‘American Idol’ debate: Steven Tyler, songbooks, and season 12 suggestions

We do need some changes.

If you look at this past season of “American Idol” from a standpoint of quality, then there are many who would probably come out and say that the show at least had a pretty quality final three. There are two people in Joshua Ledet and Jessica Sanchez who are fairly certain to have some sort of career, and even winner Phillip Phillips — polarizing as he may be — has a chance to be successful if Jimmy Iovine corrals the right people to help him make music.

As great as these final three were, problems were still all over the place that kept this season far, far away from the promised land. When you have a final two show were the judges look like they are asleep, and you have the second rendition of Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing” of the season playing, you know there some things that need to change moving forward.

This is not going to be one of those articles where we bash “Idol” and say that the show needs a major overhaul 11 seasons in. “Idol’s” still the best singing competition on TV, and its contestants have the best shot of any in America of legitimate careers. With that being said, though, there are three ways in which the show needs to fix things in order to avoid the same ratings drop it had this year.

Can the panel really stay the same?

Judging changes

We don’t take changing up the panel lightly, and we won’t even criticize “Idol” too much for bringing back Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler for another go after season 10. They revitalized the show’s ratings, and they deserved another chance.

However, it’s becoming clear now that their star power does not compensate for the lack of actual feedback they provide. When it comes to Steven, you have a guy who is brilliant in the audition rounds as a master goofball and a wild card, but a guy who wilts like a flower in the desert during the live shows. He doesn’t offer much beyond “that was beautiful,” and the editors can’t piece together a collection of funny soundbites. He just doesn’t feel totally present.

We will at least give Jennifer a bit more credit — she did give some constructive feedback at times this season, but simultaneously she also seemed to believe that Phillip and Joshua could do no wrong (and they would have at times benefited from some more insight rather than hearing they are amazing just about every second of the day). The other issues with J.Lo at the moment has nothing to do with her critique as it does what is now becoming an annual waiting game to see if she is going to return to the show. Why leave “Idol” hanging every year? If she wants to go on tour, they should allow her to do so and turn their attention elsewhere.

Since we think that Randy Jackson is someone who raises his game based on the other judges around him (remember how much better he was during the days of Simon Cowell), “Idol” should keep him and then create some sort of balance for next season’s panel. While they would be smart to bring in a Pink or a Mariah Carey or some other superstar for one of the chairs (for viewership if nothing else), they have to ensure that the other chair has someone there who will not be afraid of angering people who would potentially buy their album. We don’t want to see Jimmy Iovine in the role (mostly because he’s so much more articulate in the pre-taped segments), but if you could find another producer (or just an artist unafraid to speak their mind), that would be preferred.

Song catalogs

In looking back at some of the later rounds this season, we were routinely seeing situations where over half of the list performed were tracks we have heard on “Idol” before, and some of them on multiple occasions. We can think of just a group on the top of our heads that should be banned for at least a few years:

-“I Have Nothing”

-“Dance with My Father”

-“The Prayer”

-“Superstition”

-Heck, almost anything by Stevie Wonder or Whitney Houston

-“Against All Odds” (even if it wasn’t covered this season)

While in some ways it’s nice to compare “Idol” contestants to past ones via the song choices, it is simultaneously tough for it to be fair to current contestants when they start a song (say “Imagine” or “A Song For You” this season) that a past superstar completely owned on the show’s stage. That comparison is going to be there whether you want it to be or not.

The one thing we will credit “The X Factor” and “The Voice” on is allowing us to hear a larger variety of songs spanning multiple genres. They also felt more current than “Idol,” which seems to play out at times like a radio station choosing to stay between 1960 and 1989 most of the time — though they will at times go modern to appease people with requests. We need a larger songbook! We know not everyone wants to clear their songs, but it’s at least worth a shot.

The rehearsal format

For a show that is often about singers trying to do their best to express themselves on stage, the “Idols” are consistently pretty much worked to the point of exhaustion on some things that don’t directly pertain to the competition. Do we really need a Ford Music Video every week? Can’t the Ford sponsorship be included in a way that doesn’t take up most of the contestants’ Sundays? We would just like to see these singers have a little bit more time to rest, and a little bit more time to prepare since they really only have a week to begin with.

As for other format tweaks to the show itself, we know there are complaints — however, it’s going to be next to impossible to fix them without changing the very fabric of the show. Yes, the person who sings first is always at the most danger of going home, and the winner for the past five seasons has been a white male who plays guitar. But it’s better to let voters figure this out than “Idol” itself, since installing some sort of judges’ component basically transforms the entire show into “America and the Judges’ Idol,” and the show loses what makes it different from the other singing competitions.

What sort of changes do you think should be made to the show? We want to hear from you! Be sure to share your thoughts in the box below.

Photo: Fox

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