Posts Tagged ‘TPTB’

Season 9 Preseason Roundup: Walk Off The Ledge, People

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

Everyone knew the past Idol season would be dramatic… but there was even more drama and news than anyone thought possible. Paula leaving, Simon declaring this is his last year, Ellen joining the team… turnover is a wee bit high at the Idol judges panel. (It’s not a good sign, though, that in a show that’s supposed to be about a competition and contestants, all of the news was about the judges. Tsk.)

No Need For Panic: The biggest news to emerge out of the Idol offseason was, easily, Simon’s departure.  By the time it was announced it shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone, but that didn’t make the reaction of the Idolsphere…. well, interesting is the word I’d use. Conventional wisdom was that Idol was, essentially, dead – or on life support – without Simon. Of course, I’ve never been a big believer in conventional wisdom. If anything, in Idol-land, conventional wisdom has a pretty bad track record.

So, is Idol dead without Simon? In the short-term, the answer is: no. Remember: despite what TPTB think, people don’t tune in to Idol for the personalities of the judges. (They may well do that for the audition shows, but by the time the actual Idol season starts – i.e., when people can actually start voting – they don’t.) True, Simon Cowell’s biting commentary may have put Idol on the map so many years ago, but shockingly, in a show that’s about music, people tune in for the music.

The problem down the road isn’t so much Simon leaving; it’s X-Factor coming into the picture. I’m not convinced there’s room in the American TV market for both Idol and X-Factor. For all of the differences – and they are significant – both shows will fundamentally be poaching on the same grounds. Sure, they’re not going head to head, but even the biggest fan of Idol-type shows can only take so much in a year. Fox is essentially gambling that there’s room for both Idol and X-Factor in American audiences without one weakening the other, and I don’t think that’s a smart bet.

Everyone knows that X-Factor has been a huge success on the other side of the Atlantic, but I’m not convinced it will actually take be a mega-hit in America. For one, we’ve been through X-Factor Lite on Idol for the past two seasons. The reception has been… mixed would be the kindest word I’d use; downright hostile might be more accurate. Sure, the star power of Simon Cowell and whoever he brings into X-Factor will give it a pretty good start. It might even have a stellar first season.

The bigger question is sustainability – will it be a relatively long-lived franchise like Idol, or will it flame out relatively early in its life, like The Apprentice? Keep in mind that expectations for X-Factor are quite high, and therefore merely winning its timeslot will not be sufficient. It has to be a hit overall, and even if it does well in its first season I can’t see the kind of success lasting for very long. Fundamentally, the last two years of X-Factor Lite has not led me to believe that the full-fledged X-Factor experience will be well-received, and while the star power of Simon Cowell may have some relative short-term appeal, it’s not a good foundation for success.

The New Foursome/Threesome: The jury is still out on Ellen DeGeneres as an Idol judge, largely because we haven’t actually seen her judging. (Carefully edited snippets from Hollywood week do not count.) Sure, she’s an upgrade from Paula, but anyone with a command of English – and their emotions – would be. The real test will really come when the show actually starts broadcasting live, and we all find out if Ellen can get here thoughts in quickly, which was something Paula rarely, if ever, could pull off. Just as important will be the chemistry the judges have – or won’t have, depending on how things work out.

It’s probably a little too early to speculate who’ll replace Simon next year. A lot depends on how the panel works this year. In an ideal world, there’d be no replacement. Simon’s shoes are going to be hard to fill in any case, and any replacement would not be given a fair shake. With both Kara and Randy on the panel, there’s enough Experienced Music Industry Professionals that they don’t really need to add one.

And Now, The Show Itself: There’s been so much news about the judges and the other “backstage” components of Idol that relatively little attention has been paid to the changes in the competition part of the show itself. In any other year, they’d be receiving top billing.

The first of two big changes is really less of a change, and more of undoing bad changes made a year ago: we’re returning to the Top 24 format and discarding last year’s flirtation with the group format. It’s an acknowledgment of how big a failure Season Eight was–and, frankly speaking, it’s the least they could have done. I’d have preferred that they announced they were tossing the Judges’ Save as well, but no word on that has been announced as far as I know.

The other big chance is more significant: up until last year, Idol had done its damnest to pretend the rest of the Internet outside of didn’t exist. No more. Now, all the Top 24 will have official Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace accounts where their fans can follow and support them.

You’d think I’d view it as a significant development, that Idol is finally embracing the Internet, etcetera, etcetera. Not so fast. I smell the faint smell of Astroturf in this development.

Let’s be honest: do I think that it will actually be the contestants themselves who’ll be handling the accounts? No. I have zero confidence that’ll be the case. Given how busy they already are in any given week I can’t see how they’ll find the time to do such things anyway. The Twitter accounts might well be the most “real” – there’s not a lot of time and effort needed to do that – but I have more doubts about Facebook and MySpace.

The suspicious minded half of me thinks the control freak part of 19E is still at work. What I said last year still holds: with contestants and would-be fans wary of 19E manipulation, they’re trying as hard as they can to build their fanbase outside of the show itself. Setting up “official” social networking accounts might strike someone as a good way of co-opting the Idolsphere at large, which (as we saw last year) is not a big fan of 19E right now.

It remains to see how the “official” Idolsphere (as I think of these 19E-created sites) and the long-standing unofficial Idolsphere will get along. It’ll be something to keep an eye on, and for the Idol analysts like me it’ll be another tea leaf to read. But game-changing? No, not quite.

On Probation: Over the years I’ve written quite a few kilometric blog posts – columns, really. This preseason roundup is not one of them. According to WordPress’s nifty little word counter, it’s only about half my preseason roundup from last year. Now, I’m sure some of you are thinking, it’s about time, Leo! You’re not paid by the word, get on with it!

There’s a bigger reason, though. One I’m sure is not alone in the Idolsphere. Season Eight took a lot out of my writing batteries – and, to be honest, our enthusiasm for Season Nine as well. Suffice to say that I’m entering this season with, at best, a guarded eye.

On the other hand, though, there is some cause for optimism. As my friends at WNTS noted, the Idol preseason (which the whole audition and Hollywood episodes are) have been largely free of the blatant favoritism of last year. True, there’s been healthy amounts of largely unneeded drama, but that’s not going to go away.

Still, miracle of miracles, it seems like 19E might actually have learned something from last year. After all, the old adage says nothing concentrates the mind like the prospect of a good hanging. And, frankly, had the Idolsphere had its way last year the gallows would have been ready for quite a few hangings.

After last year, frankly, 19E – and this season of Idol – are on probation. We all have to see that 19E has cleaned up their act, that they really are doing what we’ve wanted all along: run a fair competition. That’s all. If they do that, then we’ll give them the praise they deserve. If they don’t, well… we’ll have to see.

This could be the season that decides the long-term future of American Idol as a franchise. Whatever happens, well… it’s not going to be a boring ride. Life in the Idolsphere rarely is.

Season Post-Mortem, Part 1: The Year The Music Went Away

Sunday, May 10th, 2009

Technically, there are still two weeks left in the season. However, whatever the outcome two Wednesdays from now turns out to be, some conclusions are pretty clear. This season is ready to stand beside the likes of Seasons Three and Six in the roster of infamous Idol seasons.

The list of crimes this season committed are long, and I can’t hope to list all of them. So, for now, let’s just focus on one thing: the music. Or, rather, the lack of it.

Up to this point, Season Eight has featured 120 performances on voting nights. We can expect six songs each week, bringing the total to 132. Sounds like a lot, right? Well, let’s put that in context. Last year had 156 songs – just like Seasons Four and Five, and only four more than Season Six. That’s a 15.4% decrease in the number of songs – and less, in fact, than any other season except Season One. (Marginally, to be fair – Seasons Two and Three had 136 each.)

It gets worse if you look at the numbers for the contestants who get to the end. The two Davids each left the season with a total of 20 performances. So did the finalists of two other seasons – Seasons Four and Five. Thanks to losing one week of double-song nights due to Idol Gives Back, Jordin Sparks and Blake Lewis only put under 19 performances. Ruben Studdard, Fantasia Barrino, and Diana DeGarmo had one less performance – 18 for each. (Due to passing through the wildcard, Clay Aiken had 19.)

And this year? The finalists will leave with, in all likelihood, at most 16 performances. That’s less than any other season except… Season One. That’s a 20% decrease for, supposedly, the very best of the season to get a chance to show off their music.

Why is this relevant? Why, you may ask, have I fixated on this seemingly obscure statistic? It’s illustrative of perhaps the biggest problem this season has had.

Two things help American Idol do so well, both as a TV show and as a cultural phenomenon: music and public participation. It may have needed the added drama that reality TV loves to get it started, but it doesn’t. Not anymore. (Yes, I said drama was the other part. I was wrong then, in hindsight.)

Take away either leg, and like the Tower of Babel the Idol giant starts to fall. It’s that simple. However, this year, the Idol powers that be have done their best to undermine both. This is not a formula for success.

How has the music been undermined? After all, aren’t these supposedly The Most Talented Contestants Ever? (Never mind that they say that every year?)

First of all, as I detailed above, we’re seeing less performances than before. The reason is clear to anyone who’s watching the shows: the level of “filler” and talking has gone up, and the actual singing has gone down. Adding a fourth judge has turned out to be a remarkably dumb idea so far. Kara hasn’t been a disaster by herself, but has she really added anything new to the show? In our book, no. The downside, though, is clear: the three other judges never adjusted to her presence – the necessary adjustment being talking less. One might as well ask Randy and Paula to stop talking less at about the same time as you’d ask a politician to waste less money.

However, I can imagine the reaction to that already: it’s not quantity, it’s quality, you ignorant fool! And, to some degree, I agree with that. However, have the performances really been that good? Let’s see.

If one looks at the What Not to Sing numbers, you’d think this would be a good season. After all, the season average stands at 51.2 – highest of any season to date. However, as I said at the turn of the year when I looked at song age, averages isn’t everything.

What may well be more important than the average is how many performances are well-regarded by the Idolsphere. And in that, this season has done poorly. There have only been 14 performances that earned a five-star rating; four-star performances total only 32. In both categories, that’s a significant drop not just from last year, but from earlier seasons as well. The only area of improvement in in one-star ratings: there are less of those than any other season to date, and unless Danny Gokey decides to reprise The Scream from on, it’ll stay that way.

Just as problematic is the distribution of performances. There were some very good singers who went pretty far – Adam Lambert, Kris Allen, and Allison Iraheta have all been pretty strong singers. Beyond those three, however, the picture is much less rosy. Alexis Grace went home far earlier than she should have, and the rest ranges from the maddeningly inconsistent (Anoop Desai and Matt Giraud) to the downright terrible (Megan Joy, Scott Macintyre, Lil Rounds towards the end).

In short, what we had this year was a relatively small number of very good people holding up a mediocre top 12 overall. That’s not a recipe for a good season. Sitting through two or more miserable performances for each gem week after week gets old after some time, and that’s clearly where we’ve gotten to right now. It tends to be true to some degree every season, but it’s especially true this year.

It’s especially clear, then, that the music has suffered this year. What about the public participation? Well, that has gone downhill too.

Let’s begin with the top 12 that America voted into the finals… or, more correctly, the top 8. Four contestants were chosen by the judges themselves, in what can only be called a complete and utter sham.

It’s hard to underestimate the damage the “improved” semifinals did. Going back to the group format, by itself, was bad enough – but the matter how it was done was even worse. As I predicted, the groups were cleverly manipulated to get favored contestants through – or, conversely, the unpimped out. By far, it largely succeeded. The only two contestants who were largely unpimped but managed to squeak through to the finals were Kris Allen and Allison Iraheta.

However, if the group rounds by themselves were bad, the wildcard was even worse. Only one word can be used to describe it: a sham. Group 3, who had collectively refused to lay down for the Idol bus by singing well, sent only one representative – a representative who wasn’t anywhere near one of the better singers in the group. (Felicia Barton, anyone?) In addition, the “picks” to be sent ahead despite being turned down by America weren’t all that impressive either. Megan Joy and Jasmine Murray deserved to be sent through ahead of Ricky Braddy? Really?

If that wasn’t enough, the Judge’s Save also furthered this feeling of public disengagement. The votes of millions of Americans could be suddenly overruled by the fiat of a judging panel that included the likes of Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell. That was a far from comforting thought.

Manipulation by 19E has always been a part of Idol, but in the recent past there were limits. After picking the semi-finalists, direct meddling in contestant survival wasn’t there – it just wasn’t possible. This year, not only did they restore a tool for doing just that that had been consigned to Idol‘s past, they expanded the coverage of that tool from three contestants to four and reserved the right to ignore America when they found it convenient. This was a power grab of the worst possible magnitude, as applied to Idol.

If there was one deep, underlying flaw in this season, it was this. Idol‘s Powers That Be forgot what made the show successful. They forgot that good music and an engaged viewing audience is what makes for a good season. Instead, they thought they could “manufacture” what they thought would be a good season.

What else can explain the list of bizarre decisions that have been made this season – except that it has made the producers more powerful? The “save” (that no one was really calling for), the return to maligned group rounds, the ever-more-blatant manipulations – the only thing in common was the increased power it gave the producers.

Idol has been a smashing success for seven years – almost an eternity in the land of television. Sadly, however, success has a way of going to the heads of people. Idol‘s producers thought that they could do better than America; they thought that they were responsible.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The very best seasons – and winners – have not been creations from Idol producers. They were the direct result of brilliant singers being embraced by a public.

Yet that isn’t how this season has gone so far. The music has not been as good as it was in previous years; and while Adam and Danny both have their share of passionate fans, this year’s competition has just not captured viewers – and fans – the way previous seasons have.

Who can blame them, though? Too many of the contestants this season were not of their choosing. Instead of America being allowed to witness a contestant grow their craft, wow the audience with good songs, and be gradually embraced as a champion – the sort of stuff that happened to great winners like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, David Cook – the producers gave that status to their favorites, like Adam and Danny. Adam has earned the title of frontrunner, Danny hasn’t. His best performance was his group performance back in the semis. That’s shocking, to put it bluntly.

Remember, too, that the entire top 12 was made up of heavily pimped contestants… with the exception of Kris and Allison. The entire season to date has been so heavily manipulated, the votes of America barely matter. Pre-show promotion, not necessarily musical merit, has determined far too much of this season.

It’s not just the competition itself which has been battered by this newfound notion of the producers that they matter. The shows themselves are now as much about the judges as the talent – which it shouldn’t be. Yet that’s exactly what’s happened. Both this past week, and this coming Tuesday, we will be denied singing – the whole point of a singing competition – because the judges could not shut up. We, the Idol viewing audience, will be denied good music so that we can listen to the hormonally-driven ramblings of Paula and Kara, the dawg-iness of Randy, and Simon’s snark. That isn’t a fair trade in our book.

There is only one word in the English dictionary to describe this sort of nonsense. Hubris. The producers now think that they are indispensable to the success of Idol. Not the singers that leave their heart out on the stage. Not the voters who dedicate time, money, and effort to vote. They, and they alone, are what makes Idol successful – in their minds.

They are wrong. Horribly, terribly, wrong. This season is proving that. While the ratings have somewhat stabilized from the early season declines, rarely have I seen a fanbase angrier than the Idol fanbase is now. Can any show really piss off its fans and live? I doubt it.

There’s a saying that says pride goes before the fall. One has to wonder how close Idol – and its producers – are to that. It’s probably closer – far closer – than it should be. And, as a fan of the show, I will say: that is not, and cannot, be a good thing.

Top 11 Results: “I Told You So”… literally!

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

Somehow, Carrie Underwood and Randy Travis singing I Told You So was strangely appropriate. Far and away the consensus pick to go home was Michael Sarver; instead based largely on DialIdol and song age I made the call that Alexis Grace would end up in the bottom. My only mistake was to believe that Alexis’s exit would be vetoed. I was wrong on that part. Still, I was a lot closer than Conventional Wisdom was.

I already explained yesterday why Alexis was in very real danger. Her low Dialidol score tipped us off to look at the numbers more closely. Her average and median song age was disproportionately high – over 30 when everyone else except Adam Lambert was in the low 20s or below. With everyone else singing very young, singing old songs becomes much more noticable. If you’re Adam Lambert, you have a gimmick that surpasses that. She didn’t; and just one so-so performance when others elevated their game was enough to get her out of there.

Alexis can also be considered a casualty of the new semifinals format as well. One of the challenges coming out of the group rounds is that it became that much harder to build up any significant fanbase out of them: one song, with a multi-week gap, does not a solid fanbase make.

It’s something that can hurt people all season long – particularly for singers out of Group 1. In the three seasons that had the group format, only one contestant ever made it to the finale after singing in the first group. That was Season 3’s Diana DeGarmo; and her ride to the finale was far from smooth. It’s hard to build momentum if you’re not singing for several weeks in a row.

Her exit can be summed up quickly, and fairly. Despite all the pimpage and promotion she got, there were problems. She had a fanbase that didn’t have a chance to solidify, and couldn’t grow because of limited appeal – winning over the young power-voting Idol blocs with Aretha Franklin and Dolly Parton was a hard task, at best. Yes, she was a good, maybe even great singer – but to succeed on Idol you need to know your audience. Alexis Grace and Idol voters proved to be a bad fit.

There’s a rich element of irony when it comes to this week’s results, though. The producers’s own rule change worked against them. Alexis would have almost certainly survived if she had gone through a three-song semifinal. It would have given her fanbase a chance to solidify, and for her to define her musical identity (which she didn’t do too well, Kara DioGuardi’s exceptionally useless advice of dirtying it up notwithstanding). As it is, though, someone that TPTB wanted to advance far is ending up going home as a direct result of executive meddling. Alexis just got caught in about as unlucky a spot as you can imagine.

Now, as to why they didn’t save her? The answer to that is tied into someone else… Adam Lambert. I’ll get back to him in a little while.

Hold the champagne: Strategically, there was one overwhelming theme for the night: favorites faltered while the midcard upped their game. Who knows, maybe everyone outside the Favored Four Three are surprisingly Genre Savvy – they can’t be all too happy at the idea of meekly standing by while the Coronation of the Producers’ Idol proceeds as planned. Kris Allen, Matt Giraud, and Anoop Desai were all midcard singers at best previous to this show – now you have to at least consider them in the mix.

Danny Gokey and Lil Rounds can recover without too much trouble. They didn’t really stink too much, they were just… mediocre. It’s the type of performance that voters won’t hold against you too much. Last week will almost certainly be better for both of them – if only because it’s hard to make worse song choices than either of them did. As I said yesterday – Carrie Underwood and Martina McBride? Seriously? That’s like carrying a wooden stick to a gunfight. While neither of them is in danger – yet – they both need a good, undisputed showstopper in the next two to four weeks if they want to get in the final four.

Kris, Matt, and Anoop all need to be able to prove that this week wasn’t a fluke. Even normally bad contestants can put it all together if they can find a theme, song, and arrangement that fits them like a glove. If they can pull it off, the upside could be significant. The dark horse in here is Kris – his vocals are not as good as Anoop’s, but better at conveying emotions. Giraud doesn’t really have the vocals to compete with either one.

There’s one puzzle in the Touring Ten that I haven’t quite figured out: Allison Iraheta. She’s sung well, her songs are young, and so is she. I don’t have any Idolmetric measurement that says she’s in danger. She should not be in the bottom three (now two). On the flip side, she’s likely to pick up at least some votes from Alexis’s old fanbase. Beyond that… well, even I don’t have the answer for that.

There’s a pretty clear division, too, about who’s clearly lagging behind: Michael Sarver, Scott Macintyre, and Megan Joy. Right now, they’re all getting by on something other than singing. Michael’s probably safe for two weeks – see the latest WNTS editorial for the reasoning behind that, but the order is immaterial. None of them are going to win, and the only question is how many others will go before they do.

And then we have Adam Lambert. He really deserves a section of his own.

Damaged Goods? Maybe.: The debate over Adam’s version of Ring of Fire will probably last until the season ends, if not even longer. Still, it’s undeniable that it did change things around.

I was never a big believer in Adam Lambert, largely because I thought the theatrics covered up a voice that didn’t know the meaning of subtlety. Adam’s style was just not sustainable in the long term. The novelty would eventually wear thin, and my money was on him finishing in the high midcard – fourth to sixth.

I know I’m going to be challenged on that statement, so let me explain it a bit more. Adam has zero crossover ability. He can’t appeal to a wide cross-section of Idol voters; people that liked that over-the-top theatric style would love it from the start, but it would have been an uphill climb to win those who don’t. That crossover ability is vital to lasting long on the show.

With that in mind, Adam’s challenge was essentially how long he could keep going along this path before leaving, or proving that he’s more than a stage actor that happens to sing decently, too. The trouble is, though, his version of Ring of Fire was so… unusual, it sped up that process. From Idol voters, a pretty common reaction was:  “what the heck was that?”

I’m sure this will prompt Adam’s fans to write in anger. I’m not going to deny that he has fans – but I think that for everyone one he won over, there was at least one who now wants to burn him at the stake and another two scratching their heads.

That’s not to deny that he has talent. He is very, very good at what he does. What I’m questioning is whether this is something that the collective Idol fan base can really stomach for long. Everything I’ve known about it tells me: no.

The upside is that right now, Adam is looking iffy for the finale. The producers are perfectly happy to keep him around as long as they want. Remember, the underlying goal – seemingly – of the whole season – was Drama and Buzz. I can’t deny Adam delivers on that.

The effect of that was to make the veto an exceptionally valuable tool for the producers – one that just wouldn’t do to be used right now. Phil Stacey had it right: the “veto” is essentially an insurance policy for Danny and Adam.

Once the novelty and appeal of Adam’s theatrics go away, he’s surprisingly vulnerable. By far, he is singing the oldest songs in the competition on average. There’s a decent chance he could crash out, say, seventh. We’ve had three weeks of Adam singing in competition – is his current pace and style something that can work for two months or so? I doubt it.

Taken all in context, what’s clear to me is that the Judges’ Veto just became Adam’s Veto. It’s not going to be used on anyone else, except maybe Danny – but he doesn’t really need it. Adam does.

If Adam had not sung Ring of Fire – if the producers had believed that he could survive for a long period independently, as they probably don’t right now – they would have had freedom to use the veto now and save Alexis. However, the producers have their own priorities – and one of them seems to be Save Adam. The judges and producers want Adam to go deep so badly they’re willing to keep the veto in check even in a perfect spot to use it, all because it wasn’t Adam up there.

Credibility? What credibility?: Having laid out the case for not using the Veto so early, one can ask why I thought Alexis would be saved anyway.

It essentially came down to two things: I knew Alexis was still a judge’s favorite and might be treated more kindly. The other reason was more pipe dreams than anything else: they needed credibility. So far, off the Idol stage, the season has been dominated by ham-handed manipulation. What we got on Wednesday was… more of the same.  Does anyone think that on pure merit alone Alexis should be gone before Michael Sarver? Really?

No. Of course not. It would have been the perfect time to use the veto and live up to what they claimed it was for. Instead, it became another self-sustained injury for the Idol franchise. This week confirmed what we all had just suspected before, and will make people even more tired of the Official Manipulation.

The bye-ku returns!I didn’t have time to do this last week, but… the bye-ku returns. Here’s our official farewell to Alexis Grace in verse:

Mother with pink streaks
Stop! Song older than thirty!
Shocker to many

Top 13 Results: Fixing What Isn’t Broken

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

In a season where the main complaint has been blatant manipulation by the producers and judges, the hyped “twist” to the rules involves… increased influence by those same individuals responsible for causing the Idolsphere sudden bouts of anger and annoyance. I couldn’t make this up if I tried.

For those who missed the results show, here’s how it goes. From now until the top 5, the judges can decide once to “save” who should be going home. All four judges have to agree to “save” someone, however – it cannot be a split verdict.

The official spin is that this is to meant to stop the “shock boots” – examples given were Chris Daughtry, Michael Johns, and Jennifer Hudson. If you actually believe that, I have a bridge to sell you.

Before I go any further, let’s get this out there: the invocation of Chris Daughtry to justify this rule was completely ridiculous. Last I checked, Daughtry went out at… top 4. According to Ryan Seacrest, the judges can only save someone until the top five. Unless they suddenly changed mathematics – and I wouldn’t put it past the Idol producers to try that – four is less than five. Complete and utter fail.

Back to the meat of the issue. If you’ve been reading us or many of the other Idol writers that actually think and don’t swallow what 19E and Fox PR agents say, you should know by know that shock boots… aren’t, if you know what to look for. These aren’t just made-up reasons either; they’re good, logical reasons why someone would leave.

Consider: Michael Johns got held up as another example of someone leaving too soon, but he wasn’t. I’m frankly mystified that he’s being held up as an example of this super-good singer anyway; here’s what I said about him last year:

he had a tendency to turn songs into flavorless, generic songs that weren’t bad, but couldn’t be described as memorable. There was nothing in his performances that could make you point and say “that’s Michael, right there.”

As for the other cited examples, there were good reasons for those departures too. Jennifer Hudson? Vote-splitting – America wants diversity in its contestants, and she wasn’t in the same league as either Fantasia Barrino or LaToya London. Chris Daughtry? Setting aside the fact that this new rule change wouldn’t apply to him, he had little crossover appeal at the time. Success on Idol is a lot about having just that, and at the time he had precious little. (His Top 4 performances weren’t much to write home about, to boot.)

I could go on a lot longer, and point out why all of these shock boots really weren’t. I could also point out why none of them would probably have won either. In the end, though, what matters is this: in the long run, the Idol voting audience gets it right. They’re relatively unbiased, and I trust them more than I ever would the judging panel.

So, in effect, this rule change is “fixing” something that isn’t really broken anyway. Now, I’m not a paranoid conspiracy theorist, but you don’t have to be one to know the Idol PTB didn’t do this out of the blue. So, let’s take a look: who wins under this setup?

The winner here is obvious: the producers. Again. So far, they’re the only ones winning this season. Everyone else – contestants, viewers, voters – has lost. What does this mean? You guessed it – this is another new and improved way to manipulate the results. Great.

It’s a safe bet that this save will not necessarily be used for the best contestants, but who the producers – and judges – like the most. The likely winners of this are contestants who the judges like, but America may eventually tire of. In short, it’s another way to keep the Pimped in the spotlight for one more week – and hopefully more, since the fanbase of a saved contestant is going to vote like there’s no tomorrow the next week.

The best thing that can be said about it is it’s better than the rumors of a Sing For Your Life-style boot. That would have been an utter disaster; it would turn Idol from a competition into a coronation. I doubt the American viewing public would tune in to that.

We really are in strange times: If you needed further proof of the strangeness of the season, guess who the best judge was last night. You can make a decent case it was Paula. She was a bit over the top for both Danny Gokey and Adam Lambert, but otherwise? She was spot on most of the time. The question of will-she-or-won’t-she-stay is always around Paula, but I like this new-and-improved Paula Abdul.

Speaking of the judges… two points about Simon this week. First of all, it’s one thing to go after contestants; going after families is inexcusable. Yet that’s exactly what Simon did with Kris Allen. It’s not really mentioning Allen’s wife herself that annoyed us, it was the throwaway mention of her, with no care, as if she was just a thing. Really, Simon, you know better than that. Poetic justice would have been either Kris or his wife hitting Simon right on the head with the guitar.

Meanwhile, his comment to Scott Macintyre was an Unintended Learning Moment. That comment about not being “artsy” on Idol… really? I’ve seen plenty of good, artistic performances before. If Simon apparently thinks that artistry has no place on Idol and is more powerful backstage with Nigel Lythgoe’s departure… well, I think we can all say who deserves a large chunk of the blame for what’s happened this year.

Cannon fodder defined: Eliminations this early don’t really require a great deal of analysis. There’s a noticable gap between the good singers who deserve to stay, and those who don’t. This week was no different.

The question with Jasmine Murray isn’t so much why she left now, it’s more like how she got this far. The judges have had this entirely irrational love affair with Jasmine as a “package artist”. It’s obvious why: Jasmine is young, good-looking, likable – she has all the intangibles needed to succeed. Unfortunately, she couldn’t really sing that well. At all. At least America had the sense never to advance Murray. She’s the modern-day equivalent of Leah LaBelle.

What about Jorge Nunez? He was an okay to good singer, but he had a charisma deficit. He just couldn’t engage viewers as well as anyone else. It didn’t help that a lot of people thought his performance on Tuesday night was bad, and the judges didn’t mince their comments. Idolmetrics – specifically, song age – weighed in too. He had the highest median song age of the whole top 13, by a pretty wide margin. At 36.5 years, his only “competition” was Alexis Grace (31.5) and Adam Lambert (31). Grace and Lambert, of course, are actually pretty good. Nunez isn’t in that category.

Oh, and aside here. This crop of finalists is, so far, singing very young. After Lambert, the next highest median song age belongs to Matt Giraud – only 26, and an even lower average of 22.33. Some of it can be attributed to the theme – Michael Jackson is pretty recent, as far as Idol picks go. I still maintain that singing young songs is better, all other things being equal, than old ones. It’ll be interesting to see if this crop can continue this going forward.