While it may be the most popular show in America, I will admit that the previous season of American Idol was my first to watch from beginning to end. In my observation, considering how many Idol contestants I’ve followed after their runs on the show, it felt inevitable.
For my efforts, I felt rewarded when there were three contestants I legitimately liked among a strong field of contenders, and I was excited to see all three land among the Top 4 contestants of the season – eventual winner Kris Allen, runner-up Adam Lambert (my favorite of the bunch), and fourth-place finisher Allison Iraheta.
Why bring all of this up? Because the current season of Idol makes the whole ordeal of last year feel like a fluke.
There have been no shortage of stories about the changes to American Idol this year, from the replacement of original judge Paula Abdul with Ellen DeGeneres, to the announcement that this will be the last season with Simon Cowell as the unofficial lead judge.
Maybe it’s the shake-up in the judging panel that’s led to some of the feelings of inadequacy this year. With Ellen (and I’ll preface this by saying that I love the woman) serving as a poor substitute for Paula, and Simon seemingly bored every week, the judging sometimes feels…poor.
Ultimately, though, the judging is only a portion of the problem.
The bigger problem lies with the contestants. While there are typically bound to be a few contestants every year who are likely to raise an eyebrow, this season is almost completely filled with such waste.
The judges have touted their wish for a girl to win for the past few years, which is understandable. The last two seasons have had a Final Two consisting of guys, though girls tend to historically have better careers than the guys (see: Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood).
In their push for a female winner, though, the guys have been almost uniformly unengaging this year. When mediocre talent from someone like Tim Urban, whose pretty-boy looks in a room of relative mediocre looks from every other male contestant seems to propel him more than anything, can make the Top 12, something’s wrong.
Of the men this season, three have a semi-decent shot at success: Michael Lynche, the most technically smooth singer of the bunch who still feels like a hammy reincarnation of Season 2 winner Ruben Studdard; Casey James, whose amazing guitar skills are unfortunately not matched by an aggressive singing voice; and Lee DeWyze, who could follow in the steps of David Cook if he finds a way to overcome his visible nerves.
Meanwhile, the majority of the girls are on the weaker side. Fortunately for both the judges’ wishes and the general viewing public, two of the girls are redeeming the show just enough to make this season watchable. First is the presumed frontrunner for the season, Crystal Bowersox, who comes across as a consummate professional performer. She manages to infuse each of her performances with the right amount of grit and passion. Running a very close second is Siobhan Magnus, who is easily the most daring of the contestants in both song selection and vocal arrangement.
Still, even with the talent of Crystal and Siobhan, this is going to be a long season of Idol. Should one or both of the standouts somehow manage to be eliminated early, I can’t guarantee I won’t follow them away from Idol. I might not be the only one, either – while the show’s still #1 in the ratings, its viewer average is slipping significantly this season.