today's announcement, Shari.

  12. I agree with you Cyndee- all good points. You have talked me into hoping for success for AI Season 10. It was so negative last year and I don't enjoy negative. I was not planning on watching season 10 because of the bad taste left in my mouth. Now I am feeling like I might check in occasionally just to see if it is any better. I guess I am having a hard time getting over how awfully they treated some contestants, not just Casey. I will follow your example and try to be positive!

  13. I am glad we don't have a British judge. I don't care that much for Randy. He actually began the Casey take your shirt off thing, and perpetuated the joking many times. Not innocent!
    Casey thought Harry Connick Jr would be good as a judge. So I trusted his judgment. I don't know much about JLo. I am glad someone who likes rock music is a judge. I like the instruments being used. I never thought it should only be about singing, but about the "package" too, including looks, style, character, charisma.
    I will watch it because I always do. I might vote sooner in the competition. This year was more fun with all the youtubes and blogs. I never did follow a contestant past the finale before. I widened my musical knowledge as a result.

  14. PS. Casey was compared to Kenny Wayne Shepherd, and I didn't know who that was. I checked a few youtube vids, and am very impressed by him and his band. Here's a sample if you want to look/listen: "Blue on Black" Live At Guitar Center's King of the Blues