As American Idol enters the third week of its seventh season, it’s clear the show’s producers have taken into account all the criticism fans and pundits threw their way last year. As my colleague Jessica Shaw and I discuss in the most recent installment of Idolatry, Idol is packing its episodes with successful auditions, and that’s led to a precipitous (and applause-worthy) drop in screen time for elderly ladies in skimpy feathered dresses and dudes in lederhosen. Better still, the judges seem to have steered away from giving wedgies to 50-pound weaklings; I wouldn’t blame Fox execs if they wanted to roll out an end-of-episode tagline declaring, ”No person of diminished mental and/or emotional capacity was harmed in the making of this episode.”
And yet, while I can’t argue against these improvements, I’d be lying if I didn’t note that I feel something’s missing from the kinder, gentler Idol. The whole experience has been akin to eating kielbasa without the horseradish. I mean, just because you don’t want a whole jar of the pungent root doesn’t mean you want a meal without some sting, some tingle, and a few brutal barbs delivered in a bored British accent, either.
And so, at the risk of sounding like an ingrate who got exactly what he ordered and is now offering up a list of ”helpful suggestions” to the chef, I’m offering three things I’d have tweaked to bring tonight’s Idol episode closer to perfection — followed by three things the show got exactly right.
1. Please remove Simon’s psychic muzzle At the risk of courting a repeat of Bush Baby-gate, when did Simon Cowell turn into Mister Rogers? Yeah, okay, maybe there was something initially endearing about Chris Bernheisel, but when the guy performed a handstand midway through his butchery of Kelly Clarkson’s ”Since U Been Gone,” he crossed the line from bubbly Idol enthusiast to just another obnox seeking his 15 minutes. So perhaps one of you can explain to me why Simon’s critique — ”I like you. I love the bribes, the presents, the sucking up. But the singing wasn’t good enough” — was such a nonstarter. It couldn’t have been the sweatshirt Chris offered up to Simon (after all, I didn’t see a V-neck!); maybe it was the stuffed pony the guy brought for an absent Paula Abdul?
Then again, if Simon felt some debt of gratitude toward Chris, he should’ve encouraged him to enroll in some basic English courses, the better to avoid malapropisms like dubbing his Idol audition as the ”biggest life-alternating” event he’d experienced. Instead, we got Simon and Randy proposing that Chris cover the Idol finale for his local Fox affiliate? At least Chris’ dad and grandmother responded to said news with the appropriate stony silence.
2. Don’t be so generous with the golden tickets Riddle me this: If Jason Rich’s sleeveless gray T-shirt had revealed pale, flabby limbs instead of glistening golden biceps, would Simon and Randy have sent him to Hollywood after he forgot the lyrics to Keith Whitley’s ”When You Say Nothing at All” not once, not twice, but a whopping three times? Sure, his Daughtry-esque rasp showed promise, but putting a new twist on the farmer’s daughter cliché — he’s the farmer’s daughter’s boyfriend! — does not an Idol make.
Similarly, arm-wrestling nice girl Rachael Wicker and teary-eyed Angelica Puente (or ”Punt,” as Simon would have us pronounce it) showcased sub-Haley Scarnato talent levels and still scored trips to Hollywood. Simon was right when he noted that Rachael performed Lee Ann Womack’s ”Don’t Tell Me to Stop Loving You” like she was on the tail end of a 50-year singing career. Paula, meanwhile, sagely observed that Angelica needed more experience to shed her bombastic Celine Dion impersonation and find her own voice, and yet Paula somehow voted yes to giving her a golden ticket. (Side note: Nice seven-person entourage for a girl supposedly cut off from her immediate family!)
3. Know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em Sarah ”Lady Morgue” Whitaker was a scream (sorry) when she let out the banshee shriek from her pro-wrestling days, but the rest of her audition was about as fun as getting body-slammed into a slab of concrete. Why not cut her segment to 20 seconds and leave room for more entertaining material, like, say, another subtle product placement for the nice folks at Coca-Cola?
NEXT: Shocker! Is ”Idol” becoming gay-friendly?