Just four audition episodes into the new “American Idol,” it is obvious that the show is done. It might hang on for a few, even several more seasons; after all, “Happy Days” continued for almost a decade after Fonzie jumped the shark. But it’s still over, and it wasn’t because the show lost its center and star, the acid-tongued, irresistible Simon Cowell…well, not exactly. It didn’t have to be the case, but when Simon left, the show lost the one thing it has to have–integrity.
Whether one believed or agreed with everything Cowell said or not, there was never any doubt that he took the singing competition, and his place on it, seriously. He was often gratuitously cruel, and sometimes unfair, but Cowell was working, not playing, as he had an obligation to do. “America Idol” changes lives and American culture, at its best finding genuine, remarkable undiscovered talents who it gives a chance to entertain America and become musical icons. Forget about the clowns and fools who always cloud the issue: “American Idol” celebrates creativity, courage, and the unique ability of America to make someone rich and famous if they can find the right combination of ability, hard work, and luck.
In eight hours of auditions, the Cowell-less panel of Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler have communicated one attitude: “What the hell.” Candidates have been rejected or accepted on whims. There is no apparent standard or criteria, just what the mood of the judges is at a given moment. They have accepted (“sent to Hollywood”) off-key singers, arrhythmic singers, and mediocre singers for almost any reason other than talent: they were cute, they sucked-up,they cried, they begged, they sang one of Steven Tyler’s songs…or not. Unlike past years, the judges have no procedure for voting, no set roles, no hint of any kind of professionalism at all. It’s a lark for Tyler, who just wants to have fun; slumming for Lopez, whose attention comes and goes; and for the one remaining judge from past seasons, Randy Jackson, it is a starring role that neither his persona (bland, with a dash of rude)) or his critiques (inarticulate) can justify.
There is, in short, no reason to respect the judgments of these judges, nor should a TV audience take seriously a competition that the judges themselves don’t think is worth more than a shrug and a paycheck. This is tragic for the many potentially successful recording stars out there who will be doomed to living out their lives as dry cleaners, drug store clerks and construction workers because Randy Jackson, JaLo and Steven Tyler can’t be bothered to apply some diligence and competence to their assignments, but hey, they have theirs, right? So what if their laziness and disrespect for contestants and the show’s loyal audience kills “Idol”—after all, Tyler has his band, Lopez has her movies, and Randy’s had a long run.
When Simon Cowell left, he took “American Idol’s” integrity with it. The show has jumped the ethics shark, and is going to end, not with a bang, but an eh.