The real competition is finally about to begin on American Idol
. The judges have narrowed down the crowds of thousands to create a Top 24. The new era of American Idol
started off on rocky footing but it's since progressed into something much more enjoyable. The judges have proven to have a real ear for identifying talent, as the Top 24 is a collection of very special (and very young) artists. However, there's a big difference between recognizing talent and being able to nurture it.
American Idol Recap: Who Is in the Top 24?>>>
Good TV, Bad Judging
The American Idol reboot has come a long way since its awkward first episode. The chemistry between Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie is a lot more enjoyable than it once was; it was clear the trio had never been in the same room before auditions began. The more the revival season has gone on, the more comfortable the judges have seemed and the more enjoyable they have been to watch. The problem is that, on occasion, the panel has been having too much fun.
Too often in the new American Idol, the judges have gotten so carried away with teasing each other or having fun with the contestant's personality that they've forgotten to do their actual job. The judges are there to entertain the audience, sure, but their primary focus should be on guiding the contestants. There's more than a few contestants who have been failed by the judges.
One of the earliest examples was teenage crooner Zach D'Onofiro. Zach made for good TV because his speaking voice was radically different from his singing voice and the coaches had a lot fun with him during his audition. They danced around with Zach, made somewhat crass jokes about puberty and moved him through to Hollywood. Yet they really gave him no guidance or advice, so once Zach got to Hollywood, he flamed out very early.
A comparable situation happened with artists who lasted even longer than the competition. Before the final selection of the Top 24, Trevor Holmes was one of the contestants with the most screen time. This is all because of Katy Perry's supposedly joking attraction to Trevor and the "love triangle" between Katy, Trevor and Trevor's actual girlfriend. Katy spent so much time telling Trevor how hot he was, that he never got any advice on how to improve as a singer. In fact, Trevor probably (and understandably) started to feel a little too confident in the competition because of how "in love" Katy was with him.
A similar thing happened, in a very different way, with Noah Davis. Noah made an immediate impression with the judges, bonding over "wig" with Katy and charming everyone with his desire for an alpaca. Noah seemed like a shoo-in for the Top 24. Most of Noah's time with the judges was spent with them telling him how much they loved him. Yet in his performance for the final decision, Noah came off flat and unremarkable and was rightfully set home. This could've changed if he had been challenged more throughout the competition.
There's an even argument to be made that some artists made it through to the Top 24 because of their personalities, not their voices. Even if you love Catie Turner's "adorkable" personality, her voice isn't all that special. Yet because she's such a character, she'll be playing for America's votes. The same goes for the way-too-wholesome Layla Springs, Gabby Barret's heartwarming relationship with her dad and Johnny Brenns' struggle for familial acceptance. These artists are fine but hardly the best of the best.
Often it felt like the new American Idol panel was trying to make the best TV, not foster the best artists. The two shouldn't be mutually exclusive. The panel can have fun and still offer constructive criticism. Sadly, that didn't always happen, or at least it wasn't shown in the final edit.
The Critical Light at the End of the Tunnel
Thankfully though, just because the real judging was rare didn't mean it was nonexistent. The judges have offered some critiques that helped contestants grow, especially in the auditions. Michael J. Woodard is a completely different artist as he enters the Top 24. In his audition, Lionel Richie had to literally shake the nerves out of Michael. In the final decision performance he made a ballsy move of singing an Alanis Morissette song and he killed it.
Some of Michael's improvements are due to himself but the judges had more than a helping hand in guiding him to where he needed to be to earn the Top 24 spot. Trevor McBane, Caleb Lee Hutchinson and Garret Jacobs have also gotten some advice that helped them reach their spot in the live shows. Likewise, even if the judges let through somewhat shaky performers like Gabby Barrett and Mara Justine it was with qualifications that they're going to have to work hard to reach their true potential.
It's important to keep in mind too that the judges haven't really gotten much time with the contestants. The critiques during Hollywood Week were mostly private and insular. The judges were talking among themselves, not with the artists.
They haven't been given much opportunity to really guide the contestants, outside of the auditions. Moving into the live shows, that will definitely change. Every performance is going to have a personal and lengthy critique by the judges and they're going to need to deliver. The judges do have some troubling habits. Katy seems to be using Idol to help her own career, not really find the next superstar. Yet the judges have shown the potential to give the right advice.
The winner of American Idol season 16 is probably going to be someone who gets there of their own accord, with little input for the judges. It's going to be someone who's entering the live shows already confident in their identity. However, the judges do have it in them to give meaningful advice. It's been shown in the past. They just have to remember that now the contestants are the stars, not themselves.
But what do you think? Do you agree? What do you make of the new panel? Are they having too much fun or are they balancing the criticism with the jokes? Do the judges even have that much impact on the competition? Who do you think is the frontrunner of the season?
(Image and video courtesy of ABC)