“American Idol” is making some major changes for the upcoming 13th season, and one of them could actually bring the long running TV singing competition into the 21st century. In a new interview with TV Guide, exec producer Per Blankens revealed that in addition to a new judges’ panel (a threesome he says actually has chemistry!), they’ll be an overhaul to the show’s music selections and themes.
That means contestants will be able to pick more contemporary tracks, although Blankens adds: “That doesn’t mean we’re going to do Billboard Top 10 every week, but if someone wants to sing a current song, they’re going to at least have the choice.”
Hallelujah! (Hey, isn’t that a frequently used song on “Idol?”)
Last season The Daily Beast slammed “American Idol’s” stale cycle of themes, calling the competition’s playlist “songs you would find only on an octogenarian’s record player,” but now it sounds like the “Idol” powers that be are finally getting the message about some of the show’s snoozy theme nights. While big band classics work for some “Idol” hopefuls, it’s never fun when it’s forced.
So, while the “Idol” head honchos are ironing out their new theme ideas, here’s a few that we never need to see again.
Rat Pack/Frank Sinatra
Out of the mouths of babes! Season 8’s Rat Pack theme had future winner Kris Allen saying, “The theme is Rat Pack, and all those people are … dead.” Sure, it was an excuse for another “Idol” rendition of “My Funny Valentine,” but not all of these kids are crooners.
The following season’s Sinatra night — which was mentored by future judge Harry Connick Jr. – had bluesy guitarist Casey James clearly out of his element when he performed a not-so-smooth rendition of the 1940’s song “Blue Skies.” Randy Jackson told James it was his worst performance to date, while Simon Cowell said, “You came out a bit embarrassed and a bit awkward, you just didn’t feel comfortable.” Bingo! So perhaps it’s best to leave the “Blue Skies” to Ol’ Blue Eyes.
See Casey James’s uncomfortable Sinatra performance here.
If “Idol” wants to stay alive in the TV talent competition pool, it’s time to ditch the disco. From karaoke Chaka Kahn to a country-tinged rendition of Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration,” it’s usually a disaster waiting to happen. In Season 6, Lakisha Jones struggled with singing falsetto on the Bee Gees song “Stayin’ Alive, even after a one on one lesson from Barry Gibb.
“Why stay down there when you can go up?” Gibb asked Jones. “It’s a high falsetto song and it presents challenges if you’re a girl doing a song that was actually sang by a guy in falsetto.”
After Jones’s performance, Paula Abdul commented that at least everyone in the audience was on their feet, but Simon Cowell added, “They were heading for the exits.”
Watch Lakisha Jones singing “Stayin’ Alive” here.
Andrew Lloyd Webber
With all due respect to the legendary Broadway composer, what do Broadway musicals have to do with finding the next recording superstar? (Then again, Carly Smithson took on a tune from “Jesus Christ Superstar,” so maybe she was on to something.) For Season 7’s Andrew Lloyd Webber night, both David’s (Cook and Archuleta) took on “Phantom of the Opera,” Jason Castro sang a song from “Cats,” and Brooke White was stopped cold while singing “You Must Love Me” from “Evita,” when she lost the lyric. “You must never start and stop,” Paula Abdul warned her.
Watch Brooke White’s awkward performance of “You Must Love Me” here.
Burt Bacharach and Hal David
Another theme that has nothing to do with what kind of artists these kids aspire to be, unless one of them wants to be the next Dionne Warwick or a cruise ship singer. Season 12’s Burt Bacharach/Hal David theme brought out the corny — big time. “Close To You” and “I Say a Little Prayer for You” takes us straight back to ’70s AM radio.
Any artists the contestants aren’t familiar with (Dolly Parton, Barry Manilow, Neil Diamond, and yes, even the Beatles)
Last season it was a sad statement when Beatles night brought a steady succession of unprepared “Idols” who’d barely heard of the Fab Four. Lazaro Arbos — who gave his worst performance of the season — said he had just learned the song “In My Life” the night before. Burnell Taylor didn’t know “Let It Be” at all, and even the eventual champ, Candice Glover, admitted, “I did not grow up listening to the Beatles…I didn’t know the lyrics [to “Come Together’] were that crazy when I chose it.” In-house mentor Jimmy Iovine was clearly annoyed by the lack of Beatles knowledge.
See Lazaro Arbos struggle with “In My Life” here.
“American Idol” returns to Fox in January.
More from this contributor:
A Pet Shop Boy As An ‘American Idol’ Judge?
‘American Idol’s’ New Tagline: Can America Pick a Winner?
The Best Moments from the Recycled ‘American Idol’ Judges’ Panel