Now for the hard work. Let's face it: Season 12 was a bit of a mess. The talent was lackluster, the attempt by producers to guarantee the first female winner in six seasons was obvious and the uncomfortable tension between high-priced judges Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj often made the show hard to watch.
The "Idol" brain trust has now tried an all-star judge reboot twice, and, clearly, that's not the answer. We know original Dawg Randy Jackson is gone, and it seems likely that Nicki, Mariah and Keith Urban won't be back either. And the Justin Bieber/ Diddy/ Selena Gomez rumor just seems silly.
So how does "Idol" reverse course before season 13? MTV News asked a few experts to offer their suggestions for what went wrong and how the show can get back on track.
"I don't think the problem was the panel," said Hollywood Reporter music editor Shirley Halperin. "Yes, there were problems, but that's not why people tuned out. The formula has gotten really stale, the contestants are not exciting and they have nothing to say. The show needs to reboot in a drastic way and they need to think about what today's generation of music lovers would like."
Halperin said step one for next year is to screen test the potential judges, get them in a room together and shoot some sample shows to see how their chemistry works, something she said it does not appear they did with this year's panel. "They seemed to have no idea Mariah was a long-winded as she was and there was an inkling that Nicki would be sassy and borderline mean, but not as much as she was," she said. "They didn't see how they worked together and the dynamic was not there."
The biggest change, though, is that "Idol" producers need to stop chasing after star power and find someone who is good on TV and knows their music history. "They need to have someone who can say, 'you better go to the record store and pick up this Beatles record right now!'" she said, alluding to the season 12 finalist's glaringly thin music history knowledge.
More than anything, she said, "Idol" needs to find judges with expertise on the label and performer side with nothing to lose. She suggested a producer (perhaps like Diddy, but less busy) with a real personality, pedigree, longevity and ability to make harsh calls when they're needed.
"The only way to combat viewer fatigue is to completely change it up, which [unfortunately] they won't do," said "Idol"-watching vet Halperin, citing the network's catch-22 of not wanting to offend the show's aging, but declining core audience to appeal to younger viewers.
TVLine.com senior editor Michael Slezak disagreed with Halperin about the judges not being the problem. He said it was maddening that right up until the end of season 12, we were still hung up on the judges more than the contestants.
"That's a big problem for the show," he said. "It is focused too much on those four people behind the table. When the music lasts 90 seconds and then the judges chatter for seven minutes ... it's just not that interesting. It's confounding to me that 12 seasons in and Fox and the folks behind the show still don't get what it's appeal is. They fundamentally don't get that what's fascinating is watching a travel agent, or a farm girl from Oklahoma become the next singing superstar. They can't become that if we don't get to hear them sing and that's not the focus of the show."
What has always differentiated "Idol" from other reality shows and its increasing competition is that it has given us stars and unique characters like Kelly Clarkson, Underwood, Fantasia and Daughtry.
As far as Slezak was concerned, Carey was just not good at the job, Nicki went from being fun to watch and brutally honest to a grating distraction and Urban was a fine, but mostly a benign presence who didn't really distinguish himself.
He agreed with Halperin that whatever changes come down, "Idol" would probably get it wrong. But he offered a number of suggestions for how they could avoid that fate, including: hire three judges, not four, don't go for the biggest names out there and spend less money to get panelists who are invested in the show and will spend time on the set really digging in.
"Even in the Hollywood week and audition rounds, it just seemed like they were doing what the producers told them to," he said of the season 12 quartet. "It was preordained who would make the top 20."
What "Idol" needs, he agreed, is a radical makeover, with judges who are not pushing a career reboot (Carey, Jennifer Lopez), looking to broaden their mainstream appeal (Minaj) or showing middle America how much they really love music (Urban).
Like Halperin, Slezak said a music-industry veteran like Pharrell Williams or Linda Perry would be ideal candidates, thanks to their insider knowledge and eye on the star-making prize. "They've seen hundreds of acts audition for a label, and they can think about the money-making aspect [of building a new star]," he said. "Someone past their hit-making prime, but interested in nurturing up-and-coming talent, like Paula [Abdul] ... but with more edge."
Also, with the money they can save in bloated judge salaries, Slezak begged producers to spend a bit more money to clear some new songs so we don't have to sit through yet another Motown or Burt Bacharach week.
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