In his recent post on The Daily Beast, Richard Rushfield accurately articulates the reasons that Fox's The X Factor trumps American Idol in nearly every possible way. While I wholeheartedly agree with his assessment, I'd argue that there are some glaringly obvious issues that ought to be corrected before the beginning of season 2:
Steve Jones: That 30 Rock arc with Jon Hamm taught us that being ridiculously handsome gets you a free pass to do nearly anything you want. I guess it's no surprise then that Steve Jones, with his dreamy brown eyes, cardboard personality, and profoundly bad timing, landed the role of host on X Factor. Among the things that X Factor really nailed was the casting of a group of judges that bicker and argue and hearken back to a time when American Idol was at least sort of fun to watch. How frustrating, then, to be stuck with a host so un-smooth and unsubtle that nearly every one of Simon and L.A.'s verbal spars gets interrupted. With a Pepsi sponsorship like the one X Factor has, is there really not enough money to steal Cat Deeley from So You Think You Can Dance? There must be something on Oxygen for our handsome friend Steve.
Nicole Scherzinger: I'll blame Nicole Scherzinger for Rachel Crow's elimination, and not just because I'm happy to blame her for anything at this point (after suffering through more than three months with this woman I'll put the entire financial crisis on her). Whether or not you believe that Rachel should have stayed on while Marcus went home last week, no one can dispute that Scherzinger shirked her responsibilities as a judge and proved that she wasn't up to the task. I know Paula pulled the same move during week 3, but she earned some leeway for having to face the inevitable loss of one of her own groups. No one could have begrudged Nicole for choosing to send Rachel home had she offered a reason for it; she simply chose to opt out, a choice that no legitimate judge with actual power gets to make, especially at so pivotal a time in the competition. If there was any question left that Scherzinger (who once critiqued a Drew performance with a set up of unintelligible mumbles followed by the admission that she was "just frustrated") was not on the same level as L.A. Reid or Simon Cowell, that question was certainly put to rest last week. It's almost as if the producers were telling the group of 30-plus, wide-eyed aspiring singers that they didn't have a shot the moment they assigned the former Pussycat Doll as their mentor. Rachel Crow is still young and forgiving enough to not blame Nicole for her premature elimination. For those of us with over a decade of experience judging the judges of reality TV, however, Nicole has soundly proven that she should be a one-term judge.
The Entire Groups Category: In one of the early live shows of the season, Paula gushed how the stunningly mediocre Lakoda Rayne was filling the gap left by the Dixie Chicks all those years ago. It was an awkward moment, as every member of the audience under the age of 23 whispered a collective "Who?" before sending their eighth Tweet of the night. Either America isn't ready for the resurgence of the boyband, the girl group (country-pop or other), or S Club 7 on steroids (I'm talking about InTENsity, and they really were) or we're simply not interested. But had Lakoda Rayne been able to actually harmonize, had The Stereo Hogzz been truly engaging performers, and had InTENsity managed to really coalesce around their most talented members, America's collective mind might have been swayed. Instead, they just felt like place holders, cruely sucking away spots from the surplus members of the boys and girls categories for whom L.A. and Simon simply had no space.
Melanie Amaro & The Case of the Persistently Quintessential American Idol Contestant: I know, I know: why Melanie? Her voice is so gorgeous and she can really belt out those ballads. And she might win! She's sympathetic, though not overwhelmingly so, yet she's completely controversy-free. During Thanksgiving week when the contestants were charged with singing for those for whom they were grateful, Melanie went ahead and chose God while Drew picked her BFF. As Rushfield pointed out, "Of all the X Factor contestants, only chanteuse Melanie Amaro, a 19-year-old mistress of the giant-note ballad, might have made an Idol contender." And frankly, she really, really should have been. Is there a single season of American Idol in which we haven't been treated to a quiet underdog with a golden voice belting out Whitney and Mariah? Not one that I can think of, which is exactly why they should have saved her for the oh-so-imminent eleventh season of Idol. No doubt that Amaro outsang Tiah Tolliver and Simone Battle on the first live show; there wasn't a set of ears in America willing to dispute that. But now we're nearing the finale, and Amaro is exactly the same artist we met at her audition. While we can depend on her to bang out a solid rendition of "Pick-any-Celine-Dion-song" before the finale, aren't you at least sort of wondering where Tiah would have been with a few more weeks of vocal coaching or what Simone might have done during dance week? Aren't you wondering just a little?
Since The X Factor has already been renewed for a second season, it only seems fair to give it a chance to right the aforementioned wrongs it committed throughout its freshman season. It is, after all, a much more exciting search for a superstar than American Idol has been in years. As this season draws to a close amid the coming holidays, let's join together in hope of a second season filled with many more Drews, Astros, and LA v. Simon battles... and far fewer Pussycat Dolls at the judges' table.
Follow Alex Simons on Twitter: www.twitter.com/alexjsimons