Thursday, January 20, 2011

American Idol

The rebooted American Idol is just fine so far, thank you.  I had thought that Simon Cowell’s absence would be felt more powerfully but, in fact, the new panel of judges acquitted themselves well on the season premiere of the 10th round of the Idol merry-go-round and Cowell’s absence barely caused a ripple.

I had wondered how the new judges…Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez…would fare in the Idol fishbowl but they both brought welcome new energy to the proceedings.  Tyler was animated, funny, bawdy, tough but compassionate…he seemed to be having fun (as opposed to Cowell who seemed to be bored and going through his “Mr. Nasty” routine by rote over the past couple of seasons.)  Lopez seemed to wrestle with dashing the hopes of some the clueless non-talents the producers let get to the panel but she rallied and she turned out to be a charming and encouraging judge…often looking for something positive to send rejected contestants away with.

And, perhaps dazzled by the star power of J-Lo and Aerosmith’s legendary lead singer, the rejected ones (at least the ones they decided to showcase) went away with less tears and fewer profane tirades than in previous seasons.

Randy Jackson was still Randy Jackson but he, to his credit, tamped down some of the played out hipster routine, seeming to embrace the mantle of the veteran judge on the panel.  And even Ryan Seacrest was not as intrusive as he might have been previously (the “playful” banter between Cowell and Seacrest, which was increasingly annoying with each passing season, will not be missed at all.)

And, most importantly perhaps, there was a nice rapport between the judges (as opposed to the rapport-free interactions of last year’s panel of Jackson, Cowell, Kara DioGuardi, and Ellen Degeneres) and they managed to display personality while still ceding the spotlight to the people trying out for the show.  A delightful and welcome change that.

The success or failure of any given Idol season always comes down to which of the tens of thousands of hopefuls make the cut.  After a few seasons of (mostly) low wattage competitors, season 10 needs to rally and recapture the charm of the early seasons.  None of the 51 people who picked up golden tickets to Hollywood during the New Jersey auditions seemed penciled in for the finale yet (and, frankly, some of them probably wouldn’t have gotten past Cowell to the next round) but it’s still early, of course.

The addition of legendary producer (and Interscope Records honcho) Jimmy Iovine as the ongoing mentor looks to be a huge plus…as does the apparently scraping of Disco night and other changes the producers have used to tweak the Idol formula…and it could add up to a great Idol season.  Maybe...