My column last week about the mentor issues swirling around Fox’s “American Idol” was already in production when the show seemingly proved me right. Talented Erika Van Pelt submitted to a wholesale image change (from sporty blond with shoulder-length hair to intense Kris Jenner mode) and was promptly voted off by an audience that was likely thrown by her dramatic and perhaps alienating makeover. Van Pelt may not have been a front-runner to win the competition but she was far from the most deserving to get tossed after last week’s performance show. At least she made the top10; that’s what really counts in this competition, given the collective accomplishments of the many contestants over the years who were prematurely eliminated (Jennifer Hudson, Clay Aiken and Chris Daughtry among them) as compared to those of the actual winners -- with the notable exceptions of Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood.
There are so many great performers in this year’s competition that it is impossible to make an early call, proving that when “Idol” is really on, it is still superior to any talent contest on television. Indeed, this week’s performance show may have been one of the very best in the show’s 11-year run. But I can definitely see Colton Dixon taking the top prize, and I can also see him enjoying a successful career even if he doesn’t. The same goes for Phillip Phillips. (And by the way, even though I’m less than impressed by most of the mentorship on “Idol,” I thought the legendary Stevie Nicks really brought it this week. Maybe she should turn up more often.)
“American Idol” isn’t the only aging talent show serving up amazing performances this season. ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” has assembled one of its most talented groups of celebrity participants in years. Seemingly overnight, “Dancing” has already propelled to the pop-culture foreground two celebrities who were largely unknown in this country: telenovela sensation and international model William Levy, and Welsh classical singer Katherine Jenkins. That’s the singular power of broadcast television at its best.
One can only wonder: Did the threat of NBC’s buzz-worthy, hot youngster -- “The Voice” -- light a fire under these old-timers? And will there be enough audience enthusiasm for these shows to go around when its live results show joins NBC’s schedule on Tuesday? I have to say watching the “Voice” battle rounds, which don’t have the same kinetic energy as the chair-swiveling audition shows, has been a somewhat frustrating experience, because the judge/mentors went to such great lengths to pit against each other team members of equal talent that a number of lesser singers have moved through to the live shows while many singers of greater talent have been sent home. Justin Hopkins of Team Cee Lo, for example, could have easily beaten a number of finalists from his team and the others in the live show competition had he not already “lost” to Broadway veteran Tony Vincent.
On the downside, Fox’s Latino-focused talent show “Q’Viva! The Chosen,” hosted by Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony and Jamie King, was bumped this week to late night, the victim of crummy ratings on Saturday night. (Are there any other kind of ratings on Saturday?) I’m not sure how “Q’Viva!” is doing on Univision, its primary platform, but it’s always a shame to see one of the Big Four broadcast networks try something special and fail. Just last Saturday, a well-traveled friend I was watching it with, who has been hooked since week one, said to me that she likes “Q’Viva!” because it reminds her of what she has seen on TV in other countries but has never seen here. “The thing about American television is that there aren’t any programs that show Americans what life is like outside of America,” she added. For that reason alone “Q’Viva!” deserved to survive in prime time. (I realize that CBS’ “The Amazing Race” acquaints viewers with certain aspects of other cultures. But it is all so fleeting. “Q’Viva!” really drills down into the lives of its contestants, some of them desperate to remain in America for as long as possible.)
Lastly, can it be that the MediaPost TV Board had something to do with the announcement this week that Jimmy Kimmel will host the Emmy Awards on ABC in September? In my column of March 2 about this year’s lackluster Academy Awards ceremony, I suggested that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences consider recruiting Kimmel to host next year’s Oscars. As the inspired, celebrity-filled videos on his show over the years have proven, he is certainly well-liked by the Hollywood acting community, a crucial quality that any Oscar host must have. But the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences beat AMPAS to it. I’m happy for Kimmel. He’s the standout performer of upfront week every year at ABC’s presentation -- and he makes amazing burgers, too.