By Verne Gay
“American Idol” — At least the name hasn’t changed. (Yet.)
Just about everything else has or will, as the 10th season gets under way tonight at 7 on Fox.
Sometimes change is good. Sometimes change is bad. And, sometimes change is necessary. Which will be which on the new edition?
For the first time, “Idol” will have three judges (Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez, Steven Tyler) who are professional musicians with significant bodies of work. They can walk the walk and get others to talk the talk — or at least sing the darn song in tune.
Good/bad? On paper, very good. Onscreen, we will all find out at the same time. This is an especially dramatic change, considering Simon Cowell’s complete domination of everything “Idol” was or perhaps ever will be.
The new “Idol” will be about building talent, not demolishing it, or as co-producer Nigel Lythgoe said during the recent TV press tour, the judges will say, “In order to stop you packing your suitcase to go home, this is what you should be looking at doing.”
Good/bad? Nice “Idol.” Kind “Idol.” Since when did “Idol” become a Sunday school picnic? Weren’t judges supposed to be assisting all along, Simon included? And when did a little tough love —when warranted — hurt anyone?
This seems like a bad change. However, “Idol” clearly wants to get people proficient enough to sell albums again, reversing a stunning and worsening drought. Last season’s winner Lee DeWyze sold a paltry 39,000 albums in the first week. If only Simon had been nicer to him.
This is a huge reboot, if “reboots” could indeed be huge. Gone is the Top 24, when viewers got to vote for people they barely knew from the preceding Hollywood rounds (which is apparently why it’s gone); instead, 60 go to Las Vegas, then 20 are zapped after working with the cast of the Cirque du Soleil Beatles’ show, “Love.”
Forty go back to Hollywood, then a sudden-death viewer voting round will eliminate 20 more. Judges reveal the Top 20 on Feb. 24, and the Top 10 on March 3, when they’ll add their wild-card picks.
Good/bad? Definitely good. This feels interesting, dynamic, dramatic and unusual … versus the tired same-old, same-old. And with the wild cards intact, this should protect the genuinely good singers from the tyranny of the masses.
Interscope Records chief and “Idol” in-house mentor Jimmy Iovine will offer the aforementioned tough love by whipping finalists into shape with (reportedly) the help of producers such as Ron Fair and Timbaland.
Good/bad? This certainly seems good, if Iovine is a Simon Cowell replica in terms of style and bite.
Another change will allow contestants to stick with the genre they’re most comfortable with. That seems like a sensible adjustment that could play to the strength of the producers Iovine brings in over the course of the season.
There is a new goal this year, as well: to actually identify a “superstar.”
Good/bad? Good, in theory. But ask yourself — would Lady Gaga or Taylor Swift endure the “Idol” meat grinder? Hard to imagine why. Unless this new “remix” (Randy’s word) edition succeeds, others won’t, either. But producers deserve credit for attacking the problems at their source.
The ninth season of “Idol” was deadly. Already the 10th seems better.