Thursday, December 17, 2009

Simon Says?

I just read a report on Comcast's news service that Simon Cowell is thinking of leaving "American Idol" and that the show could be kaput if he does.

Cowell, the talent scout everyone loves to hate, is planning an American version of his music series "The X Factor," a hit in the United Kingdom, which will debut on Fox in the U.S. in 2011. American Idol is committed to run on Fox through this coming year.

Conceived as a talent contest intended to give a chance at a music career to performers who otherwise have little hope of getting a studio test, never mind a recording contract, "American Idol" has long since become a shallow, mean-spirited show where people who are written off for their lack of stage presence or their questionable singing ability are mocked and ridiculed. While the show has been beneficial in uncovering real singing talent - Carrie Underwood is the most obvious example, and some would add Kelly Clarkson - it's mostly just an excuse for making fun of people. No one has perfected the art of the acid-tongued critique more than Cowell, though he seems to revel in being hated for being mean when the viewers refuse to take the bait and mock a contestant.

I know nothing about "The X-Factor" - the U.S. version may or may not become "American Idol" Mark Two - so I'll refrain from commenting on that. I will say, though, that American Idol" has done more harm than good for the music business, and while a new show executive produced by Cowell may not be much better, I'm sure many people will be glad it's different. It's expected to be a hit when it gets here, and Cowell seems comfortable enough with it to being it to America and move on from the series that made him famous - some say infamous - among us Yanks.

Meanwhile, the judges on "American Idol" seem to be taking more of the attention these days. Paula Abdul left the show after the most recent season after a nasty salary dispute that she says left her insulted. Comedienne and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, who's replaced Rosie O'Donnell as the Queen of Nice in daytime talk, will replace her this coming season - which commences next month - and she may provide a more positive aura for the show. She may even have an ear for musical talent. She certainly has an eye for acting talent - Jeremy Piven owes her his career for being on her ABC sitcom. :-) But it's still Simon Cowell's show, with his ethos all over it. And if he does leave, that may help with civility on "American Idol," but not its ratings.

Because as abhorrent as "American Idol" is for allowing its less successful contestants to be mocked, its fans by and large tune in to enjoy despising the man leading the mockery.

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