May 23, 2012

American Idol sputters to the end of another season on fumes of past glory; crowns Phillip Phillips winner

IdolendPhoto: FOX

UPDATE: Phillip Phillips crowned the season 11 winner of American Idol. After a WORLD RECORD 132 million votes Ryan dutifully repeated on the hour, every hour, the results came in. America got it right. P2 wins, sings half of his proposed single, Home, and breaks into tears and shares a moment with his family. Nice ending. The 21-year-old indie-minded guitarist grew and peaked at the right time last week. Though he sings off-key at times, he is among the most genuine of contestants. The warmth that shone through the visit to his home in Georgia last week sealed the deal.

And how nicely ironic: after an often unbearable 127 minutes of screeching performances from Idols and has-beens like Chaka Khan and Jennifer Holiday, the nadir of which was Joshua Ledet and Fantasia in a hysterical self-parodying moment, the quietest of the Idol finalists wins the whole thing.

No Donna Summer tribute, as rumoured, but the awww moment is delivered by former finalists Ace Young and season 3 runnerup Diana DeGarmo when Ace proposes marriage on live TV to a teary DeGarmo. Luckily for Ace, she said yes. All that was missing was a choir of angels floating above them.

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American Idol closes its 11th season with the usual fanfare tonight. Ryan Seacrest will tease out the results to the bleeding last second -- 7 minutes after the two hour mark because it is just impossible for Idol to not overstay its welcome or endless need of self-promotion in a season crying for any good news. A record 100 million votes...Seacrest will gush, as if a fraction of that number equates to actual viewers.

The wrong winner will be crowned according to at least half of the people on the Twitterverse. Jennifer Lopez will take her leave from the judge's panel most accounts say. Idol will be back in January for a 12th season. And for a 13th and for however long it keeps beating shows in its time slot. The whole machine will grind back to business. But does anyone really care?

As an Idol loyalist who has covered the show since its inception, I've never been more bored during a season and approached each episode as if it were homework in a subject I hated. Even during Idol's all-time worst year, the 9th that gave us finalists Lee DeWyze and Crystal Bowersox after previous years gave us boring whitebread winners like Kris Allen and David Cook, I didn't feel so disinterested in blogging the show. 

Even label head Jimmy Iovine's honest, no nonsense reactions and advice, the only sign of intelligence in the whole enterprise, couldn't help me maintain a healthy interest or remove the brain tartar that formed every time Steven Tyler mentioned the word "beautiful" after a performance that wasn't, or Randy Jackson called a female contestant "dude," or JLo rudely interrupted Jackson who didn't fawn over her pointless, uh, insight every week.

 Were it not for feeding a growing Twitter following that keeps me engaged (and awake) every week (thanks everyone) it's likely I'd have bailed months ago. Still, I'm ready for the entire TV singing competition thing to come to a merciful end. I won't be watching the Britney X Factor. I won't be joining in on Duets. I'd rather a weekly dental cleaning than to hear dim bulb Blake Shelton give an opinion on anything on the silly The Voice. In fact, unless Idol replaces its judge's panel, I don't foresee returning regularly for a 12th helping next year.

 Sure, I believe the creative artist Phillip Phillips is superior to the bland, wind-up mimic Jessica Sanchez for the win on tonight's finale. If there's any justice in the vote, P2 will stand under the confetti shower tonight and Jessica will return to posting YouTube videos of herself oversinging outdated Whitney Houston and Dreamgirls ballads after the cheesy Idols Live Tour ends in September. Took nearly an entire season, but P2's low-key, guitar strumming style and quirky, sometimes out of tune Dave Matthews-Lindsey Buckingham-inspired vocals finally won me over last week with his striking covers of the Four Seasons' obscure Beggin' and Bob Seger's We've Got Tonight. Dare I admit I downloaded the former?

But Idol, and its league of imitators, has run its course. The ratings have been at an all-time low this season because we have seen this stuff all before for 10 years.

The judges are paid millions to not judge. The producers come up with the same overplayed theme weeks and force Billy Joel Week or Queen Week on contestants who have never heard of these yesteryear artists. (Joel hasn't even written a new song since retiring to the nostalgia touring circuit in 1993, years before Sanchez, 16, was born.) The contestant's stories are all the same, year-in, year-out: the ingenue plucked from their stage parent's camcorders to your living room, the persistent aspirant returning for another go at JLo, the hard luck kid with some sob story living his or her Dream. These cliched storylines have become as exhausted as any daytime soap's script.

And the song remains the same. I Have Nothing. Fallin'. Motown. Fat Bottomed Girls.

Of course, it's not just Idol that has tanked this season. Interest in singing competition shows across the board is waning. Simon Cowell's overhyped and overproduced X Factor delivered half the audience the huckster promised and crowned an uninspiring, uninspired Made in Miami victor no one is talking about. The Voice landed its cast on the cover of Rolling Stone and made its judges household names but its ratings, too, tumbled this season and the show has yet to find a remotely marketable pop star. America's Got Talent spent millions to lure shock jock Howard Stern to its judges' table and no one cared. The show's less popular with Stern than it was before he joined. Lip-syncing sham Britney Spears gets $15 million to replace Paula Abdul and a Pussycat Doll on X Factor in the fall? That money would be better spent on cancer research. I'm sure the families of two real pop stars we lost this week, Donna Summer and Robin Gibb, would appreciate the gesture.

(In what could be a highlight tonight, word has it Broadway/Glee costar Kristen Chenoweth will join with Jessica Sanchez on a Donna Summer tribute. Likely song: No More Tears (Enough Is Enough) as the pair get their Babs/Donna duel on.)

Even Dancing With the Stars, which had its most impressive lineup of talent yet and its most entertaining season out of 14, saw its ratings fall to its lowest point. And DWTS did everything right this season. Unlike Idol, producers on DWTS keep the show fresh every season by introducing new themes, new challenges (threesome dances, judge's saves) and keeps the focus on the talent and pro dancers rather than endlessly plugging its host and judges the way tired Idol does with every week's overheated intro. "... And your host, RYAN SEACREST!"

Though Idol and DWTS still fight it out with the crime drama NCIS for Neilsen's No. 1 slot, could it be people want a return to scripted television?

And now comes Duets, a contrived singing competition in which the most successful pop Idol, Kelly Clarkson, will sing in tandem with wannabe pop stars no one will remember come September. The resurgent Lionel Richie, announced as one of the mentors, bailed before the series even began, citing scheduling conflicts. More likely, he came to his senses.

The era of Idol and its lesser rip-off shows, Nashville Star, Sing-Off, X Factor, The Voice, et al., really ended when Justin Bieber exploded off YouTube and became a pop sensation without the endorsement of Simon, Randy, Paula, Steven, Ellen, Kara or JLo.

Idol served its purpose well through its fifth, and best, season and became an important pop culture smash, capable of creating stars for the pop stage as well as on movie screens and the Broadway stage. Jennifer Hudson, who wasn't even that special on Idol, won an Oscar. Constantine Maroulis, an Idol also-ran, scored a Tony nomination for originating the lead role in Rock of Ages. More than any other talent show, Idol infiltrated every aspect of popular culture and once mattered. The show has left a major mark and counted as a qualified, legit source and rapid training ground for potential pop stars who could all sing live.

But the music business is cyclical and comes a time when the show biz axiom -- leave them wanting more -- should apply. Marc Cherry understood this when he pulled the plug on Desperate Housewives in its eighth season on a creative high point, a season earlier than planned, this month. He did so before ABC and the public eventually asked him to leave Wisteria Lane before an eviction notice hit his door.

 In an unexpected last gasp of relevancy, Idol was fortunate to find country star Scotty McCreery last season, its most viable winner since Carrie Underwood in season 4. In an era in which platinum albums are few and far between, Scotty scored one with his post-Idol debut and seems set for a healthy run on country radio. Producers could have ended Idol's run after its 10th season while on a relative high.

 Instead, we get likely winner Phillip Phillips tonight and even he doesn't care what the Idol judges or producers say. He's going to do things his own way, to the point he's already saying he's not going to put the Idol single he sang Tuesday night on his album. (This, despite the fact that song was the first halfway decent Idol single ever given to a finalist.) Naturally, this is why P2 deserves to win over banal Jessica. He's at least interesting.

 But the real winners will be TV fans when this trend of TV singing competitions ends for awhile.

Follow @HowardCohen for live commentary on Twitter.

 

 

May 16, 2012

Josh Turner on Scotty McCreery: "Long-term potential"

Josh

Photo: George Holz
Josh Turner weighed in on last year's American Idol winner Scotty McCreery during our phone chat and the deep baritone country star is impressed with the rising deep baritone country star. "Scotty has a lot of potential and he hasn't gone through all the training I've had," the South Carolina singer/songwriter said. "Scotty's coming from great upbringing and doing things the right way and he has his head screwed on right."

114183895Photo: Getty Images
As you might recall, Scotty, the 17-year-old standout from North Carolina on the 10th season and one of the more successful Idol winners, spent much of last year singing Turner's Your Man and Long Black Train. Of course, the comparisons were obvious. Both are country traditionalists, both have deep, resonant voices, both aim for the same market.

"He's not trying to rush this," Turner, 34, said. "He tried out for Idol and grew up in front of the whole world and has handled it extremely well. He's extremely busy juggling school and his music career and I think there will come a day when it really all comes together and his schedule will get easier and he will have time to breathe and develop himself as an artist. He has long-term potential.

 

"I've been there for him," Turner continued, "and I encourage him and have let him know if there's anything I can do help him to let me know."

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JLo a no go on Idol Season 12?

1029269-american-idol-steven-tyler-jennifer-lopez-617-409Photo: Frank Micelotta/FOX
American Idol
judge (in name only) Jennifer Lopez hinted on the Ellen show that she might not be returning for a third season as judge on the program, Billboard.Com reports.

Not that she, or the other two, have been asked to come back yet. My guess is that the savvy JLo is making her announcement now as a face-saving gesture -- leave before they ask you to leave. Fact is Idol's ratings have declined considerably this season and the show's producers have allowed the hit series to grow stale. New ideas are nonexistant. The finalists still sing the same Motown-era oldies, the themes devoted to passe acts (Billy Joel, Queen) repeat ad nauseum and the format hasn't grown. Idol still wastes months on boring audition shows rather than getting down to business the way better competition shows like Dancing With the Stars do.

Add a talent lineup among the weakest yet -- Scream, Screech and Snooze are your Top 3, folks -- and it's clear some major shakeups need to happen.

Replacing the three judges would be a start. Idol is still far out front ratingswise over its competitors, The Voice and X-Factor, and has managed to make some stars out of its contestants, something the others haven't come close to accomplishing (Melanie Amaro, really Simon?)

 But Idol's judging panel steadfastly refuses to judge. Everything is "beautiful" to Steven Tyler, everyone's a "dude" to monosyllabic Randy and JLo's saccharine speeches of praise are more than tiresome. The judges' standing ovations are also unprofessional. Judges should judge and not act like fans.

Additionally, the Idol panel is not as contemporary as The Voice or X Factor panels and they are pricey. JLo alone earns $12 million ($3 million less than Britney's reportedly scoring for her X gig). Tyler judging teenage pop wannabes is just plain creepy. Keeping Randy last year was a good idea to maintain some continuity on the panel but his time has come, too.

With renewals come raises and there's no justification to give raises or renew the judge's contracts for another season. Best decision Fox could make is to jolt Idol with freshness, replace the entire panel, scrap the themes it has overused, and get the masses excited and curious again.

Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.

May 09, 2012

American Idol Fantastic 4 take on California

Idol_top_4Photo: FOX
American Idol
's remaining foursome take on Songs by California acts and Songs They Wish They'd Written on tonight's performance show. We've seen the California theme before. How cool would it have been to instead match Songs They Wish They'd Written with Songs They Have Written?

In any case, here are some of the songs you'll hear (SPOILER ALERT):

California songs are Have You Ever Seen the Rain (Creedence Clearwater Revival), Steal Away (Etta James, You Raise Me Up (Josh Groban) and Journey's Faithfully.

Songs They Wish They Wrote include:

And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going (recorded by Jennifer Holiday), I Can't Make You Love Me (recorded by Bonnie Raitt), Volcano (from Damien Rice) and It's a Man's Man's World (from James Brown).

Of course, most of these artists probably wish they had written these songs as Holiday and Raitt did not write those hit songs.

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April 25, 2012

American Idol 6 take on Queen

American Idol's six finalists tackle two songs tonight, one drawn from the Queen songbook -- because every teenager who wants to be a pop singer finds the 40-year-old rock band so relevant today -- and one song of their own choice from anywhere.

Queen has long been a fixture on Idol. The British group's grandiose songs was theme night during the fifth season, when country cutie Kellie Pickler took on Bohemian Rhapsody and winner Taylor Hicks had a go at Crazy Little Thing Called Love.

April 18, 2012

American Idol 7's Then & Now week

American Idol's seven finalists fill out the two-hour show tonight with a half relevant/half irrelevant mix. The first half finds the Idols singing songs of today by Lady Gaga (two apiece), Alicia Keys (two apiece, including the oft-covered Simon-era audition song, Fallin'), Usher and Adele.

The second half features old soul songs from Steven Tyler's and the producer's generation from Marvin Gaye (two apiece), Sam Cooke, EW&F, Wilson Pickett and others.

American-idol-top-7-set-list
Photo: FOX

Any wonders on why Idol's 18-24 audience continues to fall? Producers haven't had a fresh idea since Season 2. Might be interesting to see what host Ryan Seacrest says of his idol, Dick Clark, who passed away today at age 82. RIP Mr. Clark.

For live commentary follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.

 

Dick Clark, American Bandstand icon, dies at 82 of heart attack

Dick clarkPhoto: TVLand
Dick Clark
, a real American idol, has died of a heart attack at age 82, of a heart attack in LA, TMZ reported.

Prior to his 2004 stroke I had the chance to interview Clark for a story on diabetes, something he felt strongly about discussing. I remember him as a true gentleman during the chat.

Here's the text from that piece, published in The Miami Herald in April 2004:

DICK CLARK TAKES THE BANDSTAND TO TALK ABOUT DIABETES

BYLINE: HOWARD COHEN, hcohen@miamiherald.com

SECTION: FRONT; Pg. 4A April 21, 2004

Dick Clark - of American Bandstand fame - has a new gig: persuading people about the dangers of diabetes and the toll it takes on your heart.

Clark should know. On Tuesday, the 74-year-old TV personality told The Herald how he got the disease 10 years ago but kept quiet until late last week, when he began a campaign to raise awareness about diabetes, which affects more than 13 million Americans and is growing significantly.

"Two-thirds of people with diabetes don't even know they are at risk for heart disease and stroke," said Clark, who says he's fine but needs to upgrade his contact lenses regularly. Diabetes affects vision. "The leading cause of death for people with diabetes is heart disease. This is new news, came to the fore in the last year or so. I'm here to spread the word."

The word is not good. The number of Americans who have diabetes has more than doubled since 1980 and five million Americans are not aware they have the disease. Diabetes kills more people than AIDS and breast cancer combined.

Type 1, affecting about 10 percent of people with diabetes, is the most severe form and usually strikes children and teens. The pancreas fails to make insulin because the body's immune system destroys the cells that produce it.

Type 2, the kind Clark has, is the most common form, affecting about 80 percent of those with diabetes. Those with Type 2 can produce their own insulin but are unable to process it correctly, leading to high glucose levels, which damage the eyes, kidneys, nerves and exacerbate heart disease.

This type used to be called adult onset diabetes because it generally hit people in their 50s and 60s. But a growing number of overweight children with sedentary lifestyles have developed the disease.

Type 2 can be controlled by diet and exercise.

"The recommended nutrition is a balanced diet limiting saturated fats, going low-fat, and healthy portion control," said Virginia Zamudio, president of the American Association of Diabetes Educators. "The same nutrition that will help manage diabetes is the same that will manage heart disease. The cornerstone to managing diabetes is nutrition and healthy physical activity."

Keeping cholesterol levels down - a total cholesterol of 135 or less is recommended - and blood pressure at or below 130 over 80 is also advisable.

Clark, however, is the rarity. He says he doesn't have a family history of the disease and he was never obese. He quit smoking in 1968.

"On a good day I weigh 158 or 159. On a bad day 162 or 163," the five-foot-nine media mogul says. "I've never had a serious weight problem. [But] I was brought up in a generation where you have to clear your plate - 'There are starving children somewhere' - and so you had to eat everything in front of you. Now it's eat a well-rounded set of meals but leave some behind."

Clark's fitness regimen includes about 20 minutes daily of cardio work on a stair climber and walking machine and strength training using 15-pound weights while watching TV. "Boring as hell," he teases. "Much as I hate it, it's somewhat addictive."

Clark is not the typical Type 2 case, concurs Dr. Pilar Solano of the Diabetes Research Institute at the University of Miami.

"The typical diabetes Type 2 is an obese patient who usually had a family history and a sedentary lifestyle," Solano said.

By coming forward, Clark can bring attention to a worldwide problem, educators say.

"Here's someone they know and . . . trust," Zamudio said. "If Dick Clark can pay attention to it and manage his risk, well, then, maybe they will think, 'I can do that too.' "

Dick Clark and the American Association of Diabetes Educators are promoting the brochure, Diabetes: Know the Heart Part. To order, call 800-224-4089. In addition, readers may obtain advice from AADE educators by calling 800-832-6874.

For more follow @HowardCohen on Twitter

April 11, 2012

Idol 7 perform current songs Wednesday

For one week, anyway, all complaints about young Idols having to sing their parents' music won't apply. Tonight the remaining 7 will sing songs from this decade.

As usual, a leaked band director rehearsal set list has been leaked. Spoiler: I'm posting it so close your eyes now if you like surprises. The songs include the duets to be featured (since the duets have worked SO well this season. #heavysarcasm

Idol7list
Fox

Follow live commentary via @HowardCohen on Twitter.