January 13, 2009

All about American Idol

T-minus 4 hours until 'American Idol' roars back into our lives. Can you believe that a year ago, we had never heard of David Cook or David Archuleta? Behold the power of television and a lot of marketing dollars.

As the show enters Season 8, they’re going to have to work hard to keep things feeling fresh.

Obviously, the most noticeable update will be a 4th judge at the table. Her name’s Kara. She’s 38, has written songs for Pink, Gwen Stefani and Hilary Duff and will go between Randy and Paula. All involved insist she’s not being bred as a replacement for Paula, and – considering that Paula Abdul got her involved in the music industry in the first place – I’m willing to bet that’s true.

(Did you know that this isn’t AI’s first attempt at adding a fourth judge? Attempt #1 was in Season 2, but after the first few cities, radio personality Angie Martinez she had to drop out, because she couldn’t handle being mean to people.)

The voting/results/preliminary rounds are going to look a little different this year. Here's how it's going to work:
  1. After the 2-part, 2-hour each season premiere (January 13 & 14), audition episodes will air in 1-hour segments, Tuesdays and Wednesdays from January 20-28. This leads into Hollywood Rounds (which, for the first time are being held in actual Hollywood, not Pasadena). These will be 1-hour segments, February 3, 4, 10 and 11. At the end of the February 11 show (I lied: that one is actually 2 hours), judges will announce the Top 36 (Yes, Top 36 - that's a first).
  2. Once these Top 36 are revealed, they’ll be grouped into 3 groups of 12. For the next three weeks, each of these three groups gets 1 week each: Each week, a different set of 12 will perform on Tuesdays (in a 2-hour show) and the results will air on Wednesdays.
  3. In each results show, the male and female with the highest number of votes instantly becomes a Top 12 finalist. Then, the third highest vote-getter – regardless of gender – will also pass into the Top 12. With me so far? For the math majors out there, you’ll notice that this doesn’t yet add up to 12.
  4. After these three weeks of the Top 36, there will be a special “Wild Card” episode. During this, each semifinalist group’s highest remaining vote-getter who didn't already advance to the Top 12 will perform for the judges.From this Wild Card episode, airing March 5, the judges will choose 3 who advance, to round out the Top 12.
** Potential B.S. Alert: According to the AI producers, not only the highest vote-getters will perform; also “several” additional semi-finalists, “up to 9 or 10”. This will be the point where the producers push through the Sanjaya-wannabes who are awful singers, but for whatever reason good for ratings. **
And then things go back to normal (With the exception of the fact that this year the producers are apparently making an effort to recruit some younger, hipper mentors - I don’t know why they feel that’s necessary, I think kids these days love Dolly Parton, right?).

Something else that’s new is actually a Lack Thereof – For this year at least, 'Idol Gives Back' is no more. I don’t know the reasons behind this, but I’m pretty aghast. This is a fundraising event that not only brings together tons of celebrities and makes for a damn good hour of television – it also has raised over $130 million in the 2 years it ran. Were the sponsors just not there this year? Last year’s sponsors included Ford, Coca Cola, AT&T, iTunes, All State Insurance and MAC. I know the economic crisis is hitting everyone, but somehow I think these giant corporations still have plenty of money. Did the judges not want to travel to third world countries? Did the producers think it would be a hard sell getting viewers to open their wallets in these trying times? Whatever the reason is, it's not good enough, because hard economic times are even harder for those who were in need to begin with.

Let’s not end on a negative note about corporate greed. Instead let’s talk about the real reason that I love 'American Idol,' which can be summarized in two words: Elliott Yamin.

As my favorite 'American Idol' contestant of all time, Elliott Yamin represents all that is good about AI – the chance for someone to come from nowhere and show the world their genuine talent. Of course, that’s what the show is all about, but what makes Elliott so much more awesome is that he did it without a kitsche (Soul Patrol, anyone?) and without being the cutest guy in the bunch. Instead, he used his genuine talent, joy for performing, and just plain ol’ nice-guy-ness – that’s what had me on his side from the get-go, and that’s why he’s the only AI alum whose album I own (and love). Oh Elliott Yamin, you’ll always be my American Idol.