Analysis: ‘Idol’ Botches Its Announcement, But Gets the Judges Right

The “American Idol” news was a joke — but the choice of Lopez, Tyler and Jackson intrigues

 

Oh, stop acting like you’re not going to tune in and see how this goes.

Because let’s face it – you will, along with roughly 2,999,999 fellow rubberneckers.

And if Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson can gin up some chemistry on this season’s “American Idol” – which I’m predicting they will – then Fox’s golden goose can gracefully proceed with its gradual decline. (Photo of the new judges from Movieline.)

After last season, the bar is low. Ellen DeGeneres couldn’t hack being honest; Kara DioGuardi couldn’t hack being non-irritating; and Simon Cowell, suffering from a terrible case of short-timer’s disease, couldn’t hack being awake.

We wish them all the best possible riddance (yes, even Simon, whose boredom with the abominably bad crop of contestants was contagious).

So what are we left with? A more intriguing group than anyone’s willing to let on, that’s what.

J.Lo needs “Idol” more than “Idol” needs J.Lo. But to dismiss her on account of a flagging music and film career is folly. See if this sounds familiar: She’s an aging pop princess on the precipice of irrelevance; she’s a poor singer more famous for her looks, hooks and dance moves; and she once did a music video with MC Scat Kat. (OK, J.Lo never did the MC Scat Kat thing. But I think you see where I was going with this.)

We’ve seen Lopez on “Idol” before. She couldn’t help being a little squirrely during her turn as a mentor in 2007, as she made no effort to hide that she’s a huge fan of the show. But she was also sweetly maternal and took the role seriously, offering constructive criticism with confidence and ease.

Throw in a handful of painkiller prescriptions, and Fox might be onto something.

Or maybe that’s where Steven Tyler comes in.

For all we’ve seen of Tyler over the years – and those are many, many years now – he still feels like the wild card here. Presumably, he’s to take the Simon role, and no one seems to think he’s up to it.

I’d disagree. Tyler doesn’t have to be cruel and blunt to fill Simon’s shoes – he just has to take an unblinking look at every performance and evaluate it lucidly. Simon was brilliant at articulating what you were thinking but would be afraid to say out loud; that’s candor, not cruelty. Tyler has always been open, animated, and candid to a fault. Plus, he looks like a feral animal.

Which brings us to Jackson, the Rasputin of the “American Idol” table. Ever mocked for his silly lingo and platitudes, Randy hasn’t gotten the credit he’s deserved for expanding his repertoire over the past few seasons, especially when it comes to giving meaningful feedback and breaking uncomfortable tension with comic relief.

Folks are already complaining, but keeping Randy around is a good play by Fox/Fremantle: he anchors the show to its legacy, he plays well with others, and he probably came cheap.

Speaking of Fox/Fremantle, while I’m ready to declare this panel a potential winner, I’m also calling the way they handled it an unmitigated disaster.

Not since LeBron James announced he was taking his talents to South Beach has a press conference promised so much and delivered so little. Lopez and Tyler’s names were in the press for weeks, and Randy seemed safe all along.

Nothing about Wednesday’s announcement at the Forum was “breaking” or “news”; but we treated it that way, solely because a surprise of some kind – Elton John? Triumph the Insult Comic Dog? – still seemed a possibility.

Fool us once with the crying of wolf, guys. That’s not an effective way to build brand trust. Had Fox/Fremantle been able to keep a lid on their shenanigans over the past few weeks, Wednesday’s press conference would’ve landed with a wallop instead of a whimper.

Lucky for them, there’s just enough that’s right about their choices – foregone conclusions or not – that viewers will check in come January. And there’s just enough potential with these three personalities to restart the sputtering “Idol” engine.