American Idol has certainly given cause for concern in the past, especially where the judging is concerned. The addition of Kara DioGuardi to the mix in Season 8 disrupted the successful and entertaining dynamic that Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, and Randy Jackson had cultivated. After that, things started to quickly fall apart until the panel was left with only one of the original three, to which producers then added Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler in Season 10.
Last season, under JLo and Tyler's reign, the show's finale drew fewer viewers than any other finale in the show's eleven seasons.
While there is certainly a natural life expectancy of television shows, the importance of the judging panel on American Idol's overall success can't be underestimated. When a panel works, like Idol's did early on, or like NBC's The Voice's is working now, it elevates a show; enabling it to achieve a level of entertainment that can't be achieved any other way.
The chemistry of judges, and an individual's ability to judge, simply can't be faked. Consider American Idol's Ellen DeGeneres debacle in Season 9; no amount of editing could erase the palpable friction between Ellen and Simon. Despite being a beloved and hilarious comedienne, Ellen DeGeneres was not a good judge. Neither were Jennifer Lopez or Steven Tyler, despite their accomplishments outside of the show.
But it seems as though American Idol producers haven't recognized the fact that celebrity does not necessarily indicate quality when it comes to judging. Or perhaps they just don't care. Idol's announcement of their new judging panel, including Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban reeks of a disquieting desperation. Like the balding, middle-aged man – who, in an attempt to escape the awareness of his own mortality – peels out of the sports-car dealership in a cherry-red roadster blaring pop rock, American Idol is ready to trade in the sedan. They are in full crisis mode.
One can hardly point the finger at Idol alone, The X-Factor's recent addition of Britney Spears and Demi Lovato was a transparent attempt to lure in a younger audience. But unlike Idol, The X-Factor is the new kid in the playground, trying to find that delicate balance between fitting in and being their own person (so to speak). American Idol has no such excuse. They have had years to cultivate their brand but, distracted by new competitors, they have lost sight of the what makes them unique. You can almost picture the producers sitting in a conference room watching an episode of The Voice, pointing at Blake Shelton and whining, "We want a good-looking cowboy, too!"
But it is not the addition of Keith Urban or even of Mariah Carey (we just had two seasons of diva judging, after all) that is most troubling. It is the addition of Nicki Minaj. While it is easy to understand why Idol would want to add a younger star to the panel, adding an artist whose persona and music seem to be built on the belief that the crassness and exhibitionism are the best way to stardom seems questionable. How will American Idol give Nicki Minaj a platform to promote her music, since much of it is too expletive to even be performed on the show? And in their effort to woo younger – and notoriously fickle – audiences is American Idol prepared to alienate the other – more loyal – demographics, namely middle-America, 35+ and families?
The answer to that question is likely a resounding yes. But only time will tell if American Idol's gamble will pay off. What do you think? Does the new panel change the way you think of American Idol? Share your comments below.