Tonight, comic and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres makes her public debut to the 25 million or so weary American Idol viewers who have weathered Paula Abdul's departure (easier than most of us thought, actually) and Simon Cowell's coming departure in May.
I've seen some of the commercials -- and, like most of you, have read the gossip rags that suggest Simon and Ellen can't stand one another.
It sounds like hype to keep television's most popular program still television's most popular program in its ninth season.
I've no doubt Idol will see a bump in viewership tonight after last Wednesday's steep dip during the last of auditions rounds. Aside from Pants on the Ground, this was the least momentous round of auditions in eight years of Idol. Is it asking too much to hope for anyone who can at least sing as well as a Glee castmember? Maybe this will be the case once Idol really begins, starting tonight in the Hollywood rounds and, especially, when we get to the finals in March.
Still, I wish I could say I was excited to see Ellen as the new judge. I've interviewed her years ago and she was delightful. Seen her live comedy show on the Beach and it was a hoot. But there's the thing: none of that had anything to do with music.
Randy Jackson is a session musician with countless credits and he's produced many artists (Mariah, Brooke White, etc.) Simon Cowell is a major record executive who has signed countless acts. Kara DioGuardi might have the personality of a pickle but she's written dozens of hit songs. Paula Abdul never could sing technically well but she had a huge, if brief, pop music career pumping out her dance ditties in the late 80s and early 90s. So all of them could coach newbies in how to navigate the roiling waters of the pop music biz.
Ellen? She could tell them how to land a comedian's career. She's proven there. Producers say Ellen represents the average music fan, the one who actually goes out and buys the records that come out of this program. But that's a lie. Ellen DeGeneres is NOT one of us. She's a major star. She doesn't live like the rest of us do. She doesn't have our concerns or worries. She has drivers, the big house, the lucrative high profile career. If she ventures outdoors, paparazzi follow. If we do, no one cares. She's not struggling to make it. She's made it. She's just a talented comedian/actress/host who likes pop music. That doesn't mean she's an expert critic of it.
She might prove my fears unfounded. But I've heard she bombed as a judge on So You Think You Can Dance (I didn't see her; I've caught a couple SYTYCD episodes and I think the show is near unwatchable TV garbage and I do my best to avoid it.)
I'm afraid she's been hired to offer up her trademark quips, get on Simon's nerves, and bring in viewers to an aging property. If she fails to offer any valid criticism or sage advice or comes across as haughty and full of herself (as it appears, so far from the backstage chatter surrounding these pretaped episodes) this will be the true moment when American Idol has jumped the shark.
Of course, many of us might say that shark has been jumped and double-flipped four seasons ago when Taylor Hicks bested Chris Daughtry and, well, everyone else to take the title. Last season's unearned Kris Allen victory also smelled of shark bait.
But, I'll be watching, and, I bet, so will many of you.
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