Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard the news that American Idol is returning to television next year for its 16th season on ABC. As a diehard fan who would often get super invested in the show to the point that I’d treat a season’s finale the same way a football fan would the Superbowl, this news has left me really conflicted. On the one hand, I’m super excited to have a show that I once had such love and passion for back on the air, but at the same time I can’t help feeling a little, for lack of a better term, manipulated by it being brought back so soon after such a satisfying finale. There is a part of me that really hoped that the show would have more than just a year to breathe, that way it could eventually come roaring back with a strong nostalgia factor. With the break being so short, I now worry that people will share my sentiments and become disenchanted with the show. No matter how good or bad the ratings are when they eventually come in, I will stand by my opinion that they always could have been better had the show had more time to rest.
However, that’s all irrelevant now. ABC, after a fierce bidding war with NBC and FOX, claimed victory and the rights to Idol and is bringing it back, whether we want it to happen now or not. Already confirmed to be joining the show as of now are mega popstar, Katy Perry, and series’s veteran OG, Ryan Seacrest. Katy will be a celebrity judge, while Ryan will take back up his role at the helm of the show as its host.
There had been a lot of rumblings that Ryan wouldn’t be coming back due to issues with salary negotiations and requests for an executive producer credit (that story is a whole different article and rant), but thank Jebus things worked out and he signed on. If he didn’t come back, there would have been no point in calling whatever ABC is producing Idol, because it would have severed any continuity to the show’s pervious iterations and fans would have lost a critical emotional connection to it.
Ryan Seacrest is Idol. When people see him on their screen saying his renowned catchphrase, “This is American Idol!,” they’re taken back to younger days when they fell in love with the likes of Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, and Adam Lambert and went on their Idol journeys with them. When our beloved contestants felt the highs and lows, we cried and celebrated with them and Ryan was there to guide us through it all. Cutting him would lose that presence that always made us feel like we were watching something special that could really change a person’s life. Without him, the show would just feel emotionless and assembly line-like. Need I say more?
Oh, and for those wondering about my opinion of Katy Perry joining, all I have to say is it could have been a lot worse. Katy, just don’t go picking fights with your co-judges and we’ll be cool.
While I’m super stoked that things worked out with Ryan, the fact that he came so close to not signing on due to producers being absolutely ridiculous really left a bitter taste in my mouth, and that’s not from the week old sushi I had for dinner. Just to make a point and put things into perspective, Katy is getting paid $25 million while Ryan, who has been with the show since day 1, is reportedly getting less than half of that. Katy is great and surely deserves a high salary, but 25 million is insanely excessive, especially when Ryan had to fight back and push hard to even get 12.
Idol‘s steady decline snowballed in season 12 due to what many argue was production overly influencing the competition in order to ensure a female win. I’m just worried that this firm, incorrigible role production seems to be taking on is the start of more foreboding storm clouds that I’m starting to notice accumulating around the reboot’s potential success. I want Idol to succeed and climb out of the hole it’s currently in, and I would hate to see producers dig it deeper down.
Since Idol‘s 16th season is still in the early stages of production and I am a stubborn optimist, I still believe that it’s not to late to change things for the better. As a result, I have composed a letter to production sharing my words of advice along with some suggestions that will hopefully give the show the best chance to have a long and successful run. I’m aware that some of the points I make may seem a little preacher-to-the-choir-esque, but I still feel like they are important and need to be said. I also recognize that I know I’m getting a little ahead of myself even thinking that someone involved with Idol‘s production will ever actually read this letter, but as a fan, at least I can say I tried my best to do my part to help point the show in the right direction, whether they see and listen to my advice or not.
Anyway, without further introduction let’s move on to the letter.
. . .
Dear American Idol Producers,
Idol is coming back! Can you fucking believe it!? The show is basically Rick Grimes in the zombie apocalypse; nothing can kill it!
Speaking on behalf of the Idol fanbase, I just want to say that while we are excited about the show’s renewal, we’re also a little wary about it coming back so soon. When Idol was cancelled, it went out with a bit of a whimper after a long decline and lots of questionable decisions that left us baffled. As fans, it really sucked to have to watch a show that we had such love for slowly and pitifully keel over. The last thing we want is to have to go through that process again. Idol’s new airing network at ABC is a new home and fresh start, and now that it’s coming back our interests are piqued and our hopes have cautiously started to rise. However, at the same time there is also a bit of fear among fans that the reboot fails and crushes any hopes of further seasons. Idol got a second chance at life here; there won’t be a third.
As a fan of the series, I have a lot of different emotions regarding the decision to bring the show back after such a short break, but overall I must say I’m a little excited. I originally started watching Idol during season 9 and grew to love it for the contestants and their journeys from a face in the crowd, to stars of the greatest singing competition in the country. Through voting for my personal favorites over the years such as Jax, Jena Irene, and Hollie Cavanagh, I felt like I was part of this adventure they were going on and had time to emotionally invest myself in their progress, which is something I never really got to do with any other reality competition shows. While Idol did lose me a bit in it’s final season due to some questionable thematic decisions, I’ve always remained a fan and member of the Twitter hive mind collective. Make no mistake, I want Idol’s renewal to succeed and hopefully reignite that passion for the competition and its players that I once so dearly treasured.
In order to show just how much I still care for Idol and it’s success, I’ve put together some words of advice along with a couple of helpful suggestions for you guys, which I’ve complied in the form of numbered points for your reading pleasure below.
While I’m sure you’re all waiting on pins and needles for the opinion of an internet blogger regarding how you should be going about your business, before I get to my points hear me out for a second. I may not know much about making a television show, but I do know how what you are creating can really impact people’s lives. Before Idol I was just a young, unassuming, yet particularly handsome teenager. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and I barely had a sense of what passions I wanted to pursue. When I started watching Idol I discovered how writing about television shows and sharing the passion that I had for them could give me such great feelings. I loved dissecting the game and how the contestants were playing it, and I enjoyed talking about and sharing these observations. Writing about Idol gave me a purpose and is what brought me to the internet and eventually to blogging, where I finally cemented a goal to become a writer. I’m a product of how Idol can change a person.
Additionally, it’s because of Idol that I get to connect and talk with so many awesome people on social media. The show you guys work on brings people of different backgrounds, who don’t really have many things in common, together for a couple of hours a week. During that time we can forget about the hardships in the world or our personal problems and just enjoy each others company watching a show that we love. Maybe along the way we can even share a laugh from a witty observation someone on one of the forums made.
You guys are so lucky to get to work on something so special. I, as a fan, envy you and the fact that you get to wake up in the morning and say “I work on the production team of American Idol!” Don’t take that fact for granted and think of your role as simply a means to a paycheck; to many others what you do means a lot more. There is something so special about getting to work on something so larger than life, and I just want to say on behalf of all us fans, we appreciate you guys and everything you do.
Now on to the advice and suggestion points!
1- Never Let Ryan Seacrest Leave The Show (Even If It Means Buying Him The Moon)– Commenter Imozone over at Mjsbigblog.com sums up the majority of the fanbase’s thoughts regarding this matter perfectly, saying “if they want this show to have any chance of a successful return, they need Ryan at the helm. If he asks for it to be named ‘Ryan Seacrest’s American Idol‘, then they should get busy making new signs.” Ryan is an integral part of the Idol brand; he bridges together the seasons and adds one constant continuity figure that fans have emotionally connected with the show. Letting him leave under any circumstances would be detrimental to the fanbase and would make Idol unrecognizable from what the show started out with. And not to pry, but it doesn’t seem like it would be that hard to keep him around. It’s not like he’s doing the job begrudgingly; Ryan clearly loves Idol, so much so that he is willing to fly across the country multiple times a week so that he can keep doing it along with his other obligations. If that’s not commitment, I don’t know what is. Idol producers, give him everything he wants. He’s worth it.
2- Encourage Musical Creativity– Believe it or not, I have no musical talent other than being able to play a few chords of 100 Years, by Five For Fighting, on piano. While my great-grandmother has told me that I have the voice of someone who can make a deaf unicorn puke rainbows (still not entirely sure what she meant by that), I like to think that I’m not entirely tone-deaf and can recognize when someone is blessed with a fantastic singing voice. However, as you probably already know, raw talent simply isn’t enough to win the Idol game. Nope, instead you need to be smart with how you use your talent and most importantly find ways to get creative! While you and I are aware of the correct ways to compete, in many cases the contestants are fresh recruits who’ve barely kept up with the show. You have such an opportunity with these unaware hopefuls to liven up the game and keep things interesting by encouraging they dig deep for musical creativity. Don’t let such a great opportunity for a better show go to waste by simply letting them do what they want, which in many cases will simply be karaoke versions of current pop songs that will do nothing to advance them further towards the finale. Instead, meet with them every couple of days and drill them on how they are playing. Ask them if they really think this unchanged cover of Cake By The Ocean is going to help them win the game. When they hopefully are aware enough to say no, introduce them to masters of rearranging songs like Postmodern Jukebox and suggest they maybe try a different angle that will turn an okay performance into an incredible one.
Risks are always tricky in the Idol game, but honestly, I’d rather see a contestant go out trying something different instead of just phoning in performances until they are eventually voted off. At least they would have tried to give us something different. All I’m saying is don’t let contestants go the easy route. Encourage them to always try to do something different and unique with their musical choices. The winners of past seasons are all ones who knew how to take risks and play smart, especially Candice Glover and Trent Harmon for example. Just imagine a season when all of the contestants are playing in such a ballsy way. It would be epic!
3- Avoid Letting The Show Become Formulaic And Predictable– One of the biggest gripes fans often have regarding similar reality-based competition shows is how they have started to become predictable and formulaic. I’m not saying this in the sense of predicting which lucky contestants will end up winning the show (though if they are a white guy with a guitar it’s pretty obvious), but rather in how its gimmicks are used during an episode’s runtime. With other reality shows featuring things like Golden Buzzers or a Steal from America’s Got Talent and The Voice respectively, the way these gimmicks have been used have almost always been in a repetitive manner that makes their usage predictable and formulaic.
For example, during the battle rounds of just about every season of The Voice, the show would always save a Steal for the last duel of the night. Since before every commercial break the show would be hyping up an epic steal moment, by the time the last contestants walk on stage without it happening we can already predict how things are going to go down. This wouldn’t be a problem, except it happens all the time during each battle round episode. It makes the show predictable and takes out any sense of spontaneity. Thankfully, Idol doesn’t have such a gimmick, but should ABC unfortunately decide that it needs one, make the way it’s used surprising. Doing so would be refreshing, and something the fans would certainly appreciate.
4- Freshen Up and Expand The Song Selections And Themes– Ever since I started watching Idol, I’ve observed fans consistently voicing their frustrations with the limited song options that the contestants seem to have open to them. With some of the same overdone songs being dragged out year-after-year, the situation begs the question why some money isn’t being put towards giving the contestants more options. While I shudder sadly to think Katy Perry’s ludicrous salary may be that question’s answer, is it that absurd of a request that some money be put aside for the sole purpose of expanding the Idol songbooks? Doing so may help the contestants deliver a more eclectic show, and it would certainly appease fans.
As much of an issue as the song selection is however, the problem with the theme weeks is even worse! Idol unfortunately trips over itself year-after-year by constantly bringing out the same overdone theme weeks that no one is ever asking for. As much as you might love Motown music, the vast majority of the show’s fans are begging for something different that hasn’t been done before. In fact, having such similar themes results in contestants often having to fall back on the same overdone songs because they are further restricted by the limited options you’ve established for them. What Idol needs is to be more accessible, and limiting what the contestants can do is just hindering the competition from reaching its full capability. Oh, and I’m still waiting for answers about just who it was that ever thought that a “most overdone songs on Idol” theme would ever be a good idea. Just trying to remember that moment when I heard the announcement is enough to make my head explode.
If you’re wondering what kind of themes fans are looking for in a season, I’ve listed some for you below. Shout-out to Michael Slezak from tvline.com for sharing some of these ideas. You can check out his original article with a full list of his theme week suggestions HERE.
a- Mashup Week
b- Acoustic Week
c- Original Songs Week
d- Songs That Have Never Been Performed On Idol Week
e- Songs From The 90s Week
f- Flip A Song Released This Year Week
5- Start A List Of Banned Songs– While we are on the matter of song selections, it is many fan’s shared belief that there should be a list of songs that are banned from being performed on the Idol stage. This list would both include songs that have hit a meme-worthy level of overdone-ness on and off Idol, and ones that previous contestants have performed so well that they’ve left a mark so great on it that they should be honored thusly. While I personally could write up a list of over 100 songs I’d like to see banned, the following list would be a step in the right direction and a good place to start.
For Being So Overdone:
a- Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now), by Phil Collins
b- I Have Nothing, by Whitney Houston
c- I Believe I Can Fly, by R. Kelly
d- I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing, by Aerosmith
e- Hallelujah, by Leonard Cohen
For Being Done So Epically:
a- Mad World, by Tears For Fears
b- Billie Jean, by Michael Jackson
c- House Of The Rising Sun, by The Animals
d- Lovesong, by The Cure
e- Summertime, by Ella Fitzgerald
6- Give The Fans What They Want To See (By Cutting Back On The Sob Stories)– As a student of journalism who has very little knowledge of marketing aside for a college course that I may or may not have mostly slept through, I’m basically the ideal person who you should be listening to for advice in this department. Regardless, the one thing I did learn in that class, aside for the ever-important location location location, is to know your audience. While I by no means am trying to say that I know what your broad demographic of viewers want to see, a major complaint I’ve seen fans consistently coming back to across social media is, of course, regarding the excessive use of sob stories.
A talented one or two sob story contestants a season isn’t a bad thing; they’re a great way for people to form an emotional connection with the hopeful, and usually result in the exposure helping them out with whatever problem they are dealing with. However, when they are done to such an excessive degree it turns off the audience and makes them cynical to all of the sob story contestants as a whole. Browsing across social media in the past, I’ve seen people say some pretty disgusting things about certain contestants, who frankly I feel don’t deserve the horrid treatment they were receiving. The audience needs to give these poor people a break! All they did was audition for a show in the hopes that they might come off it in a better place. If the audience really wants to point fingers, don’t do it at the contestants; they’re not the ones who put them on the show with so many other sob stories in the first place.
For these future sob story contestant’s sanity, I ask that you cut back on how many you use in a season. Again, one or two or even a handful is okay, but beyond that is towing the line and getting into dangerous territory. Contestants in a season should really be cast on the merits of their talent anyway; not their story. I’m just trying to look out for these people and what’s in their best interest. I hope you do as well.
7- Cut Back On The Cutaways To The Judges When A Contestant Is Performing– Now we are all very much aware that Jennifer Lopez is a very pretty lady, but seriously, the cutaways to her when she was a judge on the show were ridiculous and excessive. While fans have often speculated if her contract included X amount of cutaways to her during an episode, the fact that they were so often have dampened many epic Idol moments. Cutaways to the judges should be kept to a minimum, but for some reason you guys seem to think that we need to see how the judges are reacting in order to form our own opinions, as if you feel we aren’t smart enough to think for ourselves and makes those assumptions on our own. Regardless, having these cutaways so often ruins the moment because they take us out of the performances.
A shining example of what I’m talking about took place in the season 13 performance finale when eventual winner, Caleb Johnson, performed his rendition of Aerosmith’s Dream On. For those unfamiliar with it, the song climaxes in an epic high-note moment that is basically its highlight and what makes it so incredible. You can check out the performance I’m talking about HERE. Skip to 1:40 in the video and watch for about 10 seconds to see the moment I’m talking about.
Go on. I’ll wait.
DID YOU FUCKING SEE THAT!? They cutaway from the best part of the performance to show Jennifer! I don’t care about her reaction, I want to see the guy pulling off an epic Steven Tyler high note. Gah!
That moment has bothered me ever since it happened and if I’m being honest with myself, I’m still not entirely over it. Please Idol producers, end this madness. No matter how pretty you think Katy Perry looks in whatever revealing outfit she’s wearing come the live rounds, keep those cutaways to a bare minimum, or even better yet, just take them all out entirely if it’s possible. I don’t even care if you dedicate a whole minute at the start of the show just to Katy smiling or, I don’t know, air-drumming, just keep them out of the performances. Those 2 minutes should be for the contestants; the judges can react when it’s their turn to talk.
8- Learn From The Voice‘s Mistakes– I could rant for hours about all the problems I have with The Voice, but for the sake of both of our sanities I’ll keep my opinions limited to just a single point. This point being how The Voice handles the treatment of its contestants, both on the show and off, and why everything they do is wrong. As a viewer who has been following The Voice closely, the aspect that frustrates me the most about it is how the contestants aren’t the stars of the show, the coaches are. The show has structured itself in way that it’s not so much about seeing the contestants win, but rather pulling for the celebrity coach and seeing them get the victory and (ugh) bragging rights, which of course can then be used in pointless, for the camera, bickering in future seasons.
As much of an issue as I have with this stylistic format decision, I could kind of get behind it if the whole idea of the celebrities being coaches wasn’t just a big sham. The reality of the fact is, the contestants barely spend time with their coaches except to film segments for the show, and they certainly don’t get many opportunities to learn with them like the show wants you to believe. Furthermore, post-show, the coaches don’t keep in touch with the overwhelming majority of their contestants and don’t give two shits if they have a successful career.
Contestants on The Voice are dropped really quickly after being promised the world. Worst of all they barely get any backing from the show to promote their new music. This is a problem more prevalent with America’s Got Talent, but even when the occasional contestant does somehow beat the odds and become moderately successful due to their own hard work, the show will still try and piggyback off their self-earned fame and claim responsibility, when in reality they did nothing to contribute to their career after they were eliminated.
As big of a problem as this is, it highlights why Idol is such a great show in comparison; at least it tries to somewhat help the contestants have a career post-show. What I’m trying to say here isn’t so much advice or a suggestion, but rather a request that you never stop looking out for your players like you have in the past. They put so much time and effort into your show, giving back and looking out for them is the least you can do in return.
Well, that about covers everything I wanted to say. I hope you found at least something useful in my ramblings. But then again, what do I know? I’m just an overly invested fan and internet blogger who occasionally enjoys trolling the forums.
In closing, I just want to say that despite if I came across as sounding a bit harsh in places, I really do have a lot of respect and appreciation for all the hard work you guys have put into the show over the years. Though I don’t always agree with your methods, I can recognize that I will never be able to understand a fraction of the meticulous planning and stress that goes into putting together a single episode of Idol. The fact that you have been able to consistently find and showcase incredible talent year-after-year is a testament in it of itself, and I am excited to see what you have in store for us in the new season. At the end of the day, we are on the same team and I wish you all the best of luck with the reboot.
And with that, my job here is done. Now this fan has done all he can and the rest is up to you. The fate of American Idol is in your hands, Mr. and Mrs. Producers. As they say on RuPaul’s Drag Race: “Don’t fuck it up.”
Adam “I Have Way To Much Free Time On My Hands” Samuel
. . .
Whew! That was a lot of typing! I hope I got my points across clearly and that you found the letter interesting and enlightening, or at the very least entertaining. All my jokes aside, I really am hoping this reboot goes well. As I mentioned before, this is Idol‘s second chance at life; it won’t get a third. If this reboot sucks, American Idol will be put to rest forever right next to Firefly and Bambi’s mother. If I’m being completely honest with myself, there is a part of me that really hopes the reboot does well solely so it can shove its success right in The Voice‘s face. NBC has been getting pretty complacent with their dominating program, and it would be nice to finally have another show to compete with it. The two are scheduled to go head-to-head again next year for the first time since Idol was cancelled, and while I’m doubtful that it will come out on top, crazier things have happened. At the very least, it’s a battle worth looking forward to. You know who I’ll be rooting for.
Stay tuned for the next 2 weeks when I will be sharing my letter of advice and suggestions to the future Idol contestants. Until that time, stay awesome. 🙂
TL;DR: Don’t watch it.