It's hard to know what needs fixing on a show that has held the #1 spot in the ratings for seven consecutive seasons. But every year around this time, Monday morning quarterbacks line up to suggest ways for "American Idol" to get its groove back.
Yes, "Idol" is starting to look gray around the temples in comparison to hipper, flashier competitors such as "X Factor" and "The Voice." But maybe that's the way producers want it, and unlike last season — when they dropped the age cutoff to 15, added new judges Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez, took the top 60 to Las Vegas and returned the "wild card" round — there has been no hint yet that big changes are slated for season 11, which kicks off Wednesday night (January 18) with the first audition episode.
Whether they take our advice or not, MTV News asked a few of our favorite "Idol" experts to make five suggestions for how "Idol" can keep the fire burning.
Village Voice music editor Maura Johnston
Shorten the audition period: "Something that gets people invested in the contestants earlier," said Johnston, pointing to the quicker triggers on competing shows. "In any reality show where there's more than 10 people competing, it does get confusing, so they really need to get to the point faster."
Shake up the results show: "It's so long now. I know it does well in the ratings, but two minutes of content in a 60-minute bag creates its own viewer fatigue. They could put all the Ford ads and fake suspense in there in a half-hour and use the extra half-hour for something else."
Sing the same song: "When it gets down to 10 people, what if you had them all sing the same song to see the different ways they approach it?" Johnston wondered. "In the post-David Cook era, with its emphasis on artistry and transformation of songs, it would be great to see a side-by-side comparison [of the contestants' styles] to see their strengths and weaknesses."
Less judges talk: "The judges should talk about themselves less. They would get mired in discussion about themselves and try to elevate themselves above the singers. The same thing happened on 'The Voice,' too, where 'Moves Like Jagger' [became bigger than the contestants]. It was great for Maroon 5 and Christina, but it took the shine off Javier [Colon]'s win."
On the road: "Maybe take the show on tour for a week and bring it to New York and set it up at Radio City Music Hall and have a live audience made up of completely different people. It would be special because it would be the first time in 'Idol' history they've done this, and you'd get the same vibe because it's live on TV in front of an audience, but you'd also get a mystique surrounding it that would be a lot more charged."
Hollywood Reporter music editor Shirley Halperin had some similar ideas, with a few added twists to mix it upReal talk from judges: "I would like to see them talk to the contestants the way they were talked to coming up. I want them to give more constructive advice and be more critical, but not be mean for the sake of being mean. These kids are not perfect, and if you listen to the judges' comments from last year, you would think they were." Yes, she added, Tyler and Lopez are there to, respectively, entertain with flashy wordplay and outfits, but both have had heavy doses of the realities of the music industry that Halperin said they could and should share with the budding stars.
More pizzazz?: While "The X Factor" had so much flash and bang that it looked like the Grammys or VMAs every week, "Idol" has long held the spectacle aspect of performances to a minimum. "If any show should have that kind of production, it's 'Idol,' because it's the moneymaker," she said. "But 'Idol' doesn't seem interested in [messing] with the formula. They could have kicked it up any time over the past five years, but they've let the audience dictate how far they'll go. At this point, the performances still look good because they are focused on the performer, not distracting fire and dancers."
Pull back the curtain: "One reason people got to know the 'X Factor' contestants is because the press and bloggers had unfettered access to them early on and it was not limited or constricted in any of the ways 'Idol' is," she said. "They're very precious about it on 'Idol,' but when we did get access to [the contestants], it allowed us to get to know them better and tell their story and get excited about them because we were invested in their backstories." While "Idol" has loosened the reins a bit over the past few years and allowed the contestants to have a light social-media presence and Twitter feeds, Halperin said the show needs to rethink their lockdown mentality.
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