Open Mic

'American Idol': The 'Hamlet' Dilemma

Chuck Ross Posted March 4, 2011 at 8:58 AM

It was a defining moment for “American Idol” this week. Near the beginning of Thursday night’s show, as we prepared to find out results of this week’s voting and who would be the top dozen or so finalists for the season, Ryan Seacrest asked Steven Tyler this question: “Steven, in your opinion, looking at the week, who was better as a group, the guys or the girls?”

To which the longtime frontman of Aerosmith replied, “I can’t say. I can’t say. I’m not going there.”

Really? For Tyler this was “To be or not to be” and he couldn’t handle the truth?

My 15-year-old son quickly shouted out at the TV screen, “The boys.” My wife, my 12-year-old daughter and my 8-year-old daughter—and myself—quickly followed his words by yelling, “The girls. The girls.”

We finished shouting just in time to hear J.Lo and Randy jumping in to back up Tyler, both saying almost simultaneously that the boys and girls were pretty even as a group this week.

Oh my effing god—this “Idol” brain trust couldn’t even give an opinion on this rudimentary question?

Before I express my concerns about “Idol” now that it’s finally live this season, a few words of praise.

Kudos to Messrs. Nigel Lythgoe, Ken Warwick, Mike Darnell and their team for a terrific job of editing and storytelling for the first part of the “Idol” season. Both of the new judges, Jennifer Lopez and Tyler, came off winningly, getting high marks from critics and viewers alike.

And congratulations all around for picking a bunch of contestants who are so talented as well. It’s the best group on “Idol” in quite a while.

However, now the shows are live. And if this week is any indication, the weaknesses that I’ve mentioned before are going to become more and more glaringly obvious in the weeks to come.

As most of us veteran “Idol” fans know, if you have to depend on Randy to be the judge to tell it like it is, the show’s in trouble. Randy is a smart music industry veteran and contestants who don’t listen to him are foolish—and he’s tremendously likable—but 10 years into the show his comments that a singer is "pitchy" and "all over the place" have just about crossed the line from being familiar and almost comforting to viewers to bordering on annoying.

But as Jackson alluded to himself this week, it looks like this season he’ll be the one who’s going to be the odd man out. What he meant is that, for the most part, J.Lo and Tyler are going to have a hard time telling contestants when they’ve just delivered a stinker.

Thus, now that we’ve gotten to the live shows, and we’ve come to see who Tyler and J.Lo are, to thine own selves they shall be true.

That’s not necessarily a good thing.

Come on, to have all three judges this week praise carrot-top Brett Loewenstern’s take on “Light My Fire” was absurd. Simon Cowell, truthteller that he is, would have said something like “Brett, I wish you had never lit that fire.”

Ditto the judges exultation of Paul McDonald’s “Maggie Mae.” Most of you probably liked his rendition of this Rod Stewart classic better than I did, but for none of the judges to be critical at all of this performance smacks of the same ridiculousness as Charlie Sheen’s overuse of the word “winning.”

Ah, “American Idol,” that it should come to this.

Some of you may think that I protest too much about these fundamental problems with ‘Idol’ moving forward, and while I agree that ultimately the singing’s the thing—in my mind’s eye, of this situation I say it cannot come to good.

Because the “Idol” judges, plainly, have a plentiful lack of wit.

Though this be madness, I cannot discern method in it.

So next week or the week after, one of the contestants will do murder to the singing of “Kiss the Girl” from Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid,” and neither Randy nor J.Lo nor Steven Tyler will dare say that something is rotten in the state of Denmark.#