When we look back on television in 2016, the so-called series finale of Fox’s “American Idol” will be remembered as one of the best live entertainment programs of the year, along with the same network’s dazzling production in January of “Grease Live!” At a time when broadcast television is struggling against ever-increasing competition to somehow distinguish itself as something special and remain at the top of Media Mountain it seems to me that Fox should have it all figured out. Keep these events coming -- and for God’s sake don’t wait too long to bring “Idol” or something like it back.
I say “something like it” because I am not at all sure that when “Idol” returns in some fashion -- as had been revealed before the big show in The Hollywood Reporter and was all but confirmed by “Idol” host Ryan Seacrest at its very end when he said “Good night America … for now” -- that it will be on Fox.
Even before the finale I couldn’t understand why the network compressed the final season of the show and hurried it off of its schedule before the May sweeps. Was the budget so bloated that running it for a few more weeks would have left News Corp. in the red? Or could it be that another network or programming service had already snatched up the next incarnation of this ferociously powerful franchise and Fox did not want to be promoting its super-sized farewell during the start of the broadcast Upfront period, the time when all but one of the "Idol" season finales were telecast?
I have no knowledge of any such activity. I am just speculating about all of this. Regardless, I hope "Idol" returns sooner rather than later, and I hope it doesn’t change too much. In fact, as I expressed in my previous column, I want the reworked “Idol” to more closely resemble what it was during its first few seasons when it was simple, straightforward and more engaging than just about anything else in the history of television.
At its best – which was most of its first ten years – “Idol” was the very model of sublime emotional connectivity. The proof of that came in the feelings of joyous nostalgia that kept coming throughout the finale when performers from early in the show’s run appeared on the stage, including many who did not win or even make it into the yearly top three. They were instantly recognizable after all those years unless they had dramatically altered their appearance, like Bo Bice. Of course, not everyone of note was on hand, but it was still a night of overwhelming happy memories and grand entertainment. The star-shine was blinding. (That's Fantasia Barrino, LaToya London and Jennifer Hudson in the image at top.)
There were so many "Idol" veterans on stage throughout the show's two-plus hours – and so many of them were so damned good – that I couldn’t help but think that Fox was missing a third boat with this forced farewell. Bad enough that the decision had been made to “end” the show, and that the “final” season had to be so rushed. But it seemed to me that there was enough talent on display at the Dolby Theater in the heart of Hollywood to populate a weekly or monthly live variety hour featuring “Idol” winners and competitors from the past along with star musical artists of the moment and promising newcomers culled from YouTube, Snapchat and elsewhere. Call it “Live from the Dolby Theater” or something like that and bring on Ryan Seacrest as host – or as co-host with an “Idol” alum. (How about Kellie Pickler? I think that's her in the back on the far left in the photo above.)
Perhaps a show like that would skew a bit older than Fox prefers. But who cares? The kids are never again going to watch a television competition show again in the way that they did when “Idol” began. They’ve moved on to other things. But tens of millions of “Idol” fans are out there, ready for more and not at all ready for the boneyard. Fox invested in all of them, turning total unknowns into some of the most-watched television stars of this millennium to date. Why not take advantage and continue to showcase them all in some fashion? America loved these people years ago, and after that finale America loves them all over again.
For that matter, can anyone at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences explain why no “Idol” veteran has ever performed at the Emmy Awards, which is supposed to be an annual celebration of the best that television has to offer?
I can’t stop thinking about how great everyone sounded during the finale – winners, runners-up and memorable finalists from all of the past seasons. Why aren’t Jessica Sanchez, Carly Smithson and Melinda Doolittle as famous as Chris Daughtry, Adam Lambert and Clay Aiken? I even enjoyed the special appearances by an "Idol" alum we didn't hear at all -- Sanjaya Malakar, who humorously popped up in different areas of the audience sporting the kind of crazy hairstyles (including the giant faux-hawk) that made him a viewer favorite during Season 6.
I had only a handful of complaints about the big show. Why was former (and largely forgotten) judge Kara DioGuardi allowed to perform a song and gobble up precious minutes of airtime? Why was Adam Lambert – one of the most popular and successful “Idol” runners-up – not given the night off from filming “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” in Toronto (as has been reported) so that he could participate in that glorious celebration? “Rocky Horror” is a Fox special, for goodness sakes! Couldn’t the network make it happen? Why was David Archuleta in the house but not on the stage for a solo performance? (He's on the far right in the second photo above.) He was one of the most talented runners-up in the history of the show (as you’ll see in the video above that features his three remarkable performances from the Season 7 finale). Why wasn’t Season 2 alum Josh Gracin included in the segment with the other country guys? (Was he even there?)
And, lastly, why didn’t “Idol” take a moment to acknowledge the passing of Season 7 finalist Michael Johns? There wasn’t room in the finale for a reminder of this talented performer who died far too soon, but there is certainly room here. Watch the video above.
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