When American Idol produced its very first winner, Kelly Clarkson, it birthed a superstar. Kelly's career has been spectacular since winning the inaugural airing of the series in 2002. As a bonus, Kelly can sing. She doesn't need auto-tune, so her live performances are just as impactful as her recordings. The girl's got pipes, instincts, presence and an endearing personality. She's got substance, and that's what an American Idol should be made of.
But lately, the judges have favored "the package" over the substance. Recent seasons have spawned a new low for the judging panel. They advance singers who can't stay on pitch no matter how many songs they sing, along with others who are decidedly lacking in any kind of stage presence whatsoever. Perhaps the vision is that their chosen diamonds-in-the-rough will somehow blossom and bloom during the process. The judges talk about "the look," "the growth," "the hard work..." yada, yada, yada. And they just keep advancing those who can't over those who already can. It's as if American Idol has been reinvented to be some kind of Pygmalion reality show wherein they take greater pleasure in raising a star than in recognizing one that already exists, but simply hasn't been discovered by the masses.
In recent seasons, the powers-that-be at Idol changed the judges and tweaked the format, trying to skew to a younger audience. But, perhaps it isn't youth they should be concentrating on. Perhaps the focus should be on the simple concept of better entertainment value. Tuning in to a show that fields great performances is far more appealing than one where bad singing and deer-in-the-headlights stage presence is routine. The judges should judge on merit first and potential second. Then we might have something to watch and root for. Nowhere is it written that American Idol should have all the components of a county fair talent show. It should be far more advanced than that. The viewers, and the contestants, deserve a higher standard.
I happen to love the three judges currently at the helm. They are likeable and entertaining. My only problem with them is that they go off the rails, axing killer singers in favor of some who can only dream of being that good. Will this season be a repeat of last? After all, we've already seen the Top 24, even if only in silhouette and from the backside. Are those the best 24 that could have been assembled? Can they actually sing... in tune... all the time? Do they have at least a modicum of rhythm so that movement on stage is natural and appealing? I hope so. That would be awesome.
There are a lot of really, REALLY, great singers this season. But if history holds, many of those who should advance simply won't, and others who should have gone back to the practice room some time ago will find themselves standing on the big stage gushing to Ryan: "This just means so much to me!" But of course that's true for every singer who makes it to the live stage, whether or not he or she deserves to be there.
Some American Idols have gone on to become superstars. Others have faded so badly that it's hard to remember their names. So what will happen this time? Will we be subjected to more unprofessional, uninspired, and off-tune performances, or have the judges seen the light and advanced a top 24 who will knock our socks off with every performance?
We've already seen some extraordinary talent from both the guys and the girls this season, and it's very likely that there is another Kelly Clarkson in the bunch. But the real question is this: Will the judges send those already in full bloom forward, or will they choose, once again, to advance unopened talent buds instead? The problem is that buds can one day become a beautiful bloom, or they can simply fail to open. If the latter happens, the viewers are doomed to another lackluster season of mediocrity.
The judges have no easy task, but if they first choose singers who can actually sing and worry about "the package" later, we might get to enjoy the American Idol live performance shows the way we enjoy concerts of our favorite artists. That would be amazing for everyone on both sides of the camera.
One can only hope.