Will Fans Return To A Nicer 'Idol'?

American Idol is back tonight. The program was once indisputably the biggest thing on TV, based partly on the entertainment value of watching the judges snipe at each other. Recently, rival singing competition, The Voice has been successful on the strength of the good-natured banter between its judges. Can Idol be nicer — and will that make it more successful?

Copyright © 2014 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block.

"American Idol" is back for its 12th season tonight. The show's huge success gave rise to an entire genre of reality talent shows on TV. For the last few seasons, though, ratings for "American Idol" have been off. So they've freshened up the format and brought in some new judges. NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans says "American Idol" is trying something new: being nice.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: If you had to use one word to describe "American Idol's" season last year, that word would be hostility.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "AMERICAN IDOL")

NIKKI MINAJ: No, but I feel like we're kind of like - we're going into...

MARIAH CAREY: I'm sorry - that's what I do, Nikki. And I sing.

MINAJ: Are you country? Are you country? Do you like country? Do you like country? And I kind of feel like we're...

DEGGANS: Judges Nikki Minaj and Mariah Carey were all over each other. Country star Keith Urban was often stuck in the middle, while long-time judge Randy Jackson became a helpless bystander.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "AMERICAN IDOL")

MINAJ: You guys make comments about everybody in the pop, you know, in popular music all day, nonstop.

KEITH URBAN: It's you guys.

MINAJ: Not you, Keith. Randy and Mariah. And I...

CAREY: Really?

MINAJ: Yeah.

CAREY: Is that what I do?

DEGGANS: The fighting wasn't what fans wanted to see. But "Idol" turned conflict into a television phenomenon just 12 years earlier as persnickety judge Simon Cowell sniped at Paula Abdul.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "AMERICAN IDOL")

SIMON COWELL: I don't want to be rude, but did you turn up at this audition today to be told by Paula Abdul you can do Kermit the Frog?

PAULA ABDUL: I am - you can't - well, you can (unintelligible). Shut up.

DEGGANS: Back then, Cowell's merciless putdowns of mediocre singers were considered hilarious. But nasty doesn't work so well right now. Keith Urban sits in the judge's table on "Idol" this season. And he says the audience has been transformed by rude comments on social media.

URBAN: What it's like to have bad things said about you is starting to affect everybody now because of the Internet and because of blogs and because of Instagrams and Facebook and Twitter. And there's so many portals and platforms now for people to vent their opinion of other people. And suddenly, people are starting to feel what it's like to be on the receiving end of it.

DEGGANS: So, "Idol" producers found a new attitude. They hired charismatic, wisecracking singer Harry Connick Jr., who joins Urban and pop star Jennifer Lopez tonight at the judges' table. And the network is really promoting their easy-going chemistry.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "AMERICAN IDOL")

HARRY CONNICK JR.: The judges love each other and it's really fun. I am impressed by the rocks that you got.

DEGGANS: Awful contestants don't get a lot of screen time anymore, which makes "Idol" seem a lot more like it's biggest rival, NBC's "The Voice." The NBC show's not-so-secret weapon is the playful banter between superstar coaches like country star Blake Shelton and pop singer Adam Levine.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE VOICE")

ADAM LEVINE: I do believe that Taylor Swift is not primarily a country artist.

BLAKE SHELTON: No, we take ownership of Taylor Swift in country music.

DEGGANS: But "Idol's" challenge is to turn toward nice without looking like a pale copy of its biggest competitor. "American Idol's" innovation has spawned a bunch of competitors, from "America's Got Talent" to "The X Factor," which means "Idol" needs more than a trio of jovial judges to stand out from the crowd it helped create.

BLOCK: Eric Deggans is NPR's TV critic.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: