Ever since Season 1 of ‘American Idol‘ debuted to transfixed audiences, there has been no shortage of commentary and controversy. It appeared that there was no set “type” of ‘Idol’ judges were looking for, with winners ranging from the wildly successful Carrie Underwood to the lackluster Ruben Studdard. The appeal was the diverse range of raw talent, the judges’ banter, and the cutting words of Simon Cowell.
Once Kara DioGuardi was added as a fourth judge last season, the dynamic of the show shifted but few seemed to notice, as they were more fixated on what kind of performance Adam Lambert was going to give and how much “guyliner” he would wear.
Then came the unexpected exit of Paula Adbul, and the even more shocking news that her replacement was talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres. While some thought the comedian and her big personality would be a good fit for the show, DeGeneres has admitted she’s struggling to fit in (rumors of a rift with Simon persist) and has trouble delivering negative criticism (often necessary considering this season’s arguably less talented pool of contestants). But Ellen’s warmth and humor have filled the void that Paula’s unpredictable antics left behind. For his part, Randy Jackson remains the loyal dawg on the other side of the table of ‘Idol’s master (Simon Cowell) as a pleasant but neutral presence.
But it was the bombshell news that Simon Cowell is leaving ‘Idol’ after this season that has die-hard fans now questioning their loyalties to the show and wondering whether future seasons can succeed without Judge Dread. If Simon himself became so tired of the show that it made him depressed, it wouldn’t be surprising if viewers’ interest is waning as well. Not even a $100 million deal offer to stay could keep Cowell from searching for TV’s next big thing and a new challenge when he launches ‘The X Factor’ next fall.
Although ‘Idol’ has managed to hold strong in the ratings–except for this week, where Ryan Seacreast’s spoiler slip proved very costly–there has been a noticeable increase of internet chatter concerning the caliber and range of the contestants. Bloggers are quick to point out the lack of both male and female talent, with the exception of frontrunner Crystal Bowersox. If the friendly rivalry between Kris Allen and Adam Lambert of last season taught us anything, it’s that audiences like to be kept guessing up until the winner is crowned.
That said, the judges like to build up contestants and knock them down for shock value, and few of the past seasons’ frontrunners have actually taken the title. Let’s hope contestants like Andrew Garcia and Siobhan Magnus can take their future performances to the next level and provide some much-needed competition.
Contestants come and go, but the constant force of ‘American Idol’ has always been Simon Cowell. With an eye for talent and the brutal honesty needed to guide America in creating their next superstar, Cowell is undeniably the show’s biggest asset.
Replacing Simon will prove to be a very difficult task. Shock-jock Howard Stern and snarky blogger Perez Hilton were suggested as possible replacements, but they fail to possess the duality of harshness and helpfulness that Cowell has in spades.
It remains to be seen if ‘Idol’ will rebound as the finale draws closer. Talent can be refined, competition can be cultivated, and confidence in TV’s most popular show can be restored. The only certainty, unfortunately, is also the most troubling: ‘American Idol’ without Simon Cowell is like peanut butter without jelly. You can try it with different things, but it will never be as good as the original.
Watch Simon and Seacrest Square Off: