“American Idol”: Looking back, looking ahead

With last night’s coronation of David Cook fresh in my mind, here are a couple of observations about what “American Idol” did right and wrong this past season, and where it needs to tweak this and that to remain relevant in seasons ahead.

— Enough with the movie tie-ins. Jim Carrey sitting in the crowd for “Horton Hears a Who” was embarrassing enough, but watching Mike Meyers shell for “The Love Guru” last night was just plain awful. Sure, if you want to sell a 60-second ad for the movie, go ahead, but why incorporate the awful shtick into the show. And then to make poor David Cook and David Archuleta sit through the movie and feign amusement when they’ve got more than enough to worry about, that’s just not right.Idol3_2

— There needs to be more balance of the weekly musical tutor, in terms of the contestants having actually heard of him or her. For instance, I’m not afraid to admit I like Neil Diamond, but I’m 44. A 17-year-old wouldn’t know Neil Diamond if the two ran into each other on Wilshire Boulevard in front of Sinai Temple. And the same for Andrew Lloyd Webber. Sure, the occasional Dolly Parton is fine, but there needs to be more contemporary artists with whom the contestants will relate.

— We really don’t need the the blonde sorority girls in the mosh pit. If producers want high-pitched screaming that badly, pipe it in. And what college-age woman is passionately in love with a high-school boy i.e. Archuleta? As far as the hand-waving goes, once in a while is OK, but when it’s done for every song it looks like their arms are stuck in the air.

— What are Paula and Randy adding to the equation any more? Sure, I understand people want to see Paula the way they slow down to see the accident on the side of the road, but musically speaking, she doesn’t add anything constructive and the Jason Castro episode was a last straw. Yeah, it was an honest mistake and nobody’s fallible, but c’mon, if you can’t handle the rigors and last-second changes of live televsion, then it might be time to move on. Or, more accurately, it’s time for Fox to move her on.Idol2

— As for Randy? Well, he’s a likeable guy, for sure, but the dawg stuff is getting really old and by raising his voice and say that Cook is ON FIRE TONIGHT and THE ONE TO BEAT only gives people a headache. Clearly, his comments aren’t on Paula’s level but he needs to pick up his game.

— Give Ryan more to do. Seacrest is woefully underappreciated in trying to bring this circus to order on a weekly basis. It’s not as easy as it may appear. Maybe he and one contestant can have a pre-taped interview each week so we know a bit more about each Idol wannabe. Something that could be edited, so the kids aren’t asked to give insightful answers after having just finished a song, when they’re out of breath and still in a state of performance anxiety.

— Don’t run the kids ragged. As it is, they have to learn one or two songs each week, go clothes shopping, do press, try to keep in contact with friends and family, and then there’s that ghastly Ford infomercial that takes an entire day to shoot. Give them a day or two to themselves to just savor the moment. Idol1_2

— Put the lyrics to the songs on the Teleprompter. Yeah, I get it that as real-life singers, they’ll have to memorize all the words, but like I said just just above, give ’em a break and put the words on there as a safety net. Yeah, it takes away those awe-cringing moments when somebody forgets the words — Brooke White wins that competition this year — but these contestants have enough to do, like trying to make pretend that they’re excited to meet Lloyd Webber, so make it a little easier on them.

— Pay them more. Share the wealth. Whatever it is, it’s not enough. Geez, Fox, Fremantle, the judges and plenty others are sure doing OK by “Idol,” shouldn’t the contestants too?

— Finally, for all the cynicism and need for changes mentioned here, “Idol” remains compelling and buzzworthy television. Watching Cook crowned champ last night was a great moment, packed with plenty of emotion. Both he and Archuleta seemingly never let the fame get to their heads, and both could have stellar musical careers ahead. Coming from nowhere and allowing your talents — be it in business, entertainment or academics — to take you to the top is has long been the American dream.

— Stuart Levine

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