Paula-Free "Idol" Should Make More Changes

By Andy Dehnart
|  Monday, Jan 11, 2010  |  Updated 3:30 PM EDT
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Paula-Free "Idol" Should Make More Changes

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American Idol Judges Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell clown around last season. Abdul is gone this year, but the show hopes to stay on top.

As everyone knows, Paula Abdul is no longer part of "American Idol." She provided hours of entertainment and plenty of media coverage during eight seasons as a judge, but her presence on the show was more about familiarity than usefulness.

Paula's exit means the end of her constant horseplay with Simon Cowell and babbling, incoherent judging. As Paula exits, it's the perfect time for some other stale, annoying things to leave the show, too.

The judges' save
Introduced last season, the judges' save twist was introduced so the judges could intervene should viewers fail to keep around someone worth keeping. It did no such thing, as they used it to save so-so Matt Giraud, who went home two weeks later.

All the new rule really did was give the judges another reason to waste time as they pretended to deliberate about whether or not to use it, which sometimes took an infuriating amount of time despite the complete lack of consequence for their decision.

In theory, it's a good idea, but as designed, it's doubtful it'll be useful. Because the save expires at the top five, it wouldn't have saved many contestants during the first seven seasons who deserved to be saved, with the notable exception of Jennifer Hudson. Was the show really hurt that, for example, Scott Savol, Kellie Pickler, Phil Stacey, or Carly Smithson went home?

Likewise, it won't be hurt by the elimination of the judges' save. Besides, a shocking elimination or two is good for "Idol"'s soul — and to generate a lot of anger and publicity.

Time overruns
It's simply inexcusable for the No. 1 show in America to go past its allotted time. Last April, the show went over time by eight full minutes, meaning anyone who had DVRed the episode missed Adam Lambert's entire performance of "Mad World" that night. And it's not like the filler that came during the preceding hour was necessary.

Critics blamed having a fourth judge, but Kara DioGuardi wasn't the problem; an inability to properly pack the show and schedule its various elements was the problem. Instead of getting rid of pointless clip packages or overly long introductions to equally pointless mentors, the show experimented with idiotic things like only having two judges talk after each contestant performed.

At best, time overruns are the result of incompetence; at worst, they're a deliberate attempt to keep people tuned in to the network. Neither is acceptable for a show that's been on the air for nine years.

Idol Gives Back
It's fantastic that "American Idol" has used its power and reach to raise money for charity through what essentially amounts to a telethon. It's not fantastic that the telethon is so boring and ill-conceived.

In 2007, executive producer Cecile Frot-Coutaz told the AP that "some people don't want to spend two hours watching poverty and people suffering." Actually, we just don't want to watch a badly produced two hour telethon.

Idol Gives Back didn't air last year, and that was wonderful. But since it's back for season nine, maybe it could also be entertaining?

Seacrest's cutesy eliminations
Inevitably, there's a point in the season when Ryan Seacrest will divide the remaining finalists in half and be left with one additional person, who he asks to choose which of the two groups is the loser group. It's mean, pointless, and unfair, and seems like a desperate grab for attention on his part. The eliminations are already painful enough for some of the contestants. Besides, the best eliminations are the ones where Seacrest just gets down to it, telling contestants who's safe and who's not.

Seacrest needs to watch tape of "So You Think You Can Dance" host Cat Deeley, who's far better at eliminating contestants than he is.

 

Contestant pimping
The dirty little secret of "American Idol" is how much control producers really have over who stays in the competition. Although they can't tamper with viewers' votes, they can tamper with viewers' perceptions, which happens when they showcase certain contestants and ignore others.

That happens in many ways, starting with the audition rounds and continuing on to the order contestants perform during the finals. There's also everything from being selected to have a conversation with Ryan Seacrest to the biography producers choose to highlight.

Producers should do whatever it takes to make a great show, but they should also give equal time and equal attention to the finalists to give them an even playing field on which to succeed or fail.

Simon Cowell's grumpy face and frumpy clothes
Dude: You're paid millions of dollars a year to sit in a chair and listen to karaoke for maybe three hours a week, if that. Dress up and cheer up.

Andy Dehnart is a writer, TV critic, and editor of reality blurred. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter.

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