The Dream Team is comprised of Keith Urban, who held his own last season against the dramatic displays of departing “Idol” divas Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj; Jennifer Lopez, who was much-missed last year after two years at the judges’ table; and newcomer Harry Connick, Jr., seemingly an excellent choice, given the warm reception he has received in the past from critics and viewers alike when he has appeared on the show as a guest mentor. If there is an issue to be had with these three entertainers it’s that at least two of them may prove to be too nice too much of the time. It remains to be seen how Connick performs under pressure when evaluating talent. Let’s hope the guy has a bit of a stern streak, just to keep things lively.
Granted, the names Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick, Jr. don’t inspire the same giddy anticipation that Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson once did. Half the fun of “Idol” for a very long time was waiting to hear Cowell’s latest withering wisecracks as he immediately dismantled cocky young contestants of limited or no discernible talent, waiting to see if Abdul would be on or off her game, and waiting to hear Jackson’s latest catchy phrase, usually about “dawgs” or “being in it to win it” and guaranteed to be repeated to the point of absurdity. The three worked together brilliantly, and the chemistry they shared for the first seven seasons (before “Idol” began fixing what wasn’t broken by adding a fourth judge, the long-forgotten Kara DioGuardi) has never been repeated, at least not on this show. (NBC’s “The Voice” now enjoys the best chemistry of any group of judges on any reality competition program, regardless of whether Christina Aguilera and Cee Lo Green or Usher and Shakira are mixing it up with dependable regulars Adam Levine and Blake Shelton.)
Back in the day, the only thing that didn’t work on “Idol” was the forced tension that Cowell and host Ryan Seacrest pumped up between themselves from time to time. It was silly and stupid then and wouldn’t even play now.
Speaking of Seacrest, I will always argue that his work as host of “Idol” has been unmatched by any host on any other reality competition show. One could assert that Tom Bergeron on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” is actually the classiest host of all, but I think Seacrest had the tougher job over time, given the perpetual tumult that has compromised “Idol” in recent years and his sustained ability to keep it all together under any circumstances. He’s been its rock.
Nevertheless, I have to suggest that Seacrest is totally overexposed these days, and he’ll be taking that overexposure to new levels starting on Monday with his gig as host of NBC’s ten-nights-in-a-row competition event “Million Second Quiz.” Is it possible viewers will be sick to death of the guy by the time “Idol” rolls around in January?
Regardless, as I said at the top, the fate of “Idol” can be easily positioned as the biggest broadcast story of the season to come, given its now-historic significance and Fox’s continual reliance on it to keep the network strong. Where would Fox be right now if it hadn’t had “Idol” these last 12 years? For that matter, what would broadcast television look like? Would the other broadcasters have worked so tirelessly trying (and often failing) to come up with “Idols” of their own? CBS had “Survivor” and “The Amazing Race” in place before “Idol” came along, but those shows aren’t live and they don’t really exist in the same exact space. (“Amazing Race,” in fact, remains in an impressive space all its own.)
Let’s not forget that “Idol” is the only reality competition show anywhere that has produced a number of contestants honored with many of the entertainment industry’s top awards and have become household names as well. (The only other talent show to accomplish this was USA Network’s late and much-missed country music competition series “Nashville Star,” which during its first season brought Miranda Lambert to the attention of the public. Interestingly, Blake Shelton was a “Nashville” judge in later seasons.)
Lastly, no other reality competition series has done as much to advance audience connectivity and interactivity as “Idol,” going all the way back to its rather humble beginning as a summer series. NBC is making some mighty big promises in that area with “Million Second Quiz,” but we’ll have to see how it plays out. For now, the new “American Idol” mix is already (and once again) making midseason feel like the most exciting time of the television year.