Chuck Ross

Why ‘Idol’ Is in Trouble

Feb 24, 2010

Now that "American Idol" is down to its final 24 contestants it seems more clear than ever that the show could be headed into big trouble after this season.

Sarah Silverman recently said, as a viewer and fan of "Idol," what she’s primarily interested in is hearing the contestants sing and then hearing what Simon Cowell has to say about them.

Watching last night’s show (Tuesday, Feb. 23) only made one realize how right Silverman is with her observation.

I can whittle it down to one contestant’s performance last night, and the judges reaction to it.

The contestant was Haeley Vaughn, an effervescent, bubbly, enthusiastic 16-year-old  who sang the early Beatle’s classic "I Want To Hold Your Hand," accompanied by her own guitar playing.

After the performance, Kara went first, saying that Vaughn was all over the place musically, but that she likes the girl. Randy agreed, in mild criticism mixed with much praise.

Then came Ellen. She said she didn’t know anything technically about music–referring to the critiques of Kara and Randy–and that as "Someone who just loves music, I enjoyed it."

Next came the truth-teller, Simon: "If I’m honest with you, I thought it was verging on terrible." As the boos mounted in the audience,  he continued, "It was a complete, utter mess. It wasn’t very good." As the crescendo of boos peaked, Simon then said, "I’m only saying what you’re thinking."

And, of course, as most times, he was indeed saying what we were thinking.

Up until last night, for much of ‘Idol" this season, Simon appeared to have been disinterested and distant, seemingly already done with the show, knowing that this is his last season.

But last night he was back on his A-game.

Seeing that, along with the pronouncements of Miss "Gee, I don’t know music, but I liked that," you can clearly see the huge challenges "Idol" has moving forward. 

First there was the choice of picking Ellen to join the weak Kara (she’s just basically a clone of Randy without his wit, charm or smarts) on the judging panel. 

Yes, Ellen can deliver a good joke, as we’ve seen. And last night, after Simon’s dose of truth about Haeley’s performance she quipped, "If it was a mess, it was a hot mess," but her humorous quips don’t generally add anything to the enjoyment of the show and just serve as a distraction. 

Ellen as a talk-show host? Absolutely! Ellen as the judge of a show trying to pick the next best comic? Stupendous! Ellen as a judge on ‘Idol"? Stupefying.

So what it will come down to after this season is who replaces Simon. I cannot think of a more difficult casting decision.

For those of us who love ‘Idol," as well as for those responsible for keeping the program going as the cash cow it is on the business side, there is no bigger decision the producers of the show and those at Fox will have to make regarding this show.

So far, with their choices of having Kara and Ellen join the judges table, I’d say they have two strikes against them. I’m hoping that they don’t strike out.# 


  1. Who is we? He may be saying what YOU were thinking but certainly not mine. I did not think Haeley was that bad. It wasn’t the greatest performance, but it definitely wasn’t terrible.
    Simon does not speak for the 25+ million people that watches AI. His comment was arrogant and “indulgent.”

  2. Wow . . . I couldn’t agree more when it comes to Simon’s importance yet disagree more regarding Ellen and Kara. I had doubts about the addition of Ellen and couldn’t be happier that I was wrong. Her wit and non-technical point-of-view (smilier to most viewers) is a refreshing change to an all “expert” panel. Fox has finally obtained the variety I’ve been waiting for.

  3. Smilier? Wow.

  4. This is exactly how my husband and I feel about the show. It’s going down without Simon. Unless David Foster could be convinced to join “Idol”. He could be at least as truthful as Simon, and has a vast knowledge of the music business.

  5. On the shows prior to Tuesdays I found myself just wanted to hear more singing good or bad. In my view, that is what makes the show. Just surprised the producers can’t see it. Yes, Haeley’s performance as well as others was not the best Tuesday night. I agree with Simon. There were not many performances which really stood out as being unique or real “Idol” material. Maybe the guys will surprise us tonight.
    Arrogant or indulgent if you look at the national voting trend on this show you will see for the most part they agree with Simon. Your article is right on!

  6. The weakness of the panel minus Simon goes all the more to what a disaster hiring Howard Stern would be. This panel does not need another comic without musical insight. Though recent indications are that – no big surprise – this was Stern self-promotion.
    The judges seemed unusually hard on the two most original girls, Crystal and Lily.

  7. Well said. What about this Howard Stern thing? Whadda ya think?

  8. More music, less chit-chat! This show will suck without Simon. As we watched last night my husband and I were amazed that Simon would say everything we’d said during the performance almost every time. The rest of the panel are just fluff. They could do the whole show with only Simon as the judge and have more time for actual singing! The other three are next to worthless.

  9. Simon is the shows wit, humor and right on the mark in his assessment of the the talent. He gets it right and i love to see his sly grin when he knows he has someone special in front of him. this year there is no one special just yet. they will hopefully grow into that special catagory but right now they all seem like frightened children in a not so hot performance. Kara’s silly dramatics about Casey put her in the cougar catagory i felt embarrassed for him to have to stand and be cougarized. come on yes he is a very handsome young man and i totally get the buzz he creates but it is supposed to be a singing contest not a peep show for women to act like a school girl. i do believe Kara knows her stuff about the music business to the point of nausea. she flaunts it and is way to above it all in her knowledge.

  10. I have never watched IDOL (I know, crazy!) but I know its doomed without Simon. It all started when Paula left. Why did they have to try and fix something that was not broken…

  11. Why should we listen to Chuck Ross? He’s the guy who thought Howard Stern was the perfect replacement, an idea that was a non-starter at 19 Entertainment.

  12. I agree with the her entire article.

  13. Spot on!
    The show seems to be off a couple of octaves!
    I would really like to see them (the panel) be more true in shaping the talent that takes to the stage…those that made t have asked to be shaped, sheared and sound checked for stardom— so dog, stop playing nice and give them an honest review!

  14. I’ve never watched Idol. It has zero attraction for me. It’s tired 1950s television repackaged in a glitzy wrapper.

  15. Anyone who does niot think that Simon makes this show is not being honest. He is the show!

  16. Lately I hear more and more people asking “What happened to Idol” – the show is getting more boring.
    I can’t believe no one has detected the problem yet. Here it is:
    When the show first started, there were 3 judges, although Paula never had an opinion and would often say irrelevent things like “you look beautiful tonight”.
    Therefore, there were only two opinions: Simon and Randy.
    Later when Idol added Kara, there were 4 judges but once again Paula never gave her opinion so there were only 3 opinions on the panel: Randy, Kara and Simon.
    THE BIGGEST MISTAKE WAS REPLACING PAULA WITH ELLEN. Now there are really 4 opinions on the panel which is way too many. The judges are contradicting each other and it is painful to have to sit through that many opinions as a viewer – it makes the show seem longer and more boring.
    I would suggest dropping Ellen and replacing Simon with someone else.

  17. Hey Chuck,
    Did you get the sense during Simon’s latest conference call that he knew his replacement did not matter. The Xfactor is destine to replace an ailing American Idol just as it has in the UK market.
    The Idol upfronts will be a hard sell.
    If you need a barometer to judge the health of AI, compare the name recognition of Paula’s 2nd season to Kara’s. Nothing against Kara, she is an amazing talent, but who will the audience look to next season, Randy Jackson? Randy is going through the motions, without that Jackson flare and passion because he sees the producers and crew reading the trades now more than ever.
    I could be wrong though, Simon may not be the genius that we know him to be. A genius will leave a sinking ship and tell those he is leaving behind to listen to the music as he lowers the boat.

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