Simon Cowell's imminent departure from American Idol leaves big shoes to fill. Could Harry Connick, Jr. fill those shoes?
Harry Connick, Jr.s guest mentoring may have sparked a glimmer of hope for an aging franchise. He recently brought something to American Idol the show has long needed a change of direction.
American Idol in Entertainment Decline
American Idol is exhibiting signs of wear. Recent ratings hit a low so severe that the numbers are comparable to early ratings from the original 2002 Idol season. The exit of Idol kingpin, Simon Cowell, is sure to cause further upheaval.
The lowest ratings of this season came on the night that Harry Connick, Jr. was the guest mentor, but the decline merely followed a downward trend and likely had nothing to do with him and everything to do with the judging and direction of the program. It is widely believed that the Season 9 contestants have been less than amazing. All are talented, but few have infused that talent with the special something that makes fans want to tune in, vote, and rally behind a favorite. That lack of performance zing produces lackluster TV.
Add in the lip-synched group numbers that derail any fresh entertainment value those performances should bring to the table, and factor in the less than inspiring playing of instruments by contestants, and the visual aspect of the show is weakened. Guitar playing is a bonus when it's brilliant, as with Casey James, but for most, the guitar is little more than a crutch that occupies the hands as it roots the contestant to the floor. In short, there's little to watch. And since American Idol is TV, not radio, visual and emotional stimulation is as necessary as vocal ability.
Idol Judges Bear the Blame
Each season viewers watch in dismay as vocally brilliant contestants are axed in early American Idol rounds because they lack a great back story, don't look the part, or don't fit the judges vision of current. Over time, that winnowing practice has likely contributed to the alienation of Idol fans.
There is also the theory that 19 Entertainment, the company that produces American Idol and manages Idol winners, picks their favorites early on, and the judges tailor their comments accordingly. This herding of the voting public in the right direction can be distasteful to viewers.
But the real problem may stem from post-Idol considerations. Terrible vocal performances can be fixed in the studio, and selling CDs is ultimately what matters to those behind the Idol franchise. There are plenty of successful singers who can't recreate their artificially enhanced CD vocals in a live setting because what we hear on the CD is not their true voice. But viewers of American Idol may not want to consider only the potential of a CD. They may want to vote for the best live singer and be entertained in the process. If contestants are chosen because of what they might someday sound like on a CD, the judges have failed the TV viewers, and ultimately, the contestants themselves.
The Wow Factor
Those who did tune in for the Frank Sinatra theme night saw
something unique. They saw an accomplished, successful performer
bring entertainment value back to the Idol stage.
The musically savvy Harry Connick, Jr. mentored the contestants,
arranged the music, and accompanied each Idol hopeful as he or she
performed. He exuded a genuine, comfortable warmth and provided comic
moments that made viewers laugh out loud. He brought enjoyment to the
night and reminded American Idol that it must be, first and foremost,
Could Harry Fill Simon's Shoes?
It would behoove the powers-that-be to consider someone with the
musical gifts and the quick-wit of Harry Connick, Jr. as a replacement for
Simon Cowell. In Harry Connick, Jr. Idol fans would get a judge who:
- has true musical understanding and instinct
- is quick on his feet and embraces humor
- makes honest comments of value to the contestants
- is not swayed by preconceived notions of a superficial "it" factor or a false studio sound
- genuinely nurtures the contestants as fan favorite Paula Abdul did
- brings his own reason to watch to the show
Simon Cowell's shoes will not be easy to fill, so creating new shoes could be the answer. If American Idol chooses a replacement that takes the show in a new direction and gives viewers a fresh reason to tune in, the show may get its groove back. Harry Connick, Jr. just may be an inspired choice.