Looking Ahead at Season 10 of "American Idol"

1/18/2011 Posted by Admin

Looking Ahead at Season 10 of "American Idol"

Television Commentary

By our guest blogger, Catherine Fuentes

The tenth season of "American Idol" is finally upon us, and there are dozens of questions about the new season and all the change it will bring. What will the new judges’ dynamic be? What are the new rounds? Will there be a new Casey James?

In case you haven’t heard, season 10 of "American Idol" has many changes in store for the milestone season. The most visible change is the one that has gotten the most press: Randy Jackson is the only original judge on the panel. Simon is out, Kara is out and Ellen is out. Iconic Aerosmith front man Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez are in. What will this bring? I think it might be better than people are anticipating. Both judges can offer industry insight from their experiences as musicians – not as producers, record executives, or songwriters.

Perhaps the biggest change next to the almost entirely new judging panel is the audition structure. This year, there will be no semifinal round as there typically has been to get down to the Top 12. After Hollywood round, 60 contestants move on to a new Beatles-themed Las Vegas round, where the pool will lose 20 contestants and send 40 back to a second Hollywood round, which will narrow the pool to 20 contestants. When there are 20 contestants, America will vote in what has been described as a single sudden death round to select the finalists. It hasn’t been announced whether there will be a Top 12 or a Top 10. The sudden death rounds will more or less work like a typical episode of ‘Idol’: on March 1 and March 2, the remaining 20 contestants will have one song to sing live before America will have a chance to call-in votes. On March 3, the finalists will be announced.

Another big change is that now, 15-year-olds can audition for the show. This may not seem a big deal, but each season there are some standout 16-year-olds, so will the introduction of 15-year-olds do much to the talent pool? It certainly might deepen it, but who knows what maturity level a 15-year-old can bring to such a high-pressure situation.

In case try-outs were in cities too far from home, this year, "Idol" producers allowed hopeful contestants to audition via Myspace videos. I wonder if we’ll have an episode of just fuzzy webcam auditions, or if we’ll just see them a few steps into the process if any are lucky enough to make it.

Last season there were plenty of complaints (many surrounded around my favorite, Casey James) that contestants relied on their instruments to get them further in the competition… and that the performances really suffered as a result. This season, instruments may be permitted, but their use will be seriously limited – it’s rumored that contestants may only be allowed to use an instrument once per season. This means that the cute guy with guitar phenomenon probably won’t exist this season, and we will hopefully return to a vocal powerhouse like a Carrie Underwood. "Hopefully" being the key word, here.

The head of Interscope/Geffen/A&M, Jimmy Iovine, will appear as a consistent mentor on the season, and will eventually offer the winner a recording deal that I imagine will be more hands-on than in "Idol" past. He’s already announced that he’s planning on bringing him high-profile producers like Timbaland to work with the contestants, and it certainly seems like more in the way of artist development will be done this season than in any prior. This could make the show appear more hip, but it could also make the contestants more commercially successful when they graduate from "Idol." Judging by the abysmal record sales of last season’s top two finalists, maybe a little artist development could be a good thing. However, this also means that there may not be many guest mentors, which might be an unfortunate thing if you think someone awesome like Harry Connick Jr. might not get to work with the contestants (but, on the flip side, it will remove people like Miley Cyrus from mentoring musicians far talented than herself).

Also, there are rumors that there will no longer be any theme nights when we hit the Top 12 or 10 rounds. In the past, the contestants were subjected to find a song that fit their musical vision that fit into a preordained theme like country music, or the Rolling Stones, or even something heinous like disco. Eliminating these will keep contestants rooted in musical hits throughout history in a broad sense, and should help them develop their own musical identity easier in the competition. I think this should be a good thing--if it’s executed correctly.

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