Let me start by saying that all the contestants on Season 13 of American Idol seem like truly lovely people. And also that I'd rather watch the green paint dry on that house in True Detective than sit through another 11 weeks of performances from this crew.
And apparently, I'm not alone. Idol's ratings have (once again) been in steady decline this season and hit an all-time low a couple of weeks ago with the Feb. 20 episode. Granted, the show faced stiff competition early on this year from the Winter Olympics, but its post-Olympics numbers remain languid.
Of course, the numbers could just be an indicator that overall interest in American Idol has started to evaporate. Despite rave reviews for its new judges panel (more on them later), the reality juggernaut premiered to its lowest numbers ever back in January. Last season's winner, Candice Glover, is undoubtedly one of the greatest vocal talents ever to come out of the show — yet her debut album, which was released last month, sold an anemic 19,000 copies in its first week. That's the lowest debut for an Idol winner in the show's history. The newly-implemented "50 votes per device" rule also signifies that voting numbers may be down as well.
Memo to Fox: If you want to bring viewers back, this group of contestants isn't the way to do it. Not only are their vocal talents — at least based on the live performances we've seen — middling at best, the behind-the-scenes videos make it seem like there are no standouts personality-wise either.
Could it be that the well of talent has simply run dry? That seems unlikely. There are still reality show contestants who can light up a living room (we're looking at you, Bria Kelly on The Voice!), and viewers don't even need to look past Idol's Top 30 round to find talent that would be better suited than this year's Top 13. Three weeks into the live shows, it's mind-boggling that singers like Kenz Hall and Briana Oakley were passed over in favor of Malaya Watson and the swiftly-eliminated Kristen O'Connor.
Which brings us to the judges. After last year's disastrous Battle of the Divas, the current panel of Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and rookie Harry Connick, Jr. is like a breath of fresh air. But unfortunately, the theme of this season — which has been repeated by Ryan Seacrest, new mentor Randy Jackson, and the contestants themselves — is quickly becoming "the judges are too harsh." Well, frankly, they don't have a lot to work with. And let's be clear: we're not talking Simon Cowell levels of mean here. We simply mean that the judges should tell a singer when he or she is singing in the wrong key, failing to stay in sync with the band, or making horrible choices when it comes to song arrangement (see: Majesty Rose's "Fix You").
On last Thursday's show, while Harry was forced to defend his no sugarcoating policy, he backpedaled right into saying that the overall level of talent on this season of Idol is just as high as Season 1. (Insert Liz Lemon eyeroll.) That smash you may have heard immediately after his statement was "Junior"'s credibility careening out of the room like a bat out of hell.
So, is this season unsalvageable? Let's hope not. Here's what we'd like to see from the remaining 11 contestants in the coming weeks to inject a little life into Season 13:
Sam: Sam's got the Girl Vote going for him this season, but he's going to need to rely on more than that to make it all the way. He could start by breaking out of his singer/songwriter shell and show the audience that he can do more than sing softly while strumming a guitar.
Song suggestion: "Grenade" by Bruno Mars
Alex: As it stands now, Sam and Alex are the dueling WGWGs of Season 13, so Alex also needs to do something to differentiate himself. He seems more willing to take risks when it comes to musical arrangements, so we'd like to see a little more out-of-the-box song choices.
Song suggestion: "Say Something" by A Great Big World
Majesty: Majesty seems to be holding back a little bit this season. We love her guitar playing and prefer when she sticks to more upbeat songs, but we're waiting to see a big breakout performance. She needs to choose songs that will highlight her range rather than cause her to overshoot it.
Song suggestion: "Shake It Out" by Florence + the Machine
Dexter: Dexter has a great voice, but we'd love for him to break out of the country mold. It would be great if he could surprise us with a straightforward rock performance — or something even a little more out of left field.
Song suggestion: "Wanted Dead or Alive" by Bon Jovi
Caleb: As noted by Harry last week, Caleb is the most consistent finalist, and also looks like he's having the most fun on stage every week. But like Jennifer pointed out, his performances are starting to be a bit predictable — and that's never a good thing this early in the competition. Show us your softer side, Caleb!
Song suggestion: "Lips of an Angel" by Hinder
Jessica: Jessica gets points for exploring different genres, and we love that she's able to put her own spin on the covers. Like Majesty, she's another contestant who we believe has a knockout performance in her that's just waiting to be let out.
Song suggestion: "Landslide" by Fleetwood Mac
Ben: Like the Alex/Sam dynamic, Ben finds himself as the secondary country counterpart to Dexter, so he needs to cultivate his own fan base — and quickly. Offering a knock-out rendition of a current radio hit would be a great way to do so.
Song suggestion: "Wake Me Up" by Avicii
C.J.: CJ's great strength is the lovely rasp that sneaks into his voice on occasion, so he needs to take on a song that will bring this to the forefront. Combined with his guitar playing, he has ample ability to put a modern spin on an old-fashioned classic.
Song suggestion: "When a Man Loves a Woman" by Percy Sledge
Malaya: Malaya has not had the greatest showing in these early weeks, so she really needs to pull something out of her hat if she wants to stay in the competition. Our suggestion is for her to avoid the ballads and do a high-energy number that will snap the audience to attention.
Song suggestion: "Counting Stars" by OneRepublic
Jena: Probably more so than any contestant this season, Jena's voice has a truly unique quality and tone. We know she can tackle the bigger songs, but the best choice would be to perform something that lets her showcase quiet moments and big notes in equal measure.
Song suggestion: "Wrecking Ball" by Miley Cyrus
MK: Our biggest tip for MK is to find a way to get rid of the deer-in-headlights expression she wears every time she's onstage. Short of that, it would be nice to see MK tackle a more upbeat number — although those two things may be mutually exclusive.
Song suggestion: "Pompeii" by Bastille
What do you think of the contestants on this season of American Idol? Who are your favorites?