“American Idol” Jumps the Ethics Shark

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.

4 thoughts on ““American Idol” Jumps the Ethics Shark

  1. This is a shame. I have only seen parts of two episodes this season, but I was struck by how much better the contestants were than previous seasons. I did notice the seemingly arbitrary way that people were selected, however and was wondering how bad the mess was going to be. They allowed a lot of very good talent to continue, but let some bizarre ones in. They are going to have a miserable winnowing process in Hollywood Week that is going to take a lot of good talent out.

    As I tell my students, I can’t give a glowing recommendation to a mediocre student without hurting all the past and future outstanding students.

    • That’s right, and it should be obvious in this competition. For once, some of the bitter rejectees spitting and cursing and saying that they “could sing damn better than a lot of the others” are not deluded.

  2. Simon Cowell was the only judge on the previous years’ “Idol” programs who knew what he was talking about. So now the judges just gush, love or not particular contestants, and do nothing to make the program an opportunity for real talent to find a voice.

    I give it less than a year. And that’s 11 months more than it deserves.

  3. I knew, when the Gong Show first premiered, that no good was coming out of this. American Idol confirmed my prediction! With a few very notable exceptions (like Jackie Evancho!) it’s been largely a matter of untalented wackos making fools out of themselves before the entire world. Why? Out of the delusion that they could become famous and make a lot of money. And the producers? They knew that they could gather an audience from people with weak personalities who enjoy seeing people who were even less accomplished than themselves. I guess, down deep, we all get a secret thrill from feeling superior to some poor schmuck! I try to stay away from that, though. It’s habit forming!

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