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Why ‘Idol’ is better this year

AMERICAN IDOL: Top 24: top row (L-R) Kendra Chantelle, Jovani Barreto, Lauren Turner, Casey Abrams, Tatynisa Wilson, James Durbin, Karen Rodriguez, Jacob Lusk, Lauren Alaina, Thia Megia, Scott McCreery, Brett Loewenstern, Pia Toscano and Jordan Dorsey. Bottom row (L-R): Rachel Zevita, Stefano Langone, Paul McDonald, Julie Zorrilla, Tim Halperin, Haley Reinhart, Clint Jun Gamboa, Robbie Rosen, Naima Adedapo and Ashthon Jones. CR: Michael Becker/FOX

AMERICAN IDOL: Top 24: top row (L-R) Kendra Chantelle, Jovani Barreto, Lauren Turner, Casey Abrams, Tatynisa Wilson, James Durbin, Karen Rodriguez, Jacob Lusk, Lauren Alaina, Thia Megia, Scott McCreery, Brett Loewenstern, Pia Toscano and Jordan Dorsey. Bottom row (L-R): Rachel Zevita, Stefano Langone, Paul McDonald, Julie Zorrilla, Tim Halperin, Haley Reinhart, Clint Jun Gamboa, Robbie Rosen, Naima Adedapo and Ashthon Jones. CR: Michael Becker/FOX

Here’s the column I wrote for the print edition set for Monday:

“American Idol” has aired more than 300 hours of entertainment since 2002, some of it truly enthralling and memorable. But season nine last year felt like arthritis was setting in as dull contestants and a dysfunctional judges’ panel left viewers feeling enervated and ready to ditch the show forever.

Fox knew it needed to give the show, still No. 1 in the ratings, an adrenaline boost this year. Surprisingly, “Idol”  has found its mojo again.

Here are reasons why so far:

The return of Nigel Lythgoe: though the public knows him best as the judge on “So You Think You Can Dance,” he’s a crucial reason why the first seven seasons of “Idol” worked. In his absence the past two years, the show began to list. With his steady hand and eye for drama, he has righted the ship.

- No Ellen DeGeneres: Congenial DeGeneres is a natural born talk show host. But her lack of musical expertise and discomfort critiquing contestants made her a terrible “Idol” judge.

-Simon Cowell’s departure:  A key to the success of “Idol” in its early years, Cowell became disenchanted near the end of his run, and he did not hide his boredom. He chafed being a hired hand, albeit a well compensated one. He will have full control this fall when he brings”The X Factor” to Fox stateside.

- Steven Tyler: A wild-card pick by producers as a new judge, the Aerosmith lead singer has proven to be a delightfully quirky presence. He has embraced the challenge, throwing out hilarious, out-of-the-blue bon mots with abandon.

- Jennifer Lopez: While Lopez struggled at first to even say no to bad singers, she has since evolved into the heart of the trio, kind but not saccharine, smart but not dippy. During an episode Feb. 23, she added a human dimension to her carefully coiffed persona when she cried after cutting Chris Medina, whose fiance suffered a nasty head injury after a car accident.

- The talent: this is one of the strongest top 24 pools in recent history. Last year was hampered by pale imitations of past contestants and too many singer-songwriters hiding behind guitars. This year,  the ”nicer” judges sent a whopping 327 contestants to Hollywood, double the normal number. They then put them through five rounds of singing instead of three.Potential stars to watch include vocally dextrous 19-year-old Casey Abrams (who killed “Georgia On My Mind” in Hollywood), raise-the-roof R&B/gospel phenom Jacob Lusk and smooth-singing Long Island teen Robbie Rosen.

“Idol” ratings are still down about 7 percent year over year, and it’s unclear how the new judges will handle critiquing contestants live.

But the talent alone this year should help keep “Idol” on top.

RATINGS UPDATE: “Idol” from here on in will have much easier year-over-year comparisons because show ratings last year began to droop off noticeably, mostly in the 18 to 22 million range. And that’s where “Idol” is now. In fact, a year ago, the comparable show only drew 18.6 million so last night’s 21.2 million (14% better) looks great in comparison. That’s down 3 million from two years ago, though. I’m unclear if even a great top 13 will get the numbers much higher than 21-22 million a week but you never know.

118 comments Add your comment

Mercedes S.

February 26th, 2011
1:53 pm

Trying for page two… blacks are no longer the largest minority, latinos are… and there’s plenty of contestants with latino names!

wreckedpizza

February 26th, 2011
1:53 pm

Nothing racial, Al, but I wouldn’t mind if that Dorsey character gets eliminated quickly. So all I’m asking for is a quick dispersal of Dorsey, Durbin and Gamboa (sounds like a law firm, huh).

Mercedes S.

February 26th, 2011
1:53 pm

Yay – page number two! Just got home from delightful, clever animated movie.

Mercedes S.

February 26th, 2011
1:56 pm

Gamboa, aka “worst dictator in the world’s son” lookalike needs to be first to go, then Dorsey. I want to see what Fake Adam does.

wreckedpizza

February 26th, 2011
2:06 pm

Yep, that’s just it. Durbin seems to want to be the second-coming of Adam. I don’t think he can pull it off and, for me, I wish him well in other endeavors but want to see him go soon. Just my humble opinion…

JTesla

February 26th, 2011
2:42 pm

He doesn’t strike me as someone that wants to be Adam, but he seems to be more of a one trick pony. Oh look he is throwing in a primal scream… no more tricks for him.

Oh and 5 to 6 out of 24 is almost over representation, that is if Al is advocating quotas.

Chrissy505

February 26th, 2011
2:49 pm

tatiana deltoro? I think that was her name..

[...] American Idol [...]

linny ,,,=^..^=,,,

February 26th, 2011
5:28 pm

yeah, i’m already tired of durbin and gamboa, myself.

Rachel

February 27th, 2011
12:43 am

1. Casey Abrams woo hooo hooo! That boy can perform.
2. Steven Tyler is such an unexpected pleasure. I love when he sings along. I can tell that he takes an interest in most of the people that try out.
3. J-Lo. I am shocked that I like JLo. She is smart, but not sassy. She is hot, but not dumb. She is sensitive, but not a push-over. LOOOOOVE IT.
4. Randy. Randy is a better person when simon etc etc is not around. He seems to have more fun with the new judges and his advice has been better this year than any preceding.

Deovn

February 27th, 2011
2:23 pm

@Sam-A her name was Tatiana Del Toro

JTesla

February 27th, 2011
2:42 pm

Sam-A… I think it was Tatiana Del Toro. That’s just a guess on my part though.

Can any of this years crop top the best latina finish: 3rd place by Allison?

B-Real

February 27th, 2011
3:02 pm

I like American Idol this season. I am not sure who is gonna win. there a re alot of good contestants. s. Tyler is funny and J-Lo is too cute to look at. and Randy is gonna be honest. The competition is great this season in comparrison to alot of really whacked out ones bfore.

Heather MacDonald

February 27th, 2011
6:56 pm

Rodney, I’m not trying to be a freak about grammar and spelling and the like, but I have a teeny tiny error to point out. Fiance (with one e) is the male half of an engaged couple. The fiancee (with a double e) is the female half. :-)

hawk

February 28th, 2011
6:48 am

Are you kidding Steven Tyler makes the show. He is real, a legend, and the most talented singer ever for a judge. His one liners are great and you can tell he is really listening and feeling the songs before he critiques them. I am pleasantly surprised how good J-Lo is too I didn’t know what to expect from her. I always liked Randy.

Casey is definitely the front runner. Jacob is amazing but over does it. James is a rocker not glam pop like Adam. Adam is the technically better singer but James has the raw edgy rocker quality. If he sings the right stuff on the show he won’t win but will probably do well and pull a Daughtry afterwards with his band. There is a youtube of him doing Dio’s Rainbow in the Dark, and a bunch of Zepplin and the Kid is good. He is a diamond on the rough. But yeah he is over doing the scream on the show.

Nana ™

February 28th, 2011
8:16 am

Good Morning.

Hope everyone had a wonderful weekend. I know I did, since the family celebrated my birthday (which is today).

The changes that I’ve seen so far on Idol are impressive. Nigel taking some control has to be the best change that could have happened to the popular show. If he is going to have his name associated with idol, he will do what needs to be done to preserve both his name and the show. Idol was to the point of eviscerating and Nigel came in to give it a revivification.

Enjoy the day and I’m off to the hospital for my pre-op.

Rickster™ © ®

February 28th, 2011
8:29 am

Good luck, Nana. Please keep us posted.

You’re in our prayers.

Rickster™ © ®

February 28th, 2011
8:37 am

And happy birthday. (Though I’m sure there are things you’d rather be doing than what you have planned for today.)