American Idol’s premiere is familiar and icky, but new judges offer hope

Is it necessary? Was it missed? Do we really need this in our lives? Is it worth the time it takes away? No, but like the time change, American Idol is back on Sunday, whether we like it or not.
The production company that produces the show, FremantleMedia, made it abundantly clear to the show’s former home that this is a format they won’t change. And the show that ABC will air—I’ve seen the first, two-hour episode—is very familiar, starting with the many, many journeys that we’re all taking together to find out which people are what this show is all about.
At first, the show seems to be aspiring to be a marginally better version of itself, but ends up stumbling, falling into its old behaviors.
Carrie Underwood narrates a cold open about the effect of music on people, which transitions awkwardly to American Idol, a show will leave “no voice left unheard.” (Wait, really? We’ll be done after this season?)
There are other odd pronouncements, such as when Seacrest arrives on set, just a year and a few months after the Fox show ended, and declares, “I’ve waited a lifetime for this.”
Seacrest may be the face of the series, but he is minimized the first 10 minutes—not having him narrate the cold open is a clear choice—and starts off feeling more like background during the first hour. For example, he is not there before and after every audition.
I wondered if this might be related to his former stylist, Suzie Hardie, saying he harassed her for years, claims that included, as Variety reported, “grinding his erect penis against her while clad only in his underwear, groping her vagina, and at one point slapping her buttock so hard that it left a large welt still visible hours later.”
But that doesn’t fit with Seacrest’s American Idol image, and, as Sonia Saraiya writes in a must-read column about the immunity he’s been given, “it is convenient for many wealthy and powerful entities in the industry to believe him — and correspondingly inconvenient to believe her.”
A former colleague of Hardy’s confirmed her claims; an investigation by E! found only that there was “insufficient evidence.” So Disney/ABC, and NBC Universal’s E!, and FremantleMedia are doing what Seacrest did in a column: declaring that women are brave and should be heard when they tell their stories, but we should just completely ignore this woman while believing Seacrest’s unsubstantiated claim that she tried to blackmail him.
That kind of hypocrisy is something American Idol is particularly good at. It’s a show that positions itself as the embodiment of the American dream, and then turns people’s dreams into dollars for itself, frequently by making young people into mockeries, and, yes, sometimes turning them into stars.
During its vacation and shift to another, happier, “family-friendly” network, American Idol has not lost that mean streak. It’s just covered it up.
The mocking isn’t coming from an acerbic British judge, or from any of the judges, but from the producing and editing. While it’s not exactly the parade of ridicule that the show leaned into early in its life, the producers have delivered several delusional and bad singers to the judges.
Even when the person is a great singer, they sometimes still get shit on by the show.. In the first two hours alone, there are several This person is ridiculous and/or ugly so they probably can’t sing, wait, OMG did you hear that?! auditions, and one of them is introduced with the Andy Griffith Show’s theme song to make sure viewers have a strong sense of who he is etched into their mind before he starts singing.
The days of William Hung are not over for American Idol.
The premiere even features an extended segment that mocks an immigrant’s singing ability and uses that to slowly raise its middle finger to its competition, The Voice—a gesture that would have been fun if it wasn’t another example of the show being a giant industrial shredder while insisting it’s an origami teacher.

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