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'American Idol' without Simon Cowell? Really?

"American Idol" judge Simon Cowell arrives at a Denver hotel for a call back audition of contestants of the show. (August 7, 2009) Photo Credit: AP

Today, I ponder the imponderable. I'm not talking the secrets of the universe. Or the true meaning of "infinity."  Or even whether Dana Delany's character on "Desperate Housewives" goes bonkers...

  Talking about "American Idol" without Simon Cowell.
 
  Can it survive without him?

  I'm going to force you to read this entire blog post for the answer, or you can just jump to the end.

  But keep in mind, it's likely he's gone after next season, to a version of "The X Factor" that'll also air on Fox. Paula Abdul could be one of the judges, though that may just be wishful thinking on my part.

 
 1. Without SiCo, you are left with Kara, Randy (in the final year of a deal too) and Ellen D. We have no idea how Ellen D will be, of course, but one can assume competent and intelligent, etc. But this isn't about competency but chemistry. Let's assume Ellen - a very good assumption - plays the softie. You are not going to suddenly see a hardass Ellen, in direct contrast to her talk show doppelganger. Going hardass would hurt the real franchise - the talk show. So you can reasonably assume Ellen plays to type. She'll be nice. That means Kara will be the heavy.

 2.) Could Kara work as the heavy without Simon as the true heavy by her side? I have my doubts. Her comments often mirrored Simon's or his her's last year - so their tastes and critical acumen are reasonably similar, though SiCo is tougher. But where Kara seems to have a need to EXPLAIN and elaborate upon her opinion - here's why you stink and why you wouldn't stink as much if you did x or y or maybe z  - Simon is content to dispense with the lousy performance with a simple declarative "that was bloody awful." For TV purposes, that's infinitely more effective, and when delivered by that cold-blooded John Bull voice, with those dark expressionless arctic eyes, well - it's just bloody marvelous. Kara doesn't do "mean" nearly as well as Simon. "Mean," as you know, is as vital to "Idol" as much as Paula's coddling and cooing was. (Oh how I miss the dear girl already.)


3.) Without SiCo, Randy would be left hanging off by the side - the George of our merry little band of critics, orphaned and lonely. It'd be two ladies to one guy, which is irrelevant, perhaps, though Randy often navigated between Paula and SiCo. In many respects, he's the "nice" judge and the more musically sophisticated judge. With a new set of judges, he may be forced to explore a brand new character or role.

4.) Who will be the leader? No one. This panel works because SiCo is the leader. Without SiCo, rudderless. Or worse, you'll have judges vying for a leadership role - Kara vs. Randy, or both versus Ellen, or all three versus whoever the new fourth judge is. The potential dynamics could destabilize the entire venture, like a ship listing to one side. 

5.) He was and is the best critic. Criticism is hard on occasion because it means you have to say harsh unpleasant things about performers. Paula almost always demurred, while Randy was barb-free - his criticisms delivered earnestly, without snark or snarl or bile. That left the dirty work to SiCo, who of course relished it. Simple fact that he is almost always correct isn't even the issue here - but that his opinions were rendered brutally and directly. That, of course, made his praise all the richer, and more valuable. In way, a similar role is played (in obvious varying degrees) by Tim Gunn, Len Goodman or Gordon Ramsey, but no one on television, U.S. television, has quite the same style or approach. SiCo is unique.

6.) Finally, you have to ask yourself - isn't this about the performer, and performance, and not the judge? No, in fact, it's not. The judge comes first, the performer second. The judge selects the performer, The judge shapes the performance. The judge molds and ultimately improves the performance, week to week. Of all the judges, none have greater immediate impact on a performer - or his or her frame of mind - than SiCo.

  So, can "Idol" exist without Simon Cowell?

  Of course it can. Dozens of "AI" editions around the world thrive, and only one of them has SiCo.

 But...it will be dramatically diminished. It will be duller. It will be weakened. It will be less important if not unimportant  or worse, irrelevant - perhaps the key loss. SiCo brings a sense to the competition that it really does all seem to matter - that the winner has run a brutal gauntlet, and really is the best (although, of course, voters do tend to get this wrong too.)

  Without Simon Cowell, "American Idol" will decline, and perhaps sharply.


 

 
 

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