It’s Time To Shake Things Up at American Idol

With season 11 of American Idol all wrapped up and Phillip Phillips starting his reign as winner, this summer should be filled with rumours and speculation surrounding the Idol judging panel. Who’s in, who’s out and who’s next to take a seat beside Randy Jackson – I am going out on a limb, but I don’t think Randy is going anywhere.

Let’s face it, the judges on these talent reality programs are the real stars of the show. They can make or break the broadcast and despite pulling in Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler for the last two seasons, AI has fallen behind shows like The Voice and America’s Got Talent (AGT) when it comes to star power. Even X-Factor has made a big splash recently with the announcement of Britney Spears and Demi Lovato as the latest members of their judging panel alongside Simon Cowell and L.A. Reid.

Cowell, the former Idol judge that everyone loved to hate, is actually the brains behind both AGT and X-Factor taking on his former show as well as The Voice, with two very successful franchises he originally helped build in the UK. He has done an incredible job creating buzz for these shows by hiring top-level, if not highly controversial, judges for each property. For season 7 of AGT Cowell brought in one of the most controversial figures in American media, Howard Stern. Love him or hate him Cowell knew people would tune it to see how Stern would handle himself on a prime-time, family talent show on the same network (NBC) that famously fired him decades ago for his inappropriate and offensive on-air behaviour. The irony was not lost on Cowell and the AGT marketing machine who blasted commercial after commercial featuring Stern, set-up numerous TV appearances, and allowed the radio host to use his Sirius satellite radio channel – a daily and dedicated audience north of 10 million listeners – to constantly promote AGT for months leading up to the May season premiere.

With AGT off to a great start, Cowell has turned his attention to X-Factor, a show that skews much younger than AGT or The Voice. Knowing his audience, Cowell has hired two of the most successful teen queens of the last 15 years. Both are former Disney stars so they’ll bring in the tweens, but Spears is the real coup here as she’s been all but invisible since her notorious breakdown a few years ago. Again, viewers will tune in to see how she handles herself on live TV.

A New American Idol Host

So, back to Idol, in my opinion the original singing/talent reality program and the one with the most to lose given all the competition in the space. Admittedly, and for the first time in 11 seasons, I didn’t watch one minute of AI this year. I just find the entire production and concept a little stale. As crazy as this may sound, my first move would be to remove Ryan Seacreast as host (even with two years left on his contract). He does a great job being as neutral and vanilla as possible (like a Dick Clark 2.0) but the show needs a personality to go toe-to-toe with the judges and deliver wit, smarts and a little bit of edginess. Nick Cannon does a great job on AGT. He doesn’t get a lot of camera time, but when he does, he’s entertaining and adds to the show.

If I were producing Idol, my first choice as host would be Jamie Foxx. He’s a triple threat – comedian, actor, and musician – who has won a Grammy and Oscar. He’s quick on his feet, funny and just edgy enough to bring a new level of unexpected to the live shows. He’s also a FOX TV alumni from his days on In Living Color.

New Judges

Next up, we need to consider rebuilding the judging panel. Assuming Randy Jackson remains as the anchor judge, what do we do with Tyler and J-Lo? I think Tyler has done exactly what he set out to do by joining the show. He put himself, and his band Aerosmith, back on the map for something other than infighting and trips to rehab. The band has a new album coming out and a summer tour that they have promoted on Idol. I don’t think either is possible without Tyler being back in the public eye on Idol. He has been a useful, if not highly predictable, judge and it’s time for him to go.

On the other hand, I think J-Lo is a huge star and a credible judge. While her comments lack controversy or really any constructive feedback, she is a major star and toes the line between Hollywood and old school Jenny-from-the-block. If she stays on it wouldn’t be the end of the world, but if she goes, there are two seats to fill and word on the street is she isn’t coming back. The list of potential judges is endless, but here is my top-5.

1) Prince – the purple one would be the most unlikely superstar to find himself on a mainstream reality TV show. He never does interviews, rarely appears on TV and is unlikely to play the music business/TV game. But, is there a more qualified judge of true musical talent or star power than Prince? He’s been doing it for 30+ years and is certainly credible. He still sells out arenas but has the cool factor to play clubs and jam with the best of the best. What he lacks in personality he will make up for in stiletto heels and bizarre outfits for sure.

2) Kelly Clarkson – the original American Idol. Clarkson is arguably the most successful AI alum and she would certainly understand what it takes to win. She is also a great singer and down to earth. If the producers go with a controversial figure in chair #1 beside Jackson, Kelly Clarkson could be the judge to balance out the panel.

3) Madonna – Like Prince, Madonna has been a star for more than three decades. While her recent musical output has been less than inspiring, she is perhaps the most outspoken female celebrity of all times. She will speak her mind, be controversial and likely claim that she invented anything anybody does on the AI stage. And she’ll do it with an English accent. One thing about Madonna, she keeps her knowledge of music and trends current so she’ll be right on the edge of what is hot.

4) Elton John – Another music business veteran, but also someone who knows talent and would be a great mentor for an up-and-coming star. Like Madonna, Elton wouldn’t be shy about sharing his opinions, and like Prince, Elton would bring great style to the show. He may be a little long in the tooth, but there’s no denying Elton John’s star power and musical knowledge.

5) Charlie Sheen – This is my wildcard/’it will never happen’ pick. Was there a bigger TV star than Charlie Sheen in the last few years? He didn’t even have a show and everyone was talking about him. Think about Sheen sitting on a judging panel spewing our catch phrases like Tiger Blood and Winning on a weekly basis. Who wouldn’t watch that? It would also be a great career move for Sheen who needs to find a way to clean up his image if he has any aspirations of making it back to sitcom stardom on network television (his new show Anger Management will be on cable this year). If Fox TV has any balls at all they would consider Sheen on a one year contract with numerous performance bonuses based on good behaviour – e.g. showing up on time and sober. Like Howard Stern on AGT, Sheen could put AI back on the collective minds of TV fans across North America.

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