American Idol Season 9 Preview

brent johnson and bill bodkin debate the new season of American Idol

American Studies
By Brent Johnson

I like American Idol. I’m not supposed to, but I do. I’m an encyclopedic music fan who’s favorite band is Roxy Music. How can I like Idol, a show critics bash as a pre-packaged karaoke-fest?

I say: Sue me.

Yes, the singers often over-sing. And they often sing glop. But since I know what good singing sounds like, I like sitting at home and seeing if the judges can spot it, too. I like seeing whether a contestant can catch my attention by revamping a Bee Gees song. And I really, really like Simon Cowell. He’s charming (in that smug British way), honest and hilarious.

And this season — Season 9 — has two major reasons to tune in:

1. This is Cowell’s last year before leaving to run an American version of his British talent show The X Factor. And throughout the audition rounds, he seems like he wants to go out in acerbic fashion, flashing some of his most cutting quips at less-than-stellar contestants. It’ll be interesting to see if he takes more opportunities to really gnash his critical teeth.

2. Ellen Degeneres replaces Paula Abdul as the fourth judge — which is welcome since Randy Jackson and Kara DioGuardi are repetitive and grating. I’m not a big Ellen fan. I find her humor often is too cheesy. But she seems like she’s game to be a tamer Simon.

But as the live-performance portion of the show begins this week with three episodes in a row — Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday on FOX — there’s one thing I’m not excited about: the contestants.

The past few years have seen some intriguing, well-rounded candidates: Taylor Hicks, Katherine McPhee, Chris Daughtry, Jordin Sparks, Blake Lewis, Melinda Doolittle, David Cook, Adam Lambert, Kris Allen. I liked some (Hicks was more entertaining that you remember, Lambert was fun) and hated others (Daughtry makes Nickelback seem decent). But they had variety. And they were memorable — standing out even in the early rounds.

This year? Without looking through contestant bios online, I can’t remember names and I can barely remember faces and performances. There’s very little rock to appease the slightly skeptical viewers — except for one goofy-looking guy who thinks great rock ‘n’ roll begins and ends with the Doors and Zeppelin. And the one guy who seems to be a favorite — a coffee-houser named Andrew Garcia who sings in a high-toned voice and rearranged Paula’s ‘Straight Up’ as an acoustic slow jam — is quickly becoming a slightly less lame version of last season’s Danny Gokey. In other words, he’s the contestant your mother will love.

I say: Tune in for Simon and Ellen. But be wary of the so-called “talent.” There may not be much to go around.

The beauty of Idol, though, is you never know who is going to sizzle — and when.

Great American Bash
By Bill Bodkin

[Editorial Note: The title of this piece does not foretell of me going off on American Idol, but actually a tribute to the WWE/WCW wrestling pay-per-view.]

I, too, like American Idol. And much like Brent Johnson, I’m not supposed to, either. My favorite band is Metallica, I enjoy “crunchy” guitar riffs, machine-gun drum beats and guitar solos that last four hours.

I say: Blame Sue.

That’s right, the B&B’s popular guest blogger and my fiancee, is the reason why I have become a fan of American Idol. Since our (excellent) relationship began three years ago, Sue has introduced to me some excellent (and not so excellent; read: Hoarders) television programs — American Idol being one of them.

It’s the thrill of competition, the unique takes of classic songs, and yes, the insightful yet acidic tongue of Simon Cowell that has converted me from being a complete Idol hater (despite never watching the show) to a weekly viewer of the program.

However, for Season 9, I have four major reasons to watch the show.

That’s right, these four contestants: Andrew Garcia, DiDi Benami, Crystal Bowersox and Casey James.

To me, these four represent the atypical Idol contestants. While the photo of Benami we used is very glamorous, these four seem like the everyday types — the unslick, the unpolished, the diamond-in-the-rough types that should be competing in Idol. These are people you feel like you know and can get behind — not just because of their immense talent, but because of their everyman/everywoman appeal.

Conversely, I feel the weakest part of the show this year, which has usually been a main attraction, is the interaction of the judges.

Randy Jackson seems to be mailing in every “dog,” “dude,” and “work it out.” His act is tired and boring. Kara DioGuardi adds nothing for me. She has seemingly picked up the super-positive Paula Abdul mantle, and without Paula’s sozzled rambling quality at her disposal, her comments come off as so sweet I want to go into diabetic shock.

As for new judge Ellen DeGeneres — she added nothing during Hollywood Week. However, I hold out hope for her, since she has an engaging personality and she seems genuinely excited to be on the show. I feel by three weeks in, she’ll be clicking on all cylinders.

Of course, Simon Cowell is the show’s one solid judge. He plays up his “heel” card like Ric Flair in the 1980s, but he’s actually quite insightful and is usually correct.

However, the combination of these four just doesn’t seem to be the “A” team. Remove one of them, and you have a strong panel, but the four together seem to be competing for air time more than evaluating talent (at least during Hollywood Week).

Regardless, American Idol Season 9 is going to be a fun season. The plethora of talent will keep the competitive spirit high — and who knows, maybe we’ll have another epic, tense finale like the last two seasons.

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