Thursday, September 10, 2009


Now that's what I was talking about! The announcement that Ellen Degeneres will be filling Paula Abdul's vacant judge's chair when American Idol kicks off its ninth season next year is just what I needed to hear to keep me interested. While I was secretly wishing and hoping that Shania Twain's stint as a guest judge might turn into something more permanent, Ellen will more than do.

It's a bold move: If middle America didn't want a gay man as their American Idol (which is why some people presume that Adam Lambert lost to Kris Allen last season), who knows how they'll feel about a lesbian joining the show's Greek chorus? But if they can take Ryan Seacrest and Simon Cowell's constant gay innuendo, maybe they can handle Ellen. And if not, who cares? Since when have I agreed with the masses in middle America or cared what they had to say? I love Ellen Degeneres, and I think she is exactly what Idol needs to remain must-see TV. And it doesn't smell like a cheap casting stunt. Ellen regularly features musical performers on her talk show, and Arsenio Hall and Conan O'Brien aside, Ellen is the only talk host since the golden age of Ed Sullivan who seems to really get contemporary music.

I was reading a Facebook thread where everyone was up in arms, carping over the fact that Ellen doesn't know anything about music. It all began with the following proclamation by one particularly irate Idol fan, who I initially assumed was being facetious in his righteous indignation.

"I am totally disgusted with this!! I have NEVER liked her!! I may just have to boycott American Idol now!! OMG!!!!"

Well, have they seen her show? Sure she knows her music! And what does knowing music have to do with it anyway? It's more about loving music and being eloquent enough to form complete coherent sentences. As Randy Jackson points out every opportunity he gets, he's worked with Mariah, Celine and Journey, yet has he ever given one single bit of constructive criticism over the course of eight seasons? And as a successful songwriter, Kara DioGuardi has equally solid music credentials, but she comes across as being too happy to be there to make her anything more than a waste of precious air time.

Which brings me to Simon. Everyone hangs on to Simon's every word, and the contestants all crave his seal of approval. But really, does being a music executive (who, 5ive aside, never launched anything near a hitmaking career until his TV talent show gigs) make him more qualified to judge a performance than you or me? At the end of the day, isn't a music executive really just a fan (or not) with an expense account and lots of money in the bank? Before the show premiered in 2002, my best friend, a former magazine editor, was up for the third judge's spot until the 11th hour addition of Paula Abdul, proving that bonafide musical chops was never the ultimate job requirement of an Idol judge.

From a good-TV standpoint, the addition of Ellen is a genius move. The show was on the verge of becoming hopelessly stale last season, and hopefully, Ellen will inject a dose of intentional humor into the proceedings. If American Idol, needs a "nice" judge, Ellen is it. I say put her right next to Simon, and let the sparks fly.
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