AI10: How a Pop Culture Phenomenon Grew Up Without Growing Old

Curator's Note

Love it or hate it, American Idol is not the same show it was in years past. With the departure of Simon Cowell critics and fans dismissed the show as dead; how could it survive without its "heart"? But like modern day Dr. Frankensteins, Executive Producers Ken Warwick and Nigel Lythgoe pieced together all that was salvageable, added a pinch of J-Lo's booty and a dab of Steven Tyler's, well, everything, and voila! Lightning struck and out came a kinder, gentler monster that is the American Idol we watch every Wednesday and Thursday night.

While the new Idol was born from necessity, it may very well be better than before. Just as America, battered by recession and unemployment, has awakened to the fact that bullying is bad, Idol’s resident bully has been replaced by far more nurturing figures who allow the contestants to stray from their comfort zones without fear of evisceration. This new panel is all performers (let’s not forget that Randy once wore spandex and played bass for Journey), and performers understand that we all mess up sometimes, and to punish risk-takers only leads to a legion of wannabe Celine Dions. Yes, while there are some fans who despise this new Idol and long for the old days, where aggressive humiliation was the norm, many of us are coming to the realization that this is what Idol should have been all along. Is it really so great to teach our kids that someone who commits an error deserves to be put in the stocks and have tomatoes hurled at them in front of friends, family, and 30 million other, casual observers? While the schadenfreude was delicious (and we relished in it from time to time, don’t deny it), it leaves a bitter aftertaste, and one that we can surely live without. In the words of Thumper, "if ya can't say somethin' nice, don't say nothin' at all."


Alex and Suellen, I particularly like your point about Season 10 premiering in the wake of recent public awareness of the serious harm bullying can do. Simon's no-holds-barred comments may have helped prepare aspiring recording artists for what it is like to be under constant scrutiny of record label execs, paparazzi and consumers. But in my opinion, skewering contestants with verbal barbs in order to “entertain” the home audience is tacky and reckless.

The early rounds of Season 10 showed the judges at their best and like, in the case of the clip you have provided, Casey was able to choose a risky song and he received constructive critiques. I am uncertain why, as the season progressed, all of the judges seemed to pull back from calling contestants out for serious flaws (such as Lauren forgetting her key change). I agree that the judges are performers and they know what it is like to be on stage and NOT be perfect, but I do not think that should excuse JLo and Steven from providing criticism that can really help contestants grow(after ten years Randy is a lost cause). I am looking forward to seeing what changes Season 11 might bring once the reality TV viewing audience has become accustomed to The Voice and X Factor and their “coaching” approach to working with contestants.

Right on. I do think the show has grown up a lot since the beginning-- watching the early weeks of The Voice, which is promising but still finding its footing, has really brought that home for me.

btw, your clip reminds me that once Simon Cowell said to Peter Evrard, the Belgian contestant on World Idol (2003), that having "Lithium" performed on an Idol show would be Kurt Cobain's "worst nightmare." One of the biggest changes for AI has been the change in thinking about of rock, and the idea that it is no longer incompatible with pop-heavy formats like Idol.

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