It’s time to say goodbye to American Idol

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When American Idol premiered back in the summer of 2002, probably no one could have predicted it would last twelve seasons (with no sign of stopping), see copycat shows on nearly every other television network, or single-handedly save a tanking Fox. The first season produced a viable star in Kelly Clarkson, who has gone on to sell over 23 million albums worldwide and ten years after she won the title, had her most successful hit yet last year with “Stonger (What Doesn’t Kill You)”.

The show  continued to see ratings climb for the next several seasons until it’s peak during season six, when an impressive 37.4 million people tuned in to watch Jordin Sparks take the crown. It also gave us Carrie Underwood in season four, Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Hudson from season three and Chris Daughtry, who placed fourth on season five and went on to form the multi-platinum selling band, Daughtry.

There’s no arguing the importance the show has played in pop culture and without it, Kelly Clarkson might still be waiting tables in L.A., but after twelve seasons, it’s time to shut the machine down.

The first few hiccups came when the show’s producers decided to introduce new faces to the judging panel. In season eight, a fourth judge was added and songwriter/music producer Kara DioGuardi joined Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell at the judges table. Paula left at the end of season eight and was replaced by Ellen Degeneres, who only stayed one season and along with Simon Cowell, departed at the end of season nine.

Simon and Ellen were subsequently replaced by Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler, who did nothing more than use the show as a platform to re-energize their dwindling careers – a move that surprisingly worked, propelling J-Lo back to the top of the charts and making a best-selling author out of Steven Tyler. A win for the two judges, but a huge misstep for the show.

That brings us to the present, where we now have Mariah Carey, Keith Urban and Nicki Minaj. Randy Jackson’s still hanging around too, uttering his staple phrases of “We got a hot one tonight!” and “This dawg’s in it to win it!”

Mariah Carey, like her predecessors, seems to be using the Idol stage as a way to be seen and heard again in the mainstream music scene. She offers nothing useful to the contestants and most of her comments are so convoluted that viewers have no idea what she’s really trying to say. Expect her to only stick around for one season.

Keith Urban, while nice enough, needs to be tougher on contestants. He’s actually a pretty good choice as a judge, but plays it safe and rarely criticizes anyone other than on their song choices. His next tour kicks off this summer and goes well in to fall and right around audition time for next season, so it’s a pretty safe bet to assume he’s a one-season judge too.

Surprisingly, the only breath of fresh air this season is Nicki Minaj. While she may have one of the most annoying personalities ever, she’s usually spot on with her opinions of the contestants performances. She tells them what they did right, what needs improvement and spares no one when she dislikes something.

Unfortunately, everything else about the show is formulaic and doesn’t stray much from the first season. We still have the same old “theme” nights, where contestants are forced to sing country songs, Beatles songs, songs from the movies and songs that topped the charts the year they were born. If a contestant doesn’t change the song enough, it’s too predictable. If they change it too much, they should have stuck with the original melody. Why not let the contestants pick any song, from any genre, so the audience can get a better feel for what kind of artist they really want to be? Instead, we’re left hearing the same songs year after year, which makes for a very boring, predictable two hours.

Results night is still painfully drawn out – how long does it really take to sort everyone in to the bottom 3 and tell us who goes home? Not long at all, but when you work in non-Idol related performers every week so they can shamelessly promote their new albums, it turns into at least an hour long process. Two, if it’s finale night.

And really Ryan Seacrest, don’t you think the viewers know by now that you won’t really reveal anything important until “after the break”? To his credit though, he’s the best reality TV show host by a long shot (see either season of The X Factor for an example of how not to host a television show).

It’s also lost a lot of its “fun” factor too – remember the days of sending thousands of text messages to vote for your favorite? Now, the super vote, which casts 50 votes at a time through a Facebook app, takes care of that. It probably also serves the purpose of skewing the voting  numbers so Fox executives can boast record breaking numbers each season to make it seem like the show is still as popular as ever.

Of the eleven Idol winners, only five still have record deals. Season nine winner Lee DeWyze was dropped from his label a year later after he won. So if the show can’t produce lasting artists like they claim, what is the whole point of the competition in the first place? American Idol’s focus seems to have shifted away from the contestants and more toward attracting viewers who tune in to see the antics of high profile celebrity judges. It’s lost it’s purpose and for that reason, it’s time to say goodbye to an old favorite.

2013 Grammy Awards Recap

The Grammy Awards are my favorite awards show all year – partly because I’m such a huge fan of music and partly because I enjoy picking the winners and seeing how many I get right. I’ve been watching the Grammys for as long as I can remember & still have several years in the late 90s taped on old VHS tapes. (Side note: I’m still bitter about Paula Cole and her hairy armpits robbing Hanson of the Best New Artist Grammy in 1998 – it was a tragic moment for a 14-year-old super fan.)

The past few Grammy Awards have just been so-so, but last night was one of the best I had seen in a long time. There were a few, good surprises, like Kelly Clarkson’s AMAZING album Stronger winning (and beating Fun, the favorite to win) for Best Pop Vocal Album. And as a long-time fan of the female-fronted rock band Halestorm, I was pleasantly surprised to see them win their first Grammy for Best Hard Rock/Metal performance.

The Black Keys had a fantastic performance and went on to win best Rock Album, best Rock Song and best Rock Performance for Lonely Boy. 

In the Country category, Little Big Town is FINALLY getting some recognition from the recording industry and stealing awards away from Lady Antebellum, who in my opinion, shouldn’t be winning them anyway. I am disappointed that Miranda Lambert lost to Zac Brown Band for the Best Country album, though.

The Grammys got it right by awarding Mumford and Sons’ Babel the Album of the Year and it’s refreshing to see a fantastic folk-rock band like Mumford and Sons winning in major categories as well as outselling Justin Beiber on the charts.

So let’s talk about the performances. Taylor Swift opened the show with We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together and while she sounded great, her performance was really quite baffling. Why she chose a stage get-up resembling something from Alice in Wonderland is beyond me, but it really just did not work. She should take a few cues from Kelly Clarkson, whose tribute to Carol King and Patti Page was simple and straight-forward but showed that if you’ve got the voice, you don’t need all the flashy gimmicks to go along with your performance. I believe KC could sing anything and it would sound amazing.

I’m not a fan of reggae, but the Bob Marley tribute with Bruno Mars, Rihanna, Sting and Ziggy and Damien Marley was a pretty fun time. Bruno Mars has been killing it lately with his songs and stint as a SNL host and I think his star is only going to get brighter.

Speaking of Rihanna, it was nice to see her do a stripped down performance for once. The song may not have been that exciting, but sometimes her vocals can get lost in her flashy performances. It was nice to be reminded that the girl can actually sing. Now if only she’d use her brain to ditch Chris Brown.

Let’s talk let-downs. Country wasn’t cool last night. Miranda Lambert’s duet with Dierks Bentley sounded weak and strained. Over You was one of the best Country songs last year, but the beautiful melody somehow got lost in the overpowering backing band. A real disappointment.

Carrie Underwood’s color-changing dress distracted everyone from her flawless performance, not to mention she had to stay in one spot throughout her medley of Blown Away/Two Black Cadillacs.

Frank Ocean’s performance was off-key and bland. His song, Forest Gump, sounded like a bunch of random ideas thrown together over a few piano chords. I do not get this guy at all.

While, the Lumineers easily have one of the catchiest and sweetest songs of the year,  they’re just not meant to play for big stadiums. Their style and sound works best in a theater or intimate club & while it’s great to see an indie act get some well-deserved recognition, I have a feeling they’re going to be a one-hit wonder.

I’m probably going to get a lot of flack for this, but Justin Timberlake’s new song is terrible. It conjures images of leisure suits, disco ball and the Bee Gees and I can’t help but think that if this song is the best thing he can come up with after a seven year hiatus from music, then he should probably stick to writing funny songs with Andy Sandberg for SNL skits.

All in all, though, it was a pretty good night of performances and well deserved winners. Only 364 days until the 2014 Grammys 😉