When I said I made no resolutions for the new year, that wasn’t entirely correct. I did resolve something, but I resolved it about a year ago. It was that I’d be giving up on American Idol.
I tried to like the show without Simon. But the reason it’s flailing has much less to do with Simon’s departure than the producers’ reaction to it. As soon as season 10 hit, the first post-Cowell season, the interview rounds—once the most entertaining part of the show—dried up. Apparently there was no more interest in letting a few losers through to the judges to give America a taste of how few good performers make it and what they’re being weeded out from. Perhaps that was because Jenny from the block was squeamish about delivering bad news, but whatever the reason, this was a mistake, and it’s unforgivable. The auditions used to be an unpredictable mix of good and bad, and now they’re not. The producers now treat the audition rounds like they’re just a preview for the live shows.
Look, it doesn’t make any of us better people, but the truth is one of the reasons the show has always held such fascination is the opportunity to see—and yes, laugh at—just how badly some people have deluded themselves into thinking they’ll be giant pop stars even though they’re completely tone deaf. Frankly there’s this spoiled attitude that a lot of kids have grown up with, no doubt thanks to the self-esteem-at-all-costs philosophy and the idea that believing in yourself is all that ever matters, and it’s fun to see that stupidity get eviscerated as they suddenly realize they are not in fact the center of the universe. It was never funny to laugh at the ones who felt genuinely bad, but the ones who couldn’t carry a tune in a supertanker yet felt they were godlike in their talent—and got indignant when gainsaid—were truly hilarious. I’d gladly watch a show with nothing but those self-made egomaniacal brats getting smacked down.
Last season I hit my limit. In season 10, the auditions had only just started to suck but there was a talent pool truly worth watching. Even though I’m allergic to country music, Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina were both too amazing not to follow through the competition. But season 11 not only failed to wow me, it was even worse in the audition rounds than ever before. In one episode, they featured nothing but contestants who got yesses from the judges—except for one, only one, who was only sort of bad and got a no. And I said I’ve had it; I’m done.
Now season 12 is here with new judges. As if I needed any more reasons not to watch, the addition of the execrable Nicki Minaj was quite enough. I’d say I don’t get why there are four of them, but I actually do. In lieu of anything watchable from the audition round contestants, they decided to amp up the drama by deliberately throwing together people who couldn’t get along.
I don’t understand the specifics behind the feud between Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj. I don’t need to; there’s no point. The feud was inevitable for two reasons. Mariah has always had a reputation as a diva, though hopefully she’s mellowed in recent years, and that means a big personality; but she has the talent to back most of that up. Nicki Minaj, on the other hand, is a hack, is probably used to star treatment because some people inexplicably seem to like her, and I not only doubt her qualifications as a judge but suspect she’s completely clueless when it comes to responding to other judges’ comments about who’s good or bad. This is based on my impressions, not the show, because I won’t watch it.
To be absolutely fair, Nicki’s singing voice is okay—when she bothers to use it. She spends the majority of her time doing a wide variety of annoying voices whenever she goes into a rap segment of a song. I mean annoying like being trapped under a giant bell with Fran Drescher and that yutz who does the Fred videos on Youtube, only I think I’d still only rate that experience an 8.5 on the Nicki Minaj rage scale. But back to the fair part, yes, she can sing, at least passably. But that’s her only asset. Everything else about her sucks, from the rap voices to the stupid pop-eyed expression she does to the trying-too-hard Hirajuku look that frankly Gwen Stefani did much earlier and better.
The idea that this loser would clash with Mariah Carey, who has talent growing on her talent growing on more talent growing on the nape of her (reputed) ego, was not a stretch. Nor do I find it difficult to believe that Keith Urban is keeping a cool head in the conflict; country is the kind of genre where I suspect it’s hard to become a superstar without mostly being a nice person. (I respect the heck out of country stars; I just hate the music.) I heard something over the summer or fall about Nicki feeling she had been “set up” by the producers, and I was thinking: Yeah, no kidding, lady. Bless her heart, did she think they actually wanted her for her chops as a judge? She’s nothing more than a vapid cat
tle prod to ignite a reaction from Mariah, and they probably also wanted her to pull in new viewers from the pool of people who like her “music”.
With this level of drama so obviously and forcibly injected, does this mean the producers will start throwing a healthy portion of bad singers at the judges again? Perhaps it does, but I’ve been pushed too far to watch and find out. Last season’s auditions were so lame, building on the lameness of the year before, that they forced an automatic pass on this year; and then I’m not sure if I mentioned this, but I hate Nicki Minaj (just as an “artist”) with a white-hot passion. I’ll return to the show if it can ever be demonstrated that they got their ducks back in a row, if by that point it even still exists. Otherwise I’ll settle for a DVD collection of the auditions from seasons 2-9 (maybe 1 too, but I didn’t see it).
Still, even at their funniest, the American Idol auditions never held a candle to Ancient Aliens for humor. But then nothing really can.