It's Not 'Adult Contemporary Idol,' So Why Are Guests So Old?

Average age of this season's visiting coaches is 57.

No one knows for sure the average age of the "American Idol" viewer (though Fox and Nielsen probably have a pretty good guess), but it's likely not 57.

That is, however, the average age of this season's celebrity coaches: Stevie Wonder (56), Barry Manilow (59), Kenny Rogers (67), Queen's Brian May (58) and Roger Taylor (56), Rod Stewart (61), Andrea Bocelli (48), David Foster (56) and Tommy Mottola (56).

Veteran guests are nothing new to the "Idol" stage, but after nearly five seasons, some fans are starting to wonder whether "American Idol" would be better named "Adult Contemporary Idol."

"I don't want Kelly Clarkson or Britney Spears, but it would be nice to see at least Mariah Carey or Lauryn Hill or, hell, Green Day," said Allan Brocka, a columnist for The Advocate. "They keep hauling out these fossils, giving them ridiculous theme nights like hits from the Victorian era, then complaining that Paris [Bennett] is trying to sound too old."

"It's not as interesting to see people give advice to the contestants who had a hit a couple hundred years ago," added third-season finalist Jon Peter Lewis.

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"Idol" flirted with younger guests last season, when Brandy and Mark McGrath joined the usual judges during the auditions, and Shakira and Wyclef Jean performed this season (without meeting with the contestants), but the actual coaches have continued to come more from Simon Cowell's (46) era than Ryan Seacrest's (31).

The contestants haven't complained — "They've been there, done that for many years and all had great advice," Chris Daughtry said — but obviously Daughtry could have benefited from, say, Nickelback as coaches. Or imagine Usher guiding Paris Bennett and even Elliott Yamin.

How the show's always done it, though, the coaches are tied into the theme of the songs that week, so younger coaches would mean younger songs, and those weeks have traditionally not gone over well with the judges.

And "Idol" has another reason to keep the themes old, theorized Jacob Clifton, who covers "Idol" for

"Given the show's wide appeal across all age groups, the value of their netted demographic is contingent on higher-income, older people staying tuned in, so by focusing too much on contemporary themes, the show would be risking advertisers," he said in an e-mail. "Look for an avalanche of classic schmaltz ('Vincent,' 'God Bless the Child,' 'What a Wonderful World'), Soul Patrol patriarchs (Sam Cooke, Joe Cocker) and '50s kitsch for the majority of the [final] performances."

Clifton's prediction could very well come true, but it's not about advertising dollars, according to "Idol" co-executive producer Ken Warwick.

"They're better songs than are around these days," he said of the oldies. "They're classics that people have lived with all their lives, and they know them very well. And you like what you know, that's a fact."

Warwick has spoken with younger potential guest coaches (they were considering 47-year-old Prince earlier this season) and said the only qualification is that they are willing to work with the kids.

"Providing they've got something valid to say, then, yes, we'll consider it," he said. "The thing is, you just generally find that those people who want to pass some of their knowledge on and have the experience to be able to do it well are a bit older. It's like going to school. The best professors and teachers are those that have been around a bit and know the game."

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