“Randy has been such an integral part of American Idol since Day 1, both as a judge and as a mentor. He’s provided great advice and support, shaping the success of so many Idols we have discovered over the years. We wish him all the best in his next chapter. Randy will always be part of our Idol family and we hope he’ll visit from time to time,” producers from Fox and Idol said in a statement released earlier today.
Yes, Jackson has helped mold plenty of idols during his 14 seasons on the show. For the first 12 seasons, Jackson served as one of the judges helping to decide who stayed on stage and who was sent packing. After giving up his judge’s seat, though, he took on the role of mentor. Now, though, it looks as if he’s cutting ties with the show for good… and we really don’t blame him.
In its early days, American Idol had its upside. It was a relatively fresh, and yet ultimately nostalgic, idea for modern American television viewers. To a certain extent, it reminded us of our days watching Star Search and yet it was new because we were watching relative adults battle it out and seeing them earn real, constructive advice from people whose opinions we were supposed to respect. It also had a touch of comedy in the first few episodes: Who doesn’t love watching someone completely bomb?
It slowly lost its appeal, though. Idol‘s ratings are in the gutter. Last season’s finale hit an all-time low of only 6.6 million viewers. That’s a fifth of the crowd they used to draw in. And, of the so-called winners in the last 14 seasons, how many have seen long, successful futures? Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood weren’t the rules, but the exceptions. Clay Aiken is a news-maker, but not exactly for his singing. Most other winners have seen only mild success.
As American Idol embarks on once again reinventing itself during its upcoming 14th season, we can’t help but wonder: Is it time to stop?
We’ve always had our issues with the program… with all singing programs. The idea that a couple thousand people try out in front of nameless talent-deciders, then 100 or so stumble in front of the bigger-named “experts,” only to slowly but surely be weeded out until there’s only one pop or pop rock or pop country-singing winner seems like a real dig to those who have worked hard. Despite recessions and wars, we’ve raised a generation of kids and teens who feel entitled to fame and fortune. If their parents can’t hand it to them, television suggests they can show up in front of someone “powerful,” squeak out a couple notes and millions of dollars will fall into their laps. Is that really the lesson we want to continue pushing?
A big part of finding yourself in the limelight, in a recording studio or on a big stage still has a lot to do with who you know or who wanders into your singer-songwriter night. But that’s not the only way. And it’s certainly not the most respected way. Johnny Cash and Michael Jackson didn’t win American Idol. Aretha Franklin didn’t dominate on The Voice. The Clash didn’t shrug their way into a recording studio after failing to become legitimate actors. These people, these mega stars, these most-loved and recognizable individuals gave their blood, sweat and tears (and vomit) to earn a dollar and keep their f***ing roofs over their heads. We shouldn’t be handing out recording contracts to lucky contestant number 13, but to the truly talented and hardworking individuals who gig away their lives in beat-up bars or in the background of a glitter-wearing cowgirl.
It’s time we returned to rewarding hard work. It’s time we stopped watching American Idol.