Season 12 Premiere: Worried? Definitely.

This is becoming something of a familiar refrain. Doubts about the long-term survival of Idol, new judges, yet another round of changes… must be another Idol off-season.

To me, though, there seems to be a strong air of Idol In Name Only. To borrow a phrase from a certain tech CEO, Idol is supposed to be about the talent, the talent, the talent. And yet… most of the attention so far has been on the judges. That’s not what I watch Idol for. If I wanted to watch a show with four judges with rather large egos, I’d watch The Voice. If I wanted to watch an utter train wreck, that’s what X-Factor is for.

Some of the “changes” are not reassuring either. This “nomination” bit is pretty much a blatant ripoff of The Voice, and is a fine way to insert some wonderful pimped contestants and/or plants. It’s not necessary, and again, I don’t see the point. Is anybody complaining that the Audition Pimp Pieces weren’t enough?

In any case, my griping about the auditions aside, there are some meaningful changes to the format this year. The full details may be found here, but here’s the short version:

  • Only 40 contestants will survive Hollywood week.
  • In Las Vegas, the field will be cut in half again to 20 semifinalists.
  • America votes for the top 10 finalists.
  • At all stages, there is an even gender split.

The most interesting thing people should note right away: at all stages, this is a pretty drastic reduction in the number of people getting through. For comparison, last year 70 made it to Las Vegas. This reduction also makes the elevator episode unnecessary (with only one elimination in Las Vegas, as opposed to two last year).

If Idol were just about talent, then wouldn’t this mean we’d get better contestants right away? Unfortunately, that is unlikely to be the case. The semifinalists are likely to have the same mix of frontrunners. midcard, and… “novelty” contestants. Historically, contestants with a “good personality” can skate on that for a few weeks before people wake up and realize that they can’t sing. It is amazingly common for good contestants to be left behind in the semifinals in favor of more likable ones. For Season Nine, this was spectacularly obvious.

In a field of twelve finalists, this might not matter as much. However, with only ten finalists, this means that the potential impact is bigger. The gender split doesn’t help: if voting patterns hold and it’s weak girls leaving first, guys who got in on “personality” could go further than usual. I’m not saying this format is necessarily bad; of course it depends on who votes and the contestants themselves. It is fair to say, though, that it increases the risk of a foulup happening. This is very much a fingers-crossed-hope-they-know-what-they’re-doing moment.

Now, there are other changes being talked about. Revealing some vote numbers, regional statistics, all that. Now, the statistical geek in me who’d like to summon the spirit of Nate Silver and do all sorts of number manipulation is thrilled. The purist in me, though, is not particularly pleased. I approve of any change which, I think, will bring out the best in the contestants and improve the singing. These changes… don’t. If anything, this is the sort of addition that turns Idol into a circus and only annoys people like me. Is that still a majority of the Idol audience? Who knows.

In any case, with so much left in the season things could change drastically. But these changes in the format worry me. The judges, worst comes to worst, we can tune them out. (We’ve had plenty of practice.) But a bad format? Sadly, no, there’s no going around that. Things are going to get… interesting.

4 Responses to “Season 12 Premiere: Worried? Definitely.”

  1. Sue says:

    This gets even more complicated in the cut from 20-10 since sympathetic back stories will have even greater importance than normal on contestants whose talent the public barely knows. I wonder if any of the cynicism in generated by dubious sports back stories will have any influence on the initial voting.

    The method used for the last 2 seasons had some advantages. The judges were relatively good screeners of talent. Also, the tests they had before the audience voted eliminated talented contestants who weren’t ready to perform consistently on the Idol stage.

    One thing I remember about season 9 was how many contestants seemed to freeze on live tv. While some were good singers of at least one song, but they weren’t ready for Idol. Season 9 nearly killed Idol.

    Although it certainly produced one of Idol’s greatest stars, Kelly Clarkson, season 1 with 10 finalists had the worst average talent. I’m concerned about having only 10 finalists for the second time.

    If we get unlucky and combine sub-par singers with controversial and unpopular judges, this may cripple Idol.

    We can just wait and see.

    • The Idol Guy says:

      The more I think about it, the more I believe that Idol got unbelievably likely that Kelly Clarkson won Season 1. Without her, Idol would not have been nearly as successful.

  2. Good comments Sue and Idol Guy. I won’t start watching until the Hollywood episodes because I don’t find the joke auditions entertaining and the sob stories will be repeated over and over. As for the judges – that’s what fast forward is for.
    One thing I enjoy is watching the contestants get better each week as they gain experience. Last season’s mentoring seemed to help the less experienced singers improve. But the unlimited voting makes the whole thing a popularity contest, not a singing talent contest. So what if a singer is improving each week. The cute white boy with guitar gets votes from people who have nothing better to do than dial phones no matter now bad a night he had.
    The show is adding more judges to blather. One of the judges seems to have been added to get the attention of viewers who want so see some crazy psycho explosion. The number of contestant appearances is cut down. My votes don’t ever matter. I may lose interest fast in this season unless the SINGING is entertaining. At least on the Voice, the singers sang whole songs and were all good.

  3. Phan says:

    I’m not seeing how the cut from 20 to 10 is any different than the cut from 24 to 10 from the last two seasons. If anything, it sounds like the cut from 40 to 20 will allow for more face time with the semi-finalists who make it to the voting rounds, and I’m all for that.

    I could be reading this very wrong, but from that press release, the Vegas rounds sound like they aren’t going to be the group rounds we’ve gotten before, if 10 semi-finalists are performing each next over two weeks time.