"American Idol" is back, again seizing the spotlight. Here's the mainbar I sent to papers; next, I'll send a box and a sidebar.
By MIKE HUGHES
A dozen years ago, Mariah Carey – a
big deal in the music world – was chatting with her friend Randy
Jackson, a middlin' deal.
“He told me about (a TV job): 'Yeah,
this little show that I'm doing,'” Carey said. “And it turns out
to be this most gigantic phenomenon that we've ever seen. (It's)
changed music in so many ways.”
That's “American Idol,” with Carey
now joining Jackson as a judge. Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban are also
new. “This panel has reinvigorated the show,” said Mike Darnell,
Fox's reality show chief.
Did “Idol” need new vigor? Was it
in trouble? You can argue:
– Yes. The show's original trademark
– acerbic comments by then-judge Simon Cowell and others – has
faded. (“I don't think Americans want to see shows designed to make
people look foolish,” said Mark Burnett, producer of the competing
“Voice.”) And the people who followed Cowell tended to be bland.
– No. The new judges will fix any
blandness. When “someone says yes to a person who clearly doesn't
deserve it, it bothers me,” Minaj said. “It bothers me in my soul
and I want to jump through” the TV.
– Yes. Ratings dropped during a
five-year stretch when, producer Nigel Lythgoe said, the show “had
a real spate of what's been called 'white boy with guitar.'”
– No. In an overcrowded field, all
the music shows have slipped, but “Idol” remains strongly No. 1.
“This is still the king of the shows,” Darnell said. “This is
the one and the only one that makes stars.”
“Idol” contestants have had hit
singles (Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Chris Daughtry), an Oscar
(Jennifer Hudson) and TV stardom (Katharine McPhee). The first three
guys in the “white boys with guitars” stretch went nowhere, but
the next two were fine. Scotty McCreery had albums reach No. 1 and 4;
Phillip Phillips had a single (“Home”) that reached No. 7 and
Now “Idol” may have ended its guy
phase – “we can honestly say the girls are stronger,” Lythgoe
said – and, thanks to new judges – its bland phase.
At one extreme is Minaj, who said it's
easy to reject a contestant. In past years, she said, “I didn't
like it when people would be just overtly passive.”
At the other is Carey. “It was really
tough for me to say no in the beginning,” she said.
In between is Urban,who got a
contestant's view during his Australian boyhood. “I went on this
show called 'Pot of Gold' when Iwas 9,” he said. “And then I did
two other shows, 'Stairway to the Stars' and 'Have a Go!' …. I got
crucified at 9 years of age by one of the judges. But it motivated
The new “Idol” judges were
benevolent at first. They sent 276 auditioners to the “Hollywood
Soon, Darnell said, they had mastered
the art of saying no – sometimes vigorously. “This is a very
passionate panel. I think there are a lot of strong personalities.”
And now they're part of the “little
show” Jackson helped start a dozen years ago.