Ed Martin Live from TCA - "Special from Jack Myers Media Business Report"
Members of the Television Critics Association yesterday had their first chance to talk with new American Idol judges Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez, along with returning judge Randy Jackson, host Ryan Seacrest and three executive producers from the show, in a press conference that left more than one critic wondering if the once seemingly unstoppable Idol franchise is going to lose its edge in its tenth season, which kicks off next week.
It’s a legitimate concern. Part of the big fun during the first nine seasons of American Idol was the blunt commentary by former judge Simon Cowell, who left Idol at the end of last season and is busily working on the many other projects on his plate, including an American version of his British hit The X-Factor set to debut on Fox next fall. Somehow, the fact that Cowell dared to suggest that people of minor or marginal talent (or none at all) should pursue other interests rather than face years of heartbreak trying to compete in the entertainment business earned him the reputation of being nasty. His unwaveringly honest if cutting comments were often priceless, directed with laser-like intensity toward kids and young adults who had been brought up to believe they could do no wrong and were the center of the universe.
Apparently that’s all over now. It seems that among the many changes being made this year to revive Idol is a shift in the judges’ approach to critiquing the talent. They’re going to try to help rather than discourage even those contestants who aren’t exactly Idol-worthy.
“Having been through it all and having experienced everything that these kids are experiencing, [Tyler and Lopez] bring an awful lot more good sense to how they continue on in the competition,” explained executive producer Nigel Lythgoe, who left Idol a few seasons ago but has been brought back to help revitalize the show. “At the end of the day that’s what we’re looking for; the next superstar, not the bad one.
“A lot of it is just giving the right information to [the contestants] so they can continue their journey as artists, rather than trying to stop them from getting there,” he added. “[The judges’] job this season is to help put the kids on the right path.”
That sounds great for the kids, but is that really something viewers want to see, especially the younger viewers Fox covets, who began drifting away from the show years ago, quite possibly because Ryan Seacrest and various female judges increasingly challenged Cowell’s cutting remarks?
“We bring a different perspective than any of the other previous judges, especially if you’re speaking about Simon,” Lopez declared. “We just do. We’re artists. We’ve been up there. We’ve been through the ranks. There’s nothing like having that type of discussion with another artist to help you grow.”
Asked why he wanted to join Idol, Tyler replied, “I’m not sure yet.” Then he moved into career-nurturing mode. “I know what it takes to stay on the road and stand the storm, because it is a storm out there,” he said.
“With all the experience I’ve had in this business and everything I’ve learned, where else could I put it to such good use?” Lopez asked in response to the same question.
The Idol session generated more excitement than anything else Fox offered during its day at this TCA tour or, for that matter, anything ABC served up on Monday, and very likely anything that NBC, CBS and The CW will showcase later in the week. It didn’t eclipse Oprah Winfrey’s appearance during the cable portion of the tour, but it came close.
A session with Fox Networks Group Entertainment Chairman Peter Rice and Fox Broadcasting Co. Entertainment President Kevin Reilly followed the Idol excitement and was decidedly low-key by comparison. In fact, other than a few questions about its upcoming and very ambitious new adventure series Terra Nova, which will have a two-night preview on May 23 and 24 and then premiere in the fall, much of the Rice and Reilly exchange concerned the shocking sudden death last September of Lone Star, the primetime serial Fox had targeted as its next big thing and that many critics had picked as the best new show of the fall.
Rice and Reilly both stood by the show.
“[Lone Star] was an idea that was rejected on its concept by a broad public when they had other choices,” Rice asserted, reflecting on its anemic ratings right at the start.
“I can tell you one discussion we never had the next day was, ‘Well, let’s not do that again! Why did we put that on?” Reilly revealed. “There was no Monday morning quarterbacking,” he added, noting that Fox would continue to take risks.