American Idol Format Changes: The Good, the Bad, and the Pointless

Much like my seasonal tradition of watching Survivor's first episode and last five (but none in between), I have grown accustomed to watching the first few audition episodes and then the voting rounds of American Idol. I grow tired of the exploitation of the "bad" contestants in the early rounds and manipulation of America through sob stories that have no bearing on singing ability. However, I always tune into the semi-finals round to see if someone--anyone--with a glimmer of recording arts potential has a chance to win the show. After the twelve top male performers, I'm questioning why this show is still on the air. It's not the fault of the singers, who range from decent to unique to very good. No. It's the production's fault again.

American Idol has once again redesigned their performance space. It's not a good choice. The contestants are now performing in the round, but the large projection screen is still behind them. That means that people who showed up to support the show and get shoved in the back of the stage don't even get to see the singers or appear on TV; they were shown only in silhouette and spoilers from the taping mentioned each person receiving a voucher to automatically get better seating at a future taping. If you can't even take into consideration the needs of the audience while filming a show, you obviously don't care about the audience.

But there's more to the problem. The stage is large, but the contestants seemed limited to where they were allowed to move. No one went more than three feet away from the mic stand. For a season that was supposed to kill the sit/stand and play your instrument trend on the show, it's sure off to an immobile start.

The biggest problem with the new set is that it's rather ugly. It's dark shades of blue and gray in random patterns, which had almost Nixon/Kennedy TV debate effects on some of the contestants unfortunate enough to get a black and gray projection background as well. If you can't see the performers and don't want to look at the stage, you're not going to pay attention to what's happening on stage.

The judges blindly praised or barely criticized each of the performers. A bad critique went something like this, "You're much better than this. You missed a few notes, but it doesn't matter, because WE know you're talented and America does, too." A good critique went like this, "Wow. You showed America how good you are. You missed a few notes, but it doesn't matter, because WE know how talented you are and America saw that tonight." So, who do you vote for? The "bad" singer with the same critique as the good singer, or the "good" singer with the same critique as the bad singer?

The critiques don't even matter. Only 5 of the singers who performed last night move onto the finale. Everyone else is considered (with all the contestants who made it to Hollywood) for a wildcard slot. I still prefer the original format of the show, with three or four weeks of semi-final heats to determine the finalists and a wildcard pick or two to bring back a deserving contestant. This, however, is a combination of the worst of the old (one shot and most of the singers are gone, so why even bother investing until the final whatever?) and the new (gender splitting even when the girls are consistently better than the boys, meaning the best of some mediocre singers compete with the best of some great singers). This also means that there's a good chance all the girls will get eliminated quickly from the finals as the boys gather larger fan bases faster.

Admittedly, this was the first studio audience taping of the season. It was wisely pre-taped to make sure the show did not run over which happened seemingly more often than not last year. The presentation was tight and, with some glaringly obvious favoritism by length of performance aside, all the contestants were more or less treated equally.

Maybe the show picks up tonight for the girls. Or maybe the addition of online voting through Facebook will be the death knell when OMG the CUTEST contestants go through regardless of vocal ability each week.

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