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'American Idol: New and improved? (Well?)

Hollywood week on

Hollywood week on "American Idol," airing Feb. 17, 2011. Photo Credit: Fox

We are now approaching the midway point in the 10th season of "American Idol." Next week they're in Las Vegas and then back to Los Angeles. The top 24 will then be announced, and we move into the live portion, and season's second half. This week was a hugely compressed Hollywood two-part edition -- 50 percent smaller than the Hollywood rounds of previous years.

This was to be a year of rebirth -- new judges, new vibe, new energy, new -- and improved -- talent. So, let's review just two elements very quickly and offer a grade, shall we?

1.) Judges: This was the great wildcard of 10: new people alongside a veteran. In some respects, Steven Tyler seemed the wildest of the cards, and the initial read was not entirely promising. But since then . . . all good. Tyler's not only been a successful addition but arguably a hugely successful one. He's constructive, incisive, caring, and judgmental -- as a judge should be -- without being dismissive or cruel. He seems to me to strike exactly the right balance: An expert who has walked the walk and talked the talk over a 30-year career, and he exudes that. Jennifer Lopez is a pleasant surprise, too. Randy? He's stepped up, and has emerged as the leader, which is entirely appropriate. There is a demerit here -- this group is so caring, so studious, so intent on getting this right that it seems to have ditched just the slightest sense of whimsy and unpredictability. They mesh together almost too well, and have almost become a single personality as opposed to three separate ones. That's not necessarily a bad thing, and may well end up  being the right approach to developing talent. We'll know better during the live rounds.

Grade: A

2.) Hollywood: Sixty contestants head to Las Vegas next week -- that list has yet to be revealed but spoiler sites like Joe's Place are full of names, if you wish to go there. From this past week, it's more than obvious who those 60 will be. They'll get whacked back to 40, and finally 24. Again, those lists are out there, and the 24 -- I believe -- were actually selected this week. But what about Hollywood? The idea was to zip through this process to mix it up with a Las Vegas sudden-death round, but the problem here is that the show -- not to mention contestants or judges -- barely had time to breathe. Hollywood always served a purpose, and largely that was to downshift after audtions. You'd get to know contestants a little bit, and so would the judges. This time, "Idol" brought 325 hopefuls, a huge number, forcing draconian cuts, and compressed performances. These were fast-cut weeks, with the very good rising very quickly and the karaokes falling just as quickly by the wayside. It was dizziying, and not unconfusing. That downshift? That time to breathe and absorb what the show's got? All left at the curb. This may well be the way to go enroute to finding the best. For viewers, it felt terribly, terribly brief and unsatisfactory.

 Grade: C+

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