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How Different Will 'American Idol' Be This Year?

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Jan 18, 2011 | 4:37am EST

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American Idol has been doing the same thing for years. The themed nights in the newer seasons are the same as the themed nights of the previous seasons and the judges (that aren’t Simon Cowell) keep sitting there and trying to find new ways to deliver criticism kindly. Considering its lack of variation, it’s interesting that anywhere between 17 million and 24 million people continue to watch American Idol. And especially at a time in programming where there are shows that don’t put anything ahead of their own evolution, like Mad Men and Community, I’m not sure I understand why people haven’t become frustrated with Idol’s structural simplicity and repetition.

A fan of the show could argue Idol does change every year by pointing out that there’s always a different winner. The idea is viewers are lured in by the different back stories of the contestants and feel compelled to wait around to see if the most deserving person will get the coveted record deal. People will always and forever enjoy picking someone, learning about and identifying with their upbringing, and rooting for them despite their odds of coming out on top (if you don’t believe me, go ask your uncle what his deal is with the ponies).

There are other arguments for why the show is appealing (like the possibility of catching a poor performance from someone unexpected, the thrill that comes with calling the phone line of your favorite singer and actually getting through, and the idea that nobody is safe and that an American Idol will still be crowned, even if the person with the most talented voice is voted out of the competition). But I suspect the sentimentality and heart of the show is its strongest pillar, and is precisely what makes it resonate with the public as strongly as it does. Yet, from a more critical standpoint, the cathartic win at the end of the season isn’t really worth the drudgery of putting the singers in wigs and having them skate around the stage while they sing. I watched the first few seasons of American Idol then quickly petered out because it seemed like nobody was trying to seriously improve the competition or reinvent the format at all. While I’m definitely not the show’s only casualty, I’m shocked that American Idol’s rituals haven’t worked against itself, and the majority of the population continues to see it as a phenomenon for almost ten years.

This season, however, producers have decided to implement some changes to the show. Aside from the obvious removal of Simon Cowell and the addition of Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler, The Hollywood Reporter claims…

The elimination process will be faster. Maybe. Probs not, though. Idol’s suspense will forever be on the no fly list.

The theme weeks will consist of songs that are better customized to the singer’s voice and preferred genre. So finally, an end to taking the R&B singer, slapping him in some red cowboy boots, pointing to a country song and saying “sing it” for the week that Carrie Underwood is around.

Viewers will be allowed to vote online. No word on if the system will be regulated and if they’ll impose a voting limit by tracking people’s IPs or something. Hopefully this means the days of more people voting for a contestant than a Presidential nominee are over.

Singers will perform songs written especially for them by producer-songwriters that have been handpicked by Universal Music Group’s Interscope Geffen A&M Records.

Singers will live in an “Idol Mansion,” so we can understand they’re just like us and Thursday nights mean they put on their mud masks and eat cereal and Ramen noodles together. Also, they might star in their own music videos.

It sounds like producers are interested in expanding upon the reality portion of the show, which is a good way to get people watching again if they stopped when Ruben beat Clay in 2003. For the people who are obsessed with the show, these new procedures will indubitably feed their addictions and make their adoration stronger than a Four Loko, Redbull, vodka and absinthe cocktail. But none of the ideas should really be considered “changes,” since it’s not like producers are doing away with theme weeks altogether and replacing them with something completely original, like shows where the singers leave Hollywood and travel to some far off place to perform for a bunch of schoolchildren. Instead, the aforementioned points are additions that just discourage people from using their TiVos. But regardless of how these additions are received, none of them are so dramatic that this will be the year where the show's popularity begins to decline in our country...which means American Idol will an enigma for people like me.

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