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‘American Idol’ 2011 year in review

The new judges panel, Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson, return season 11. CREDIT: AP

The new judges panel, Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson, return season 11. CREDIT: AP

“American Idol,” in a make or break year, found its footing while facing more competition than ever. Here is my semi-thorough year in review.

1) Cleaning house. Nigel Lythgoe returned to give “Idol’ a facelift after a soul-sucking season nine. Key move: he revamped the judges’ panel. With Simon Cowell already out, he dumped ineffectual Ellen DeGeneres and bland Kara DioGuardi and brought in two A-list music acts Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez. On the most part, it worked. Randy Jackson became the congenial lead judge with no “mean” judge in sight. Jennifer was nurturing and sweet, along the lines of Paula Abdul though her constructive critiques early on degenerated into pablum by season’s end. Steven was wacky fun at times, but he too lost his charms by the end, tending to be more repetitive than insightful. Nonetheless, it was a net gain. Ratings went up for the first time since season five.

2) Variety is the spice of life. The contestants season 10 were a fun, talented crew that brought us jazz, R&B, country, pop and rock. There was something for everyone, whether it was James Durbin’s giving Judas Priest airtime, Casey Abrams and Haley Reinhart scatting or Jacob Lusk emoting. And oddly, the top two were both teen country singers, including Georgia’s Lauren Alaina. But it was Scotty McCreery, the 17-year-old North Carolinian with the Josh Turner voice and Alfred E. Neuman ears who took home the prize.  Though country radio hasn’t fully embraced him, McCreery has sold a very respectable 600,000 copies and garnered two top 30 hits.

Scotty looks me straight in the eye at the "Idols Live" tour in July at Gwinnett Arena. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Scotty looks me straight in the eye at the "Idols Live" tour in July at Gwinnett Arena. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

3) Simon Cowell’s “X Factor” tries to steal “Idol” thunder. Cowell left “Idol’ to try to gain his own glory with his British import. He did fairly endless amounts of media in the 18 months leading up to the debut. Heck, the guy even did a one-on-one phoner with me. Reality couldn’t live up to the hype. And while viewership was respectable at 12 million or so, it fell far short of what Fox and Cowell expected. The show garnered some good talent but from a production standpoint, it was about as charming as multiple kicks in the groin. And we’ve abused the poor host enough already, haven’t we?

4) NBC’s “The Voice” surprises. On the other hand, NBC blanketed the country for good talent that wasn’t necessarily raw but simply untapped to a wider audience. The “chair’ gimmick actually worked and the judges’ panel clicked. The show certainly helped elevate the stars of Blake Shelton, Cee Lo Green and Adam Levine. I’m actually looking forward to season two (unlike “The X Factor,” which needs a major overhaul.)

5) Big time: Kelly Clarkson and Jason Aldean had a major cross-over hit with “Don’t You Wanna Stay.” Soon after, Carrie Underwood and her CMA co-host cohort Brad Paisley found major traction with “Remind Me.” And Mandisa had her first No. 1 Christian hit with “Stronger.” Jennifer Lopez’s musical career revived with “On the Floor.” Fantasia won her first Grammy with “Bittersweet.” Daughtry garnered another top 10 Hot AC single “Crawling Back To You.” Jennifer Hudson garnered a top 10 R&B hit with “Where You At.”

6) Can’t win’em all: Kara DioGuardi’s “Platinum Hit’ songwriting competition on Bravo bombed. David Cook’s latest album underperformed. Lee DeWyze and Crystal Bowersox lost their label deals. Kellie Pickler’s single “Tough” didn’t break the top 20  in country.

Constantine Maroulis rocked "Rock of Ages" at the Fox Theatre in July. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Constantine Maroulis rocked "Rock of Ages" at the Fox Theatre in July. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

7) The play’s the thing: Constantine Maroulis wrapped up a successful Broadway and national tour run with “Rock of Ages,” stopping in Atlanta. Anthony Fedorov came to the Fox, too, with “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” Justin Guarini had several theater roles this year, including ‘Women on the Verge” and “American Idiot” on Broadway. Jordin Sparks landed on Broadway’s “Into the Heights.” Sanjaya Malakar did an off-Broadway gig, too.

8) Personal ups and downs. Fantasia had a baby. Justin Guarini had his first son. Constantine had a daughter. Ruben Studdard filed for divorce. Kellie Pickler and Scott MacEntyre got married (though not to each other). Danny Gokey and Lee DeWyze got engaged (though again, not to each other!). Paul McDonald met an actress and married her within months. Diana DeGarmo is now dating Ace Young!

9) In film: Carrie Underwood had a supporting role in the inspiring film “Soul Surfer.” Katharine McPhee got chomped in “Shark Night 3D.”

Katharine McPhee will be huge next year if "Smash" is a hit on NBC. CREDIT: NBC

Katharine McPhee will be huge next year if "Smash" is a hit on NBC.

10 ) On the boob tube: McPhee earlier this year won a starring role in the mid-season musical drama “Smash’  on NBC as a would-be Broadway star. Though the show doesn’t debut until February 2012, the promos have been airing for months. Degarmo earned a regular soap opera role as a spoiled mob daughter on “The Young and the Restless.”   Bowersox landed a role on ABC’s “Body of Proof.” Clay Aiken guested on Lifetime’s “Drop Dead Diva” (and taped “Celebrity Apprentice” this fall for airing next spring.) Pickler popped up on the CW’s “90210.” Kristy Lee Cook continues to hunt on Vs. with “Goin’ Country” and Bo Bice guested on an episode. Kevin Covais had a recurring role on the short-lived ABC Family show “State of Georgia.” Lisa Tucker got a small role on the CW’s “The Vampire Diaries.” Matt Rogers hosted Lifetime’s reality show “Coming Home.” Brooke White starred in an NBC film “Change of Plans.”

Crystal Bowersox visits the Voice in January, 2011. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Crystal Bowersox visits the Voice in January, 2011. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

11) Not Memorex: I saw plenty of ‘Idols” this year live. I enjoyed a few minutes each with Kimberly Caldwell, Pickler and Bowersox on different days at Ryan Seacrest’s The Voice studios at Children’s Healthcare at Egleston. A very thin Mandisa helped introduced the Dove Award nominations in February at the Fox Theatre. Melinda Doolittle charmed the crowd doing love songs at Georgia Tech’s Ferst Center in March. Jennifer Hudson was impressive at the W Hotel in a V-103 promotion in March. Clarkson entertained the Coca-Cola employees at Centennial Olympic Park in June and pocketed an obnoxious amount of cash. The “Idols Live” tour impressed at a sold-out Gwinnett Arena in July.  Michael Johns turned back the hands of time reliving his sodden days in Buckhead at the Tin Roof Cantina in August. And I met the gracious and notably uncontroversial Chris Daughtry for the first time earlier this month back stage at the Star 94 Jingle Jam at Gwinnett Arena. Several others did live shows in town but I missed them, including Clay Aiken, Elliott Yamin, Bice and Josh Gracin.

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By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk

37 comments Add your comment

Mercedes S.

December 27th, 2011
1:35 pm

First!

Which means a) I have no life
or b) I’m putting off things I should be doing

[...] more ‘American Idol’ 2011 year in review at Radio & TV Talk… /* * * CONFIGURATION VARIABLES: EDIT BEFORE PASTING INTO YOUR [...]

bulldogbubba

December 27th, 2011
1:56 pm

@mercedes – ditto- second!

JTesla

December 27th, 2011
1:57 pm

or c) you actually think that calling “first” on a blog carries any meaning or d) the annoying internet meme of typing “first” without offering any other substance is still alive after 5 tedious years.

Great list Rodney. Pretty good year for Idol.

Mercedes S.

December 27th, 2011
2:05 pm

Thanks for round-up, RoHo; I look forwrd to “Idol” and “Smash”.

Mercedes S.

December 27th, 2011
2:06 pm

But I DID offer substance, JT!

Deirdre

December 27th, 2011
2:08 pm

Thanks Rodney….your article made me look forward to Idol even more.

missnadine

December 27th, 2011
2:48 pm

This makes no sense… regarding the topic of The Voice:

4) NBC’s “The Voice” surprises. On the other hand, NBC blanketed the country for good talent that wasn’t necessarily raw but simply untapped to a wider audience. The “chair’ gimmick actually worked and the judges’ panel clicked. The show certainly helped elevate the stars of Blake Shelton, Cee Lo Green and Adam Levine. I’m actually looking forward to season two (unlike “The Voice,” which needs a major overhaul.)

Deirdre

December 27th, 2011
2:51 pm

missnadine…I think Rodney meant X Factor needs the major overhaul.

And on that subject, apparently Simon agrees. From People magazine:

“Can we make the show better? Yes. I will never ever go into anything going forward unless I can believe I can make it better. Next year will be a bloodbath. We have to come out with something better than the rest, and that’s what we aim to do.”

JTesla

December 27th, 2011
2:56 pm

The problem I have is that I seriously doubt that Simon knows what is wrong. It is real easy to fall into the trap of thinking the show is about the judges, and I doubt he’ll get past his ego to admit that. Along those same lines, I’m sure he thought the petty bickering was brilliant. One other thing, X-Factor could get me on board of saying “Fine… I’ll give next year a try” if they were to quickly do away with Steve Jones. The longer they wait, the longer it appears to me that they just don’t have the brains to fix it. Someone should also stand up to him and say that bigger is not always better.

Negativo

December 27th, 2011
4:01 pm

So, AI starts 3 weeks from tomorrow. Gotta admit, the abortion that was x-failure has me pretty excited for Season 11!

Deirdre

December 27th, 2011
4:06 pm

Welcome back, Neg! Hopefully Idol will find another long legged beauty for you.

Negativo

December 27th, 2011
4:14 pm

You know my MO by now, D: 1. Pick a favorite; 2. Become enraged when said favorite is mistreated by the judges; 3. Go on a crusade in support of said favorite.

wash/rinse/repeat.

Highlander

December 27th, 2011
4:48 pm

Good article, Rodney. Nice year end wrap-up!

And Neg, we respect a man of principle! :wink:

Julia

December 27th, 2011
5:33 pm

Diana and Ace are such a cute couple but one I never expected. Diana has a big interview in the new Soap Digest. They asked her about Ace and she said while they are very much in love and happy, marriage is, for now, not in the cards. So it appears there won’t be an Idol marriage and babies in 2012. LOL

JTesla

December 27th, 2011
5:36 pm

“So it appears there won’t be an Idol marriage and babies in 2012″

You mean except for Fantasia having another one right? Because that is just a given.

FLCathy

December 27th, 2011
6:34 pm

Well very sweet and talented Bo Bice will be having his 4th child this coming year. After 3 adorable boys, he and Caroline are finally having a girl. Watch out Bo…..this one will get you!

sassyone

December 27th, 2011
6:37 pm

Idol needs to overhaul everything about it including the judges. The show has become boring and child like.
The Voice great adult entertainment
X Factor I’ll watch again.Flaws yes but next season they will get it right.

Branch Loveless

December 27th, 2011
9:31 pm

Maybe Mr. Seacrest and Miss Hough will make an “Idol” baby this year. Nah, he doesn’t have time for such things!

Seth T.

December 28th, 2011
12:58 am

I think from all the “How to fix x-factor” opinions I have seen on blogs and on proprietory sites by their analysts, – the show would end-up a lot closer to Idol if the fixes are made.

Probably because we (a group that watches & discusses the show here) were expecting something really great with stellar break-out talent in the top 12 with X-Factor, we were very dissapointed and some quit watching. No disrespect for those who were talented, but some were not near the level one would expect for a National Prime-Time talent show.

Both Idol and X-Factor are guilty of ignoring some very good talent, in order to “cast” their top 12 or 13. The Voice was a little less guilty of this, but their audition draw was not of the magnitude of X & AI on their first year. And they admittedly drew from still tryin’ to make-it artists, along with High-School’ers like Casey Weston and Xenia.

Back in Idol days for Simon, he even said to a group of “wild card” contestants, that they were “casting” – (in other words, you may be better, but this is what we’re going to do, sorry)

We’re hoping Idol will present a good show this year, from some of the info I have seen, there are some very talented young men and women on the key lists, so hope their “casting” this year does not overlook a dozen potential contestants that already have – The X-Factor!

Nicki

December 28th, 2011
1:28 am

Diana talked about Ace in this magazine interview. I found a scan:
http://i.imgur.com/g6vz1.jpg

Highlander

December 28th, 2011
7:05 am

Good Morning!

“I think from all the “How to fix x-factor” opinions I have seen on blogs and on proprietory sites by their analysts, – the show would end-up a lot closer to Idol if the fixes are made.” – Seth T.

I think I get your point but, then again, I think Simon went a bit too far on the pendulum swing trying to make the show different from Idol. To it’s detriment. Afterall, Idol is still the highest rated and Simon may be having second thoughts about re-inventing the wheel.

Deirdre

December 28th, 2011
7:40 am

Morning!

At this point, the biggest difference between Idol and XF is showmanship. XF seems to want to snag us with their special effects while Idol(even though it has succumbed to “showmanship” a few times) makes an effort to keep it simple. XF isn’t really about the voice so much as it is about the performance.

I think JT mentioned this but, until I saw XF, I used to be annoyed with Idol for making the show about the judges. Little did I know that XF was really all about the judges and what they could or couldn’t do with their singers.

TG

December 28th, 2011
9:28 am

Jennifer Lopez is an “A-list” music act??? lol Since when? Maybe I missed her hit songs? Hmmm

cathyR

December 28th, 2011
10:13 am

Crystal Bowersox lost her contract from the Idol days, but resigned with a label in Portland, Oregon.

Harry F. Dunn

December 28th, 2011
11:08 am

One of the big problems that I see with the X Factor is that the audience makes way too much noise when the performers are singing their songs. To me, that is disrespectful. Of course I realize that most of the audience is comprised of young people who haven’t matured yet or, are the directors holding up signs for the audience to make noise. The noise really doesn’t help the people at home to listen to the performances and make a good judgement as to who they want to vote for when there is all that background noise. Also if you don’t have an outstanding voice and are decent looking, most of the votes will go to the cutest or better looking singers whose voices aren’t as good as yours. There really should be a better way to reward the really telented singers who are gifted or have worked really hard on their craft. On american idol the audience is a lot quieter when the singers are performing so my bottom line is that the X factor needs to make some changes.

JTesla

December 28th, 2011
11:13 am

I don’t want X-Factor to be like Idol, X-Factor wanted to be like Idol, and it failed. I want X-Factor to stop trying to be bigger than Idol. More drama, more glitz, more money, more voting, more judges, more Steve Jones, none of that worked. The Voice (which I didn’t watch) seems to have been loved because it was significantly different. X-Factor… not different.

So, give us less judge drama, less glitz, less judges overall, and a lot less Steve Jones. If you are going to be Idol, you will lose to Idol, but I fear all Simon knows is Idol.

Mercedes S.

December 28th, 2011
11:21 am

I don’t want X-Factor – at all…

G

December 28th, 2011
11:57 am

Thanks for the write-up, Roho! Guess you don’t keep up with the Sing-Off. This has been my favorite show for the past 3 seasons. Best talent and judges year in and out. Lacey is not a bad host either. Too bad this show doesn’t have a huge following like the other shows. Guess some folks view the Sing-Off like living healthy…..good for you, but hard to get into.

SK

December 28th, 2011
1:02 pm

Excellent recap, Rodney. Re: Kelly performing for Coke, they do have DEEP pocket (I know first hand) – glad she was able to cash in on their dime. Cannot wait to see Clay on Celebrity Apprentice starting in Feb. Rumors have it that he comes off like a shining star and kicks some butt (in a nice way). Hope he wins – he deserves to come in first, with all of the money going to his charity. Love The Voice, but the resulting winners are not doing so well. The X Factor, I am rooting for Josh to do some important things in the music biz, too!

Rodney Ho

December 28th, 2011
2:52 pm

James Durbin via his publicist sent me a personalized autographed CD in the mail for my support. What a nice gesture!

Harriett

December 28th, 2011
2:59 pm

Hey, everyone! Just popping in to see what you are saying. Enjoying my time off. Check you later.

DanJ

December 28th, 2011
3:35 pm

I liked adding Steven Tyler and J-Lo as judges for the most part last year although I wasn’t crazy about the contestants as much. Outside of Casey and Haley I didn’t have anyone I cared for although I thought Pia was a good singer. Lauren got stale and Scotty was just plain boring. James was okay but only okay. Hopefully 2012 will be better for Idol!

Mercedes S.

December 28th, 2011
6:18 pm

Now, when RoHo has received a personalized, autographed CD from Fan-you know who I mean – THEN he will really have arrived…

JTesla

December 28th, 2011
7:23 pm

What is that? Oh yes, the sweet smell of desperation. CD’s don’t sell well these days and James Durbin’s target audience isn’t the ‘download music’ demographic.

Lurker

December 29th, 2011
8:28 am

Jordan Sparks is filming the remake of “Sparkle” she is playing the lead role.

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