By the end of his tenure as the snarkiest judge on "American Idol," it was clear that fans weren't just phoning in their votes, Simon Cowell was phoning in his performance. The one-liners started to get more mean than clever, and many viewers were actually a bit relieved when the kinder, gentler "AI" panel took over in Season 10. The new Big 3 have their own sets of problems, however, and after Season 11's first set of live shows, some fans are wondering if we don't need Simon's spiky personality after all.
One of the highlights of the new guard during auditions was Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler, whose personality turned out to be just as wild as his wardrobe. The veteran rocker flirted with contestants, burst into song with the best of them, and actually offered some solid musical critiques. "American Idol" fans were impressed and entertained, and surprised by the bonus factor that the crazy rock dude was also a big softie who didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings.
Unfortunately, Tyler's unpredictable behavior frequently veers into wildly inappropriate sexual innuendos and actions with underage contestants. The big news from "American Idol" auditions in Season 11 was the musician's declaration of "hot, humid, and happening--just like your daughter!" to the father of eventual Top 13 contestant Shannon Magrane. These are the days when we get nostalgic for Simon's sly wink and affectionate addition of "sweetheart" when speaking to the girls, which seems almost quaint now by comparison.
The audition rounds, where many deluded wannabes get screen time, displayed the vacuum left by Cowell. The British judge had always been best at bluntly telling talentless people to keep their day job--or at least seriously consider some singing lessons. When new judge Tyler's non-confrontational style made itself apparent, "American Idol" tried instead to make Randy Jackson the bad guy, with disastrous results. Instead of Simon's "If we were searching for the best hotel singer in California, then that would have been quite good," we got Randy's "Dude, that was, um, like, terrible."
Hollywood and Vegas
This is probably the time when "American Idol" viewers miss Simon the least. With all the drama of the group rounds and singing in sudden-death eliminations, there's not a lot of need for focus on the judges, and it's fine if they fade a bit into the background. Steven, Jennifer Lopez, and Randy seem most honest during the Hollywood and Vegas performances, giving props to the big singers and saying goodbye to those who crumble under the pressure.
When it's time to choose the Top 24, we admit that Randy's endless droning about nothing as prospective finalists panic and weep can be pretty tough to endure. Back in Simon's heyday, however, he was often the most cruel with the cuts, spending undue time explaining why one contestant was completely pathetic (or even less pretty!) compared to the person next to him or her. Not cool, and considering what these kids go through just to get to that top range, they've earned the right to some more respect. Despite the dragged out drama, the new "American Idol" judges do tend to offer more encouragement and a self esteem boost to the eliminated singers.
Once the live shows begin and only time delay can save us from Steven's cursing and randomly outrageous comments, things go south. Muzzled by the constraints of live TV standards, Steven completely disappears as an "American Idol" judge, barely offering a word of value, often merely parroting what the other two judges have said before him.
This is when fans miss Simon's critiques the most. Season 10 of "American Idol" was constantly under criticism for the ridiculous amounts of positive, empty praise from the judges on performances, no matter if it was sheer brilliance or a total train wreck. On the first night of the Top 24 in Season 11, the celebrity panel started to run out of adjectives for "beautiful" (we're looking at you, Steven) at the half-hour mark. After awhile, the judges even seemed embarrassed themselves after their umpteenth proclamation of "best ever!"
Compare Season 10, when contestants eventually became completely disinterested in the judge's pointless remarks, to previous seasons when the singers would breathlessly/nervously/excitedly stand and wait for Simon's verdict. It brings to mind a line from from the "Pride and Prejudice" miniseries: "Your good opinion is rarely bestowed, and therefore more worth the earning." At his best, Simon offered tough critiques that actually helped contestants improve, and inspired them to do better.
What do you think, "American Idol" fans? Do you miss Simon Cowell, or do you think the new judging panel works fine without him?
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