American Idol was in crisis. Coming off its worst-rated season ever, in which the once-world-beating Nielsen juggernaut was brought to its knees by snowballing audience apathy, the continuing fragmentation of prime-time TV, and novelty-slinging upstarts in spinning chairs offering a marginally fresher take on Idol’s long-stale formula, Fox was finally ready to make some changes. Major changes. Paradigm-shifting, paddles-to-the-stalled-heart-of-a-dying-behemoth changes. Changes that would redefine the very future of televised singing competitions, so that future generations could continue to gather around the holo-stage in their hover-condos and enjoy the off-key warblings of single iMoms just trying to feed their cyborg-toddlers! And so it … fired a couple of executives. Let half of its judges go. Kicked around the idea of decommissioning The Dawg, before ultimately letting him hang around backstage as a mentor, because apparently he just kept showing up for work, eyes welling with the still-fresh memories of his emotional death montage.
Changes. Big changes. Franchise-saving changes.
And then it brought back pretty hug machine Keith Urban, because country music's teddy bear union is ruthless and insatiable.
After The Voice crowned its fourth-season winner, 16-year-old Danielle Bradbery — the third Team Blake victor — a hush fell over the nation. American Idol doesn’t start auditioning its 13th season until July, and The X Factor, revamped with two new judges and minus a Kardashian, is holding its breath until the fall. It’s a reflective time: The Voice finale pulled 15.3 million pairs of eyeballs (crushing the most recent Idol season finale by a cool million), but just because it managed to do well doesn’t mean we can’t do better. It’s been 11 years since Idol premiered, and though The Voice has managed to push the singing-show genre evolution a few inches toward Tomorrowland with invested mentors, the fresh gimmick of blind auditions, and playful, campy performances (cough, cough), it still occasionally smacks of something dusty and grandpa-like. We may have arrived at an era that requires “social media correspondents,” but the current incarnation of this position seems poised to appear in a future BuzzFeed list of embarrassing vintage relics. The time is ripe for a dramatic chord progression, a giant leap.
Just hours before the finale of what was widely believed to be the worst season in American Idol history, 12-cycle veteran Randy Jackson quietly gathered his belongings, whispered a despairing triple-Yo to his slumbering colleagues, and stole away in the last available lifeboat, watching as the Karaoke Titanic he was leaving behind continued its quickening descent to the bottom of the prime-time ocean. A captain might need to go down with his ship, but a dawg gets out while the getting is good.
Randy's now joined by the ghosts of Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj, who perished in that wreck, but yesterday issued tweets from beyond the watery grave confirming what we've already known for weeks: They will not be returning as Idol judges. First, Carey, via a retweet of her publicists, because do you think The Queen issues her edicts in 140 characters? Don't be an idiot:
Hour for programming hour, Mike Darnell may be the most intelligent, imaginative, and beguiling purveyor of television shit who’s ever lived. Darnell’s exit as head of “alternative entertainment” for the Fox network, announced last Friday, isn’t so much the end of an era as an occasion to take stock of a man who altered television every bit as much as any producer of adventurous TV. Over the past two decades, Darnell, 51, has proven to be the grotty Grant Tinker; the David E. Kelley of kitsch; the Matthew Weiner of wince.
Whatever doesn't deafen you makes you stronger: Grantland's Jay Caspian Kang, Mark Lisanti, and Emily Yoshida have returned, bowed but not broken, to tackle another season of American Idol. Their journey is now at an end, a winner has been crowned, the confetti has fallen — but the biggest questions of all are still on the horizon.
Did the correct person win?
Kang: Is this even a question? Kree seems like a nice girl and all, but she shouldn’t have even made the final 12. There are 1,500 ways to sing country — you don’t even really need functional vocal chords (R.I.P. Townes Van Zandt) — but what you can’t do is pout during happy songs and fart around when it’s time to connect with the audience. That’s what Kree did week after week and if she had won, I might have actually made good on my annual threat to never watch this show again. As it turned out, the right girl won and I’m excited to return next season with four all-new judges!
It's been a banner week for everyone's favorite nightshade-averse Hollywood superstar, Gwyneth Paltrow. Great things happen when she mixes her vino with her kale juice and goes on Australian radio to talk about how bad the Met Ball sucked (among other topics), and we're itching like a post-cleanse rash to talk about how it affects her questionable likability. But first, we must address the behemoth that has landed in our own backyard at the Grantland studios: the not-so-grand finale of the troubled reality juggernaut American Idol and what the future holds for it after a massive personnel bloodbath. We also discuss The Great Gatsby, wealth and delusion (Hi, Gwynnie!), and our general desire for a non-Vulcan Winona Ryder comeback.
"Yo! Yo! Yo! To put all of the speculation to the [sic] rest, after 12 years of judging on American Idol I have decided it is time to leave after this season. I am very proud of how we forever changed television and the music industry. It's been a life changing opportunity but I am looking forward to focusing on my company Dream Merchant 21 and other business ventures." —Randy Jackson to E! last night.
And with those words, delivered a few hours before last night's American Idol results show, Randy Jackson, indefatigable stalwart of all 12 seasons, tendered his resignation.
Whatever doesn't deafen you makes you stronger: Grantland's Jay Caspian Kang, Mark Lisanti, and Emily Yoshida have returned, bowed but not broken, to tackle another season of American Idol. With a potential top-to-bottom shakeup on the horizon, are these the last days of Idol as we know it?
Who gave the best performance of the night?
Kang: They all seemed nervous last night, didn’t they? Angie sounded shrill for the first time this season (although I suppose the strain of giving two hours of live performances, recording five Ford commercials, and doing whatever other silly crap they put the singers through might be catching up with the vocal cords) and Kree looked about as happy as my cat does when I pick her up and scream “Who’s a cutie? Who’s a cutie?” in her face. Candice kept up her boring march toward the finale, so I guess I would rate her “Somewhere” as the best performance of the night because it didn’t make me want to shove crayons up my nose.
Whatever doesn't deafen you makes you stronger: Grantland's Jay Caspian Kang, Mark Lisanti, and Emily Yoshida have returned, bowed but not broken, to tackle another season of American Idol. Only four contestants remain. (Again.) But the end is in sight.
It must be asked: Is this the worst season of American Idol ever?
Kang: It sure feels like it! Which is strange, because there are two contestants with clear talent (Candice and Angie), a wackadoo judge (Nicki Minaj), and Mariah Carey (Mariah Carey) being weird. So why has this season, which started off so promisingly, slowed down to a death march? Here are three theories.
Whatever doesn't deafen you makes you stronger: Grantland's Jay Caspian Kang, Mark Lisanti, and Emily Yoshida have returned, bowed but not broken, to tackle another season of American Idol. They don't think they can make it, and with the judging panel in crisis, they may never have that recipe again.
Is there any way Angie doesn't win this? She got not one but two "In It to Win It"s from Randy Jackson last night.
Yoshida: Hey, Mark. While I won’t say that getting an “In It to Win It” from Randy is NOT a meaningful thing, I’d like to also point out that Randy whipped out a new catchphrase last night, and Angie was not at the receiving end of it. “Ten out of 10 out of 10.” Think about that for a second. No, really. Try to picture it in your mind.
In what is easily the most exciting development in an otherwise buzz-bereft cycle of American Idol since intergalactic chauffeur Nicki Minaj somehow managed to yawn a rainbow of magical butterflies during an underwhelming rendition of Adele's "Someone Like You," the Hollywood Reporter last night dropped a 10-megaton karaoke bombshell: The show's producers had concocted a bold but aborted plan to discard soporific diva Mariah Carey, in-season, and restore shiny judging goddess Jennifer Lopez to her rightful place on the panel. The shake-up scheme was quickly abandoned when Carey's lawyers threatened to rain hellfire down upon all who would dare threaten Mariah's contractual right to babble something positive toward the stage when awakened by a mild electrical shock from her Coca Cola cup, but THR's sources maintain that the search is already on for her eventual replacement, and, possibly, for the entire judging roster.
Whatever doesn't deafen you makes you stronger: Grantland's Jay Caspian Kang, Mark Lisanti, and Emily Yoshida have returned, bowed but not broken, to tackle another season of American Idol. The boys are all gone, dead. Long live the girls.
Is Janelle doomed tomorrow?
Kang: At the start of the show, Janelle was my favorite to win it all and I still stand by my logic: She’s an attractive-but-not-threateningly-attractive girl with a good-but-not-silly-good voice who sings country without a hint of pretense. I imagined her all spangled up during glam weeks, à la Carrie Underwood singing “Alone” in Season 4, or stomping around with pigtails and screeching out the chorus to Martina McBride’s “Independence Day.” I imagined America slowly falling for this innocent girl who radiates good health and an IQ hovering right about (or slightly below) the national average.
First, a couple of Florida reps flamed Jay-Z and "the diva Beyoncé" for their trip to Cuba. Then Hova responded with "Open Letter" ("Politicians never did shit for me except lie to me, distort history, wanna give me jail time and a fine Obama said, 'Chill, you gonna get me impeached. You don't need this shit anyway, chill with me on the beach'"). And then things got really good: Press Secretary Jay Carney found himself in the strange position of explaining to a press conference that (a) it was a song, y'all, and (b) "I guess nothing rhymes with treasury." Sure, there are some near rhymes (wild celery, feathery, telephone directory), but they really do lack punch. I'd beg someone out there to remix this video, perhaps adding AutoTune or launching an entire web series devoted to White House press events dissecting Snoop Lion's stance on same-sex marriage or the political relevance of "Hey Porsche," but I'm sure there's a mastermind already at work.
Whatever doesn't deafen you makes you stronger: Grantland's Jay Caspian Kang, Mark Lisanti, and Emily Yoshida have returned, bowed but not broken, to tackle another season of American Idol. This week: More positivity! And more Mariah!
Candice's "Lovesong": One of the greatest Idol performances of all time, or do people have short memories and just love to declare things the best ever?