American Idol dumps theme weeks: best move the show has ever made
September 24, 2010 by Beatweek
Forget, for a moment, American Idol new judges. Their high profiles will cause people to tune in (or in some cases, tune back in) just to see how they fare, and they’ll either sink or swim. We’ll have no answers on that until the season takes off. The real news out of the Idol camp, for the moment, is the fact that show will no longer put contestants through the bizarre rituals known as theme weeks, in which America’s next pop stars were determined by how well they could sing Sinatra tunes, and aspiring R&B singers were determined by their ability to croon out a country song. At their best, theme weeks made for some humorously awkward television. But too often, they merely served to make the top contestants look bad for coming up short in genres in which they were never meant to be dabbling in the first place.
The theory goes that a great performer can shine in any genre or styling. And it’s a nice theory. But asking voters to decide which contestant has the most potential to succeed in the one genre of their choosing, based on asking all of the contestants to perform in all genres, simply never made sense in practice. It’s not unlike McDonald’s filling a finance position in its corporate offices by asking applicants to show off their skills on the fryolator, or asking potential french fry cooks to display their accounting skills. In other words, judging Adam Lambert’s career potential by asking him to perform a country song was as silly as predicting Carrie Underwood’s potential by asking her to sing anything but country.
So that’s one major step in the right direction as American Idol heads into the tenth and most pivotal season of it long run. Either Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler will work out or they won’t, and that’ll go a long way to determining whether there’s an eleventh season. And there are other questions to be asked, such as whether the show will ever be able to overcome its status as “South and Midwest Idol” in which most of the viewers and voters come from those regions, leaving contestants with almost no chance of winning unless they come from one of those regions. But that’s all to be answered once the season begins. For now, at least, Idol has claimed a piece of legitimacy that it could never previously claim during any of its nine seasons: no more putting contestants through wrong-genre circus acts just to watch them squirm.