American Idol – season 12. What happened?

For a season that started so strong, how did TV’s formerly biggest music show end so miserably. Ratings are down drastically year-to-year, the judging panel is falling apart, the show feels exhausted and NBC’s The Voice is thrashing Idol in ratings AND buzz. Personally, as a huge Idol fan, I’ve checked out.

So what went wrong? Here’s what I think are the five main flaws of Idol this season:

DATED THEMES: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again until someone at Fox gets the message. American Idol is the most lazily produced show on TV. Seriously how else do you excuse prehistoric themes that come back year after year – Motown Week, Beatles Week, Songs From The Year You Were Born, Hollywood Week. And then Idol wonders why The Voice is crushing it in the 18-49 demo?

Look we all know the Beatles have a huge back catalogue. But you know Pink has racked up a pretty large number of hits too. And so has Beyonce (when you include all the Destiny’s Child songs). Heck even Rihanna Week could work as a theme.

The fact is all of these artists are young, current and relevant to the people who buy music today. The Idol winner isn’t going up against Paul McCartney or Diana Ross in the charts – she’s facing off with Ke$ha and Katy Perry. So when you get contestants to sing 1950’s ballads it makes them seem irrelevant and dated. People may complain about The X Factor – but at least the Simon Cowell show has contestants perform current songs and unusual choices on a regular basis. When was the last time you heard songs like California Gurls, Give Your Heart A Break or Edge of Glory on Idol?

WHERE ARE THE MENTORS? Which brings me to my second point – why on earth did Idol get rid of the celebrity mentoring idea?

Remember in years past when the likes of Lady Gaga, Jon Bon Jovi, Gwen Stefani and even Quentin Tarantino coached the contestants before their performances? Again it made Idol feel current, gave us a side of the stars we hadn’t seen before and often produced some interesting moments (remember Adam Lambert shocking Randy Travis with his nail polish!)

Now all the mentors are largely gone and we’re left with the unpleasant Jimmy Lovine, trying to fill the Simon Cowell void and often at loggerheads with the Judges. Why the switch? And why get rid of such a winning idea?

And sorry I don’t call a last minute appearance by Harry Connick Jr – appearing for what feels like the umpteenth time – a step in the right direction.

SCRIPTED REALITY: We all know American Idol can play fast and loose with the truth at times with the producers creating excessive backstories, editing pre-performance packages and pushing an agenda. Personally I’ve always hated that type of heavy handed producing – it undermines the Idol brand and takes away the essential point of the show which is that America chooses its OWN Idol.

But this season the producers (yep old stalwarts Ken Warwick and Nigel Lythgoe. Again) have outdone themselves. We all know Idol wanted a female winner this season – but did they have to stack the deck so heavily that all five male contestants would be sent to the slaughter so quickly. What’s behind some of the puzzling critiques the Judges have been ‘coerced’ into delivering this season (since when does a cover of The Power of Love make a contestant ‘current’). And why do so many of the contestants complain of last minute song switches – after 12 years on the air how come Idol doesn’t have an entire library of cleared material to choose from?


THE JUDGES PANEL HAS BECOME PAINFUL: I was a big fan of the new Idol Judges early in the season and vocally supported them here at Remote Patrolled. But that was largely during the pre-taped rounds when the Idol team could edit and clarify their comments. Now the Judges have gone live… oh boy!

Look I still like Keith Urban. He’s sweet, smart and spot on. Nicki continues to be the caustic Simon Cowell figure – though in recent weeks her critiques have been all over the place. Sometimes she’s spot on but at others who knows what Minaj is thinking!

Then there’s Randy Jackson who’s as irrelevant as ever. And those stock catchphrases ‘in it to win it’, ‘best performance of the night’ (normally spoken around song number 3!) and of course ‘pitchy’ and ‘rough’ – have just become the stuff of caricature.

Finally how can we forget Mariah Carey. Well I wish we could actually. Those long, meandering critiques that go nowhere. The false niceties. The lack of any real judging. What a disappointment Carey has been.

Keith and Nicki are clearly in their own show now – I love how Minaj has her back almost permanently turned to Jackson. And of course we all know about the tensions between the two divas. When Fox considers bringing back J. Lo and believes it’s an improvement you know you’re in trouble. How strange that Idol – and The X Factor – have so struggled with their panels, while The Voice has managed a perfect balance twice!

THE FORMAT IS STALE: Look, American Idol has been on air for 12 seasons now and is still a significant hit for Fox. That’s an impressive run by any standards. But compare the show’s first and current seasons and there’s really not much difference.

The last significant rule change was the addition of the Judge’s Save several seasons back. We still get terrible group numbers that no one wants or enjoys. The Ford commercials are now just pointless time fillers. The Thursday Results shows remain horribly padded (unlike The X Factor which really improved its Results shows last season). In fact the whole production feels tired. Sure Idol is as slick as ever – and Ryan Seacrest is the consummate professional. But no show can go on forever and Idol sure feels like it needs a rest – or retiring about now.

So I’m afraid I’ve largely checked out of Idol this season now – and honestly I don’t think I’ll be back for Season 13. I hope show stopper Candice wins this year and I think Idol has a legacy no one can knock. But even a number one show has to know when to call it a day. And 12 years in – maybe that time is now…

But what do you think? Agree or disagree? Are you still watching Idol this season – or did you check out along the way?