Scott could’ve been scott-free? As if. ‘American Idol’ brings phoniness to new lows

OK — had to get this off my chest. If American Idol is losing some of its audience, there’s one very good reason: Bad judges.

I mean, even Simon has almost nothing to say other than to criticize wardrobes (irrelevant) and to knock poor singing by placing it in an interchangeable venue of amateurism (karaoke bar, wedding reception, Holiday Inn, cruise ship, birthday party, barmitzvah), as if that says anything discerning about what we’ve just heard. And new judge Kara is as inane and hopeless as Paula and Randy always have been.

And the droning is maddening. I mean, how many times must we hear a non-evaluation of a performance which begs for it while the judges blame it all on song choice? That’s such a cop-out. And the fact is, if Adam can turn Ring of Fire and Tracks of My Tears into songs he virtually owns via new versions, song choice doesn’t matter. If you’re good enough, any song can work for you. As Tim Gunn might say, you make it work for you. Yet several times each week, we hear the tepid criticsm of “You chose the wrong song.”

Actually, Idol chose the wrong judges. I mean, I recall when they once had guest judges, and people like Gene Simmons actually evaluated performances in a thorough and thoughtful manner, giving the kind of true criticisms — and props– which might really help a singer. Now? Fuhgetaboutit. It’s the song choice. Or it’s too karaoke. Or the wardrobe is atrocious. Or they were great, when they really weren’t that great.

Then consider whom the judges picked for this year’s top 12. Apart from Adam, who’s a born professional entertainer (and, as much as I love his work, a two-trick pony so far), the lineup is sounding like warbling actors auditioning for a comedy about lounge lizards. I mean, almost every performance is loungy and phony, with no sense of emotional authority or connecting in any real way with demanding listeners. These people are terrible! As a composer, I’d be appalled to hear my work subverted so much. They never sing the lyrics with any true sense of the words’ meaning, and they treat great melodies as a trivial thing compared to their rambling riffs which dance all around the melody by creating new–and horrible–ones instead.

But beyond burdening us with such a sorry lineup, what really hit home as a judging flop this week was the absurd phoniness of their agitated, animated “we just can’t decide” posturing before doing what we knew they’d do: dismiss Scott, a guy whose bland Up With People performances had rightly gotten him poor marks for weeks. Yet suddenly the judges were oh so torn and were wrestling with the idea of awarding their only free pass of the season to Scott, of all people, while the likes of Adam and Chris might need it in future weeks? Please.

The problem with the judges having a veto over viewer votes is that it takes the onus and burden off viewers (“You blew it, America!”) and shifts it right back to the final-say judges. So the real culprits for banishing a sweet blind guy couldn’t be bored viewers who didn’t endorse him, but the judges who were forced to say “You’re going home anyway.” And since they didn’t want to sound heartless in saying that, they acted like they truly wanted to keep him — and might do so, we just can’t decide! — while poor Scott sang again for his supper and then squirmed in the proverbial hot seat as they debated his fate — a debate which was as phony as anything I’ve ever seen on Idol. I mean, no way were they keeping him on the show, only to be ditched by America again next week.  Don’t insult our intelligence and pretend otherwise.

Back to Adam: He’s got to expand his range beyond (1) banshee-like heavy-metal wails for ear-piercing showboating and (2) tender falsetto ballads. I mean, what else can he do? What else has he shown? He’s been great in those two regards, and his song choices are superb, as are the arrangements (though I wish he’d credit his weird Middle Eastern vibe for Ring of Fire to Rock Star Supernova‘s Dilana). But what’s he gonna do on a 12-song album — this sort of thing, over and over? Hey, I love the guy — he’s the best Idol’s got this season, and I’d sign him in a minute. You could work with this guy. But show us what else you can do, Adam. And if this is all there is, that’s not truly enough in the long run.

So, no, there’ll be no rock-breakout guy a la David Cook this year, but a highly theatrical, albeit professional, entertainer in Adam, or a lounge-worthy usurper to his crown.

Meanwhile, Idol’s judges contribute nothing to the show but dead time, and they get far more time than the singers, including their new grand entrances — so prissy and absurd — at the start, as if the shows are about them and they are star-worthy in themselves. These judges? Heck, they don’t even do their jobs and listen to the singers much of the time, if you notice how they disrespectfully gab among each other during the performances. (Imagine the judges on Dancing With the Stars doing that. They don’t.) Can you spell “predisposed”? The whole things feels so rigged and so false. Remember when Paula critiqued a performance which never happened last year? Oops — wrong notes. And so, while still using a good ol’ VCR, I now tape most shows and then watch them right after they’ve aired, fast-forwarding through anything the judges have to say. I just can’t take it anymore.

You know, there’s such a thing as exacting, helpful, “have a take and do not suck” criticism, rather than, “Dude, check it out” (Randy) or “Here’s the thing” (Kara) or “You’ve found your niche as an artist” (Paula) or “That sounded like a karaoke/wedding party/cruise ship/Holiday Inn performance” (Simon) — not to mention “We suddenly think you’re fantastic, Scott, and we’re having an awfully tough time deciding on our free-pass vote, because you are so fab! We really want to keep you and– oh, sorry, goodbye.”

One phrase Randy uses that I will endorse: keep it real. If only Idol did so.

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