A new panel of judges is only the beginning in revitalizing a stale, complacent show
Despite the premise of the headline, these ideas aren't going to fix "American Idol." Everyone perceives it as past its peak, and you can't erase those kind of perceptions. But it's still a highly valuable television property, with a 10-million-plus viewership, and it's worth salvaging. So, offered in the spirit of altruistic generosity, here are five suggestions that might help arrest the decline -- or at least buy "Idol" some time.
Some of these ideas have been out there, of course, but the encouraging thing is that a few have been discussed in quotes attributed to the show's producers or FOX executives. Especially this first one:
1. Shake up the judges
It's already happening. Randy Jackson has announced his departure. Nicki Minaj quickly followed suit. Keith Urban has a career to return to, and another season of Mariah Carey's verbal fumblings and bloated salary would seem out of the question. It would be worth trying to keep Nicki -- the sharpest judge "Idol" has ever had when she was "on" (which was not constant). But she did polarize viewers and, from her own standpoint, has accomplished the mass-market penetration goals her judging tenure granted her. She probably feels she needs to get back to her own proper career. Retaining Keith would be fine, but it's not a must.
There seems to be a corporate desire to cut the panel back to three judges, find some articulate industry insiders and avoid superstars and their super salaries. If so, why not make the obvious move and let Jimmy Iovine transition from de facto judge to the actual panel? His taste is variable, but he's not afraid to criticize and doesn't shirk controversy. The other prospective judge waiting in the wings is Harry Connick Jr., the show's most candid mentor and someone who would bring a most desirable functioning sense of humor to the proceedings. You'd need a female presence, and it would be smart to sidestep the smothering/mothering types (Paula Abdul, Jennifer Lopez, Mariah). Blake Shelton is the coach who makes "The Voice" tick. Why not give his wife, the undeniably spunky Miranda Lambert (a former TV music-contest graduate to boot), a shot?
Some "Idol" observers have raised the possibility of choosing a former contestant as a judge. Kelly Clarkson, who was as personable as usual in her stint on the short-lived "Duets," would be the most logical, but her omnipresence on other shows (besides "Duets," she was also a mentor on "The Voice" and sang on the "X Factor" UK) may rule her out. The name of Melinda Doolittle has been mentioned, and it's pretty likely that Taylor Hicks would be available. And Clay Aiken was a pretty mean judge on an "Idol" parody during the penultimate episode of "The Office."
One other point: If "X Factor" is canceled after this fall, make a run at Simon Cowell. It might backfire in the long run, but he's the guy who made "Idol" the sensation it became.
2. Open up the song list
That means, first and foremost, ditch the themes. One of the recurring complaints about "Idol" is that the songs are too old and there's a disconnect with many of the singers. The restrictions of certain themes ensure that old songs will be picked, usually the most familiar and well-worn ones. Getting rid of themes (which reportedly is being considered) won't eliminate the oldies, but it's natural that young performers will gravitate to songs from their eras, and the average song age is sure to go down. Wide-open choice has been a secret weapon for "The Voice" in its rise to ratings superiority over "Idol." When you can get a range of music encompassing -- as "The Voice" did in its top 12 show -- the Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way," George Jones' "Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes" and Robyn's "Call Your Girlfriend," it's easy to understand why. If the "Oh, wow" factor is theoretically infinite, a lot of excitement will return to "Idol."
3. Rethink the auditions and Hollywood
"Idol" seasons have been getting off to bad starts for years now thanks to deeply embedded flaws in the audition and Hollywood telecasts. The sheer number of singers trying out may look impressive on screen and attest to the allure of the show, but it seems like a cattle call and a long, dreary trudge to reduce the cast to a number you can actually become familiar with. "Idol" is the last show to require unaccompanied auditions. And while that may be the purest way to evaluate vocal quality, it becomes an ordeal for the viewer to hear four weeks of a cappella tryouts. The contrived audition atrocities break up the monotony a little, but they've become predictable and tedious in their own right.
And finally, because the show is taped in advance all the way up to the semifinals, the producers can play favorites with the standout singers or the heartstring-tuggers, and give them disproportionate airtime. "The Voice" has its share of emotion-provoking back stories, but at least every auditioner shown (except the unfortunates compressed into a montage) gets more or less equal time.
4. Stop manipulating us
Which leads to a larger point: A substantial boost in objectivity on the part of the producers would be a big help. Reduce the favoritism shown to the front-runners. Stop trying to engineer a winner. Too long a winning streak for white guys with guitars is no excuse to make sure they're all gone before the public gets a chance to vote, as happened this season. It's also not good for the long-term health of the show to choose such a hapless group of guys that an all-female finale is practically a done deal.
5. Dump the filler -- or at least improve it
Most "Idol" viewers have watched enough television to realize that certain competition shows and all results episodes require padding to fill out their allotted 60, 90 or 120 minutes. Most "Idol" viewers have also watched enough of this show to realize that group performances and duets are a complete waste of time, seldom if ever doing either the songs or the singers any justice whatsoever. On competition nights, if filler is needed, use mentoring sessions or the generally entertaining interludes in which contestants pile on each other to reveal embarrassing or amusing personality traits. On results shows, add guest stars. And make sure they're the brightest hitmakers of the day or the most legendary performers of the past. This season's nostalgia wallow of endless former-contestant returns was too insular, too self-congratulatory and several miles away from true "event television." Give us more reasons to tune in.
None of these ideas, as stated above, will bring "Idol" back to the days of 25-million-plus audiences. But they can help revitalize a stale show that too often complacently coasts on past glories.
'All-Star' finalists open to collaboration for a future season
"Celebrity Apprentice" finalists Penn Jillette and Trace Adkins are eyeing a collaboration for a future season. The Las Vegas illusionist and the country superstar will meet in the boardroom for this Sunday's "All-Star Celebrity Apprentice" finale, but it may not be their last appearance on the show, the duo tells Zap2it.com. If they have it their way, they will be working together under "Apprentice" boss Donald Trump next time. Jillette says, "I would do it in a second, except for the time -- and if they promised me Trace would be on my team."
Both men had to adjust from their normal lives to survive the competition. Adkins struggled to spend so much time surrounded by people explaining, "They work you for 16 hours a day, and you have to be around people 16 hours a day. That is not how I live my life. I have sanctuaries in my life, and I decompress. And when I don't have the opportunity to do that, I become a little stir crazy and perhaps a little dangerous." Likewise, Jillette found the mental struggle that goes hand in hand with Trump's tasks to be the most difficult part: "There are occasional moments when you are working on something, and you know one on the team is wrong. And everyone knows, and you can't say anything because it will come back and bite you on the ass in the boardroom." The winner of "Celebrity Apprentice" will be revealed this Sunday.
Vivid lists 'used' item, complete with fake tan stains, on eBay
The bikini "Teen Mom" star Farrah Abraham wore for the photo on her sex tape cover is up for auction. The porn studio behind the release of the tape, Vivid Entertainment, listed the sequin-lined swimsuit on eBay at a starting bid of $500 on Wednesday. At press time, the two-piece's asking price has climbed north of $13,000. The listing advertises the Poolside Collection bikini as "used," complete with fake tan stains and glitter from Abraham's body lotion.
The item was not washed since the "Teen Mom" star wore it for a private photo shoot. The listing reads, "Farrah's bikini ... straight off Farrah's body and into your hands." The online auction runs until next Wednesday at midnight.]]>
Rookie judge has enjoyed experience even despite firing rumors
"American Idol" judge Keith Urban is eager to return for a second season on the panel, despite rumors show producers are planning a major cast shake-up. Last week, veteran judge Randy Jackson announced he would be leaving the singing competition after 12 seasons with the show, and there is growing speculation that he may not be the only star leaving the four-person panel. His co-judges this year -- Urban, Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj -- are all reportedly on the chopping block, as producers struggle to find ways to increase the show's declining ratings. But despite the firing rumors, Urban attests that his freshman year on "Idol" has been a great experience. And if he was asked back, he would have no doubts of returning.
He tells "Access Hollywood," "I would return in a heartbeat. I love all of it, and I've loved this journey. I really have. I've loved watching the journey of all of these artists from these little audition moments we find them in and then seeing them come all this way. It's really extraordinary watching them evolve." While Urban insists he does not have insider info on casting, at least one person who is confirmed to return is host Ryan Seacrest, who has been the emcee of the series since its inception in 2002.
'American Idol' fixture confirms return but would step aside for singer
Ryan Seacrest has confirmed he will be returning to host "American Idol," but he'll step aside if Justin Bieber wants the gig. Longtime host Seacrest has endorsed the pop sensation to fill his shoes as host of the hit singing competition, should show producers decide not to ask him back. Seacrest tells "Entertainment Tonight," "I think Bieber would make a great host. I think he would be good at the phone numbers, and he would fit in my suits."
But the current host fully intends to remain with the show: "I don't want to say yes, and then get a call tomorrow. As far as I know, yes, I'm coming. I'm showing up. Hopefully, they'll let me in." Meanwhile, all the rumors about "American Idol" judges departing the show with Randy Jackson make for just another day at the office for Seacrest, who adds,, "Aside from Randy saying he's leaving, this season at the end is really no different than seasons past - with rumors that circulate about the panel." When "Idol" starts up again later this year, Seacrest will be the only star from the show's first season, which he co-hosted with TV personality Brian Dunkleman.
Former contestant eager to show off his slimmer body
Chaz Bono wants another chance on "Dancing With the Stars" to show off his slimmer body after shedding a staggering 65 pounds in just six months. The activist sported a trimmer physique at Tuesday's "Dancing With the Stars" 300th episode celebration in Hollywood, where he announced his desire to compete on the hit dancing show again. He believes his shrinking waistline will boost his chances of hoisting the Mirrorball Trophy.
He tells People, "I'd love to do 'Dancing' all over again. I'd do it much better now than I did it then. Physically, my body feels just so much better." The 44-year-old embarked on his weight-loss mission in November. As a result, his confidence has grown: "I really like what I see in the mirror (now)." Bono admitted his weight-loss journey is "slowing down now and getting harder," but adds, "It was never really about a number. It was just about getting healthy and feeling and looking better. So I'm just kind of letting my body dictate. I've been eating the same way now for months and months, and that hasn't changed. I'm going to have to eat this way for the rest of my life."
Judge credits show with getting through 'mental things and some fears'
Demi Lovato's first season as an "X Factor" judge helped her recover from a stint in rehab. The singer used her panel position on the series to help her get over her health battles but admits that she doubted her mental readiness for the show as she accepted the position just three months after a rehab stint in 2011.
She tells MTV, "I think someone that's recovering from an eating disorder can only be in front of the camera so much before it starts to play mind games." The whole experience influenced Lovato to "get through some mental things and some fears" because the aspiring contestants of the Simon Cowell-led show looked up to her. She adds, "It also held me accountable to still be that light in other people's eyes and an inspiration to people."
'Dancing With the Star's finalist to share lifestyle and fashion tips with fans
"Dancing With the Stars" finalist Zendaya is planning to share her top lifestyle and fashion tips with young fans in her new book. The Disney Channel star is only 16-years old. But after years as a working actress in the entertainment industry, she's ready to share what she's learned over the years with her adoring devotees.
Zendaya is keeping her business in the family, by inking her first-ever book deal with Disney Publishing Worldwide. Titled "Between U and Me: How to Rock Your Tween Years With Style and Confidence," the guide will feature her personal photos, recipes, music playlists and more. While her first book doesn't hit shelves until August 6, her fans can continue to vote for her on "Dancing With the Stars," as she heads into the season finale next Monday.