Watching American Idol in a professional capacity over a long period of time results in a few patterns emerging. Truthfully, they emerge pretty quickly, thanks to the incessant scheduling of the early episodes and the tendency of Randy Jackson, the session musician who is Idol‘s Last Judge Standing, to repeat certain catchphrases as if he’s a rip-cord doll. But one drum that’s been beaten incessantly since the show’s Simon Cowell era is the notion that it’s a “singing competition”—something that even newly minted Idol gatekeeper Nicki Minaj has told hopefuls with less-than-perfect pitch this season, and something that is, pretty much, a bald-faced lie.
If Idol—not to mention its intranetwork rival X Factor, and even to an extent its blind-taste-test copycat The Voice—were truly a singing competition, of course, matters of styling and “marketability” would be taboo subjects, and the contestants would only focus on getting as much vocal rest time and tea as they could before their 90 seconds were up. (No taping of extraneous commercials for Ford for these kids). But of course it isn’t, and the “singing competition” excuse is only brought up for the purposes of gently letting down those hopefuls who for whatever reason (too weird? too monotone? too, as was the case with self-described Charlie Askew this week, clad in a tank top?) just didn’t tickle the judges’ fancy.
Idol is in yet another transition phase this season, the show’s 12th. Aerosmith yowler Steven Tyler and Fly Girl gone uptown Jennifer Lopez got the heave-ho after two years of service, replaced by the chromatically bewigged Minaj, the Aussie country bro Keith Urban, and the divatastic Mariah Carey. (Tyler, showing that he harbors the show no ill will, came back in a wig and a pair of strategically placed, balled-up socks during the audition episodes earlier this winter; Lopez did not return.) Jackson is now the anchor of the panel, and he’s taken on the role with a bit of relish; he still trots out the catchphrases, as mentioned above, but he peppers them with some nastiness that could only be borne of spending a dozen years doing the same thing. [...]