Ellen DeGeneres was just announced as Paula Abdul’s replacement on “American Idol” starting next season, and I’m excited yet nervous for the choice.
Adding an “Idol” superfan to the panel is a fun idea. I think many of us assumed producers would find a washed-up pop star from a past decade to replace Paula. But going with the diehard fanatic is an interesting twist that threw me for a loop. Congrats to “Idol” for still having tricks up its sleeve.
But three things concern me with their choice of Ellen.
First, Ellen posted a video on her daytime chat show’s Web site in which she promises to take the role of the viewer. She said, “I’m the people’s point of view ’cause I am just like you. I sit at home and I watch it. I’m not looking at that in a critical way from [a] music producer’s mind. I’m looking at it as a person who’s going to buy the music and relate to that person. So hopefully I’ll be the voice of what we’re all doing at home.”
But let’s be honest. Nine times out of 10, the home viewer is the harshest critic of them all. Admit it: You’ve sad things about these singers that would make Simon Cowell blush. We rag on contestants left and right. If anything, us “Idol” geeks have been upset that the judges haven’t been hard enough on certain contestants. (I know I was harshest on Danny Gokey because I didn’t think he received enough criticism from the panel.) This video statement from Ellen worries me because I find it disingenuous and not representative of who she actually is. She’s a zillionaire celeb who is likely too afraid to piss anyone off. She’ll be more like the “Idol” cheerleader than you or I would ever be. If you’re gonna claim to be “the armchair critic,” Ellen, you better be prepared to really go there. Join the party. Come to the dark side.
Secondly, Ellen guest-judged this past summer on “So You Think You Can Dance” and her appearance was frustrating to say the least. Instead of critiquing any of the dancers, she stammered on and rattled off pre-prepared schtick for 45 seconds. Here’s hoping “Idol” producers force Ellen to watch those “SYTYCD” tapes back and tell her to do the complete opposite on “Idol.”
Finally, for the past several years, “Idol” has been losing sight of who matters most on “American Idol,” which is, of course, the contestants. We tune in to watch no-name singers go from waiters and bartenders to superstars in a matter of weeks. Simon, Ryan and Randy are the supporting cast, not the headliners. Putting a top-shelf celebrity on the panel takes this particular misstep to a whole new level. Not to mention that this particular celeb is best friends with Ryan Seacrest, who loves to burn time on the show by goofing off with the judges. That guy does not need another excuse to make the show all about him, and with a pal like Ellen to bounce bits off of, producers have all but guaranteed that it’ll be even tougher for viewers to fall in love with the next Kelly Clarkson.
Sigh. I don’t mean to come off as “that guy.” Why do I always end up ranting about this show? I guess it’s because I love it so much. Am I being too tough on the new “Idol” family member without really giving her a fair chance to prove me wrong? Probably. Or maybe I’m just upset that “Idol” didn’t go with my top choice for a new judge: Me!