American Idol fans and producers, meet one fourth of Idol’s redemption: Harry Connick, Jr. Last night’s mentoring sessions with Connick were a literal breath of fresh air after the weeks and weeks and weeks of extremes gooey, sugary praise and hydrochloric acid to the face. Honest, direct, and more importantly, thoughtful guidance that actually made sense. Connick proved himself a connoisseur not only of the science of music, but of the soul. Quick, somebody setup a petition to get this guy on the judging panel next year.
The sessions with Harry definitely shined a light on everything that is wrong with American Idol this year; the competitors are just not being treated as the fledgling stars they are, instead we seem to be seeing them dressed up as super stars in the hope that something sticks. The feedback is often whether they failed or succeeded to reach the high water marks, with no feedback that really gives us insight into craft. To put an even finer point on it, American Idol has been a bit like “pop-star school” this season, with none of the home-grown appeal of previous years.
One aspect of Idol that has been missing over the latter seasons is the ‘story’ of the contestants journey towards the upper ranks. It used to be that we started with some starry eyed kids with legitimate talent and they were transformed along the way into super star versions of themselves. Now it seems like American Idol wants to kick things off with full blown market ready contestants fresh out of the cookie cutter. Did anyone ever stop to examine whether the lack of this sort of organic narrative correlated with the disinterest in the ratings?
With Connick every contestant was humbled by his insightfulness. He wasn’t instructing in terms of quick fixes and wow moments, instead he offered substantive input that seemed fully informed by a sense of mature artistry. And, much to his credit, the feedback he gave actually appeared in the performances. They listened to him. Are you paying attention American Idol producers? Something actually happened last night in terms of these girls’ journey towards the final run of the contestant. The show had that organic narrative I talked about, we saw the girls treated as blossoming artists, given meaningful instruction by a wise and seasoned veteran, and taking that instruction into their soul. This is what should happen in every episode of American Idol. No more Pop Diva school for the insanely talented, we want to see the unseasoned, completely lacking in cynicism, bright eyed guys and girls learning that hitting the high notes is not what it is all about.
So, American Idol, here’s an opportunity to begin your redemption, cast Connick in a judge’s seat next year and then find at least a couple more just like him. Get rid of the eye rolling, asinine, and incomprehensible divas and sycophants and bring in individuals that can not only transform the competitors with intelligent and meaningful feedback, but also give the audience a sense that a change has been made, that a narrative is taking place, and that there is something happening outside of winnowing down a procession of plastic pop stars.