By ADAM BUCKMAN
NEW YORK, Sept. 23, 2010 — This is just comical.
A TV show loses a couple of cast members and suddenly, the powers-that-be decide the entire show needs a redo. And not just any show, but the most popular show on TV for the better part of a decade.
It’s “American Idol,” and it just underwent a change that is so significant that you can’t honestly call the show “American Idol” anymore. That’s how different the show is going to feel when it returns on Fox this winter with Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler sitting in the chairs where you once saw Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul.
So now the judges are J Lo, Steven Tyler and Randy Jackson. What happened here? Network executives saw their panel of judges breaking up — first Paula a few years back, and then Simon last season, followed by the temporary, “pretend” judges Kara DioGuardi and Ellen Degeneres quitting or getting fired (probably the latter). And instead of attempting to re-create the lightning-in-a-bottle chemistry of the original three judges, they went out to find two celebrities — one a rock star and the other, well, who knows what she is — singer, entrepreneur, dancer, whatever.
Think of the contrast with the original panel of judges — Randy Jackson, who apparently played bass for Journey but who no one knew; Paula Abdul, the closest thing to a celebrity that the original group had, although she was a has-been; and Simon Cowell, some Brit with a buzzcut who by some miracle turned into the biggest star on American TV.
It was the chemistry between these three that put “American Idol” on the pop-culture map and kept it there right up until the time when the act started to break up, starting with Paula’s exit. The key thing was: The original three judges were not superstars. And we had no way of knowing beforehand whether we liked them or not.
Now they’re bringing in J Lo, who, truth be told, is not well-liked (though this gig will give her an opportunity to become better liked). As for Tyler, he’s an unknown quantity in this role. The thing you have to ask is: Will any of these judges give it to the contestants straight? Or are they there to give all of them blind encouragement, whether they deserve it or not?
Love him or hate him, Simon was the voice of show business reality — when contestants had no chance of advancing, he told them. He was just being honest.
And what about these superstar judges? Will they have the enthusiasm to keep coming back season after season? Or are we entering a new era of revolving superstars whose faces will change with each new year?
Contact Adam Buckman: firstname.lastname@example.org