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Ian_idolIs this the image of “American Idol”?  Should it be?

This missive is surely coming too late to make an immediate impact — the season premiere of “American Idol” arrives Jan. 15, packaged within an inch of its most effective life. But I’d like to toss a request out to the “Idol” braintrust, which has shown sometimes amazing ability in past years to adjust on the fly. 

With the endless parade of stumblin’, bumblin’ psuedo-singers (like Ian Bernardo, left) in the preliminary rounds becoming all too tedious, with Sanjaya Malakar’s wailings in particular last year still curdling our stomachs, how about tweaking the approach in 2008?  How about shifting the focus in the early rounds from the execrable to the excellent?

The absurd has long been a hallmark of “Idol” — how many dollars did the toneless William Hung inject into the 2004 economy — but last year, “Idol” truly seemed to cross the line into freak show. In a typical two-hour telecast during the first month, you might get two minutes of truly excellent singing.  Though this may reflect the talent pool at the tryout stage, the talent-free talent show becomes a turnoff, figuratively and literally.Sanjaya_3

Consider that there are going to be hundreds of televised hours devoted to the 2008 Olympic Games this summer. Would we really want to see the majority of those on any given day devoted to pole vaulters who impale themselves? An hour a night would be plenty. I mean, when it comes to self-inflicted performance wounds, a little goes a long way.

Meanwhile, there were plenty of semifinalists and finalists in 2007 who didn’t see a lick of airtime until they were singing in sudden-death mode in Hollywood. Not only do they deserve better, but it would make sense to get audiences invested in them sooner.

“Idol” hardly needs any ratings help, but there’s certainly room for it to be taken more seriously — without losing the fun.  Why shouldn’t it do something truly outlandish for once, and actually embrace more quality singing from the beginning of the season? There have to be better heartthrobs out there than this guy —————–>.

— Jon Weisman