Tag Archive | "Kara DioGuardi"

Idolizing Ellen

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American Idol‘s latest battle for ratings has claimed a major casualty, a road warrior of an entertainer who, despite her arguable lack of talent, has endeared herself to millions tuning in year after year to watch and drive the nation’s largest singing competition.  Paula Abdul’s sweet, familiar face, non-sequitor comments, and genteel criticism will no longer buffer Simon Cowell’s eternal scowl, acid tongue, and lack of class.  In case you inhabit a monastery in Tibet, Paula was booted after eight loyal years to make way for the newest judge, Ellen DeGeneres.  We say “booted” because Paula herself, when questioned about the 11th hour lag in getting a new contract to her, stated, “Don’t believe everything you read; it’s not true.”  Ms. Abdul was referring to the media buzz alluding that she was holding out for a larger salary.  In closing the chapter on Idol, Paula’s people added that she was shocked and hurt by the decision not to renew her contract.

 

Enter, Ellen DeGeneres.  A strange choice, to say the least, leaving those of us not drinking the Kool Aid® to go, “Hmmmmmmmm ……”

 

Ellen does possess that all important likeability factor; she has it in gobs.  She is quick, witty, attractive, and a veteran of the entertainment world.  At the age of 51, she has captured the Emmy no less than a dozen times.  The former paralegal and current media darling boasts the titles of producer, writer, actress, comic, product sponsor, and voice-over for Disney films on her resume, as well as guest hosting for another grueling I9-Entertainment talent gauntlet, So You Think You can Dance.   She has twice starred in TV vehicles, once as the lead character in the sit-com, Ellen, which made history for her public admission of her sexual preference, and her current TV talk show.  Thus, Ellen is a comfy presence filling the professional dancing shoes of the beloved choreographer-singer Abdul.

 

But let’s examine this from a less, well, comfy angle.  Last season, Idol  introduced a fourth judge, one Kara DioGuardi.  As the show’s first-ever, permanent fourth judge, Kara constituted the handwriting on the wall for Paula.  Perhaps she constituted something else: a threat to Ms. Abdul…?  Or was it other way around?  Kara is a songwriter in her own right, of the schlock passing for far too long on commercial radio.  But she is also firmly attached to Idol’s stable of songwriters.  You know, the ones who produce the pap that the winners are forced to churn out (i.e., Kelly Clarkson’s “A Moment Like This”).

 

With the addition of Kara, the Rogue’s Gallery was as follows: Simon, a signer of new, er, blood for the recording industry, Randy Jackson, a serious musician and producer of talent such as Mariah Carey, Paula, the loveable, often goofy hoofer-slash-music video star, and Kara, the songstress-cum-songwriter.  Too many cooks spoil the broth, apparently.  Whether it was female jealousy or the fact that “every man” was not represented on the judging panel, what was Paula’s loss became Ellen’s gain.  But who else gains?  The viewers?  The contestants?  Or The Powers that Be, seeking to pad their coffers?

 

Idol‘s ratings have, over the past three seasons, been a slow mudslide.  In 2006, the year that soulful crooner and career musician Taylor Hicks was crowned, Idol enjoyed the lion’s share of the audience as well as the highest grossing tour.  In subsequent years, Idol  has been grappling to regain a lost share of audience reported by industry sources to be as high as 10% in 2007 and tour revenue down by as much as 17% in the same year.  The institution of “Idol Gives Back,” a charitable enterprise to which Ms. DeGeneres generously contributed, encouragement of contestants to play musical instruments in what Simon Cowell has incessantly howled to be a singing contest, and bloated advertising (a two for one?) causing the show to run semi-regularly over schedule — all of these blatant ploys and more, point to the fact that Idol is struggling to keep its audience interested and tuned in to those all important sponsors.

 

Enter Ellen.

 

Those with their noses glued to this show last year will remember the controversy that ensued after Kris Allen was named winner.  Compared to the runner-up — glam-rocker Adam Lambert of potent pipes and over-the-top stage presence — Allen was a milquetoast choice.  Lambert seemed poised to run off with the crown.  Indeed, the show’s finale was designed around Adam, not Kris.  After Allen was named the winner, it emerged that his hometown supporters had defrauded the voting process, though of course they cried, “Nay, nay!”  So…who exactly paid for those free text-enabled phones given out to any and all who’d wanted them — Kris’s supporters or Idol, afraid that they’d lose the Bible Belt viewers because an obvious and admittedly gay man seemed to be natural shoe-in?  The placement of Ellen DeGeneres, an openly gay woman, would be a perfect foil to offset mindsets such as mine, which rarely accept what’s spoon-fed to me at face value.

 

The fact that Ellen is openly gay also does the job of squelching any feminine jealousies that may have erupted a la Paula and Kara … captured for posterity, by the way, by the camera.  Meowwwwww!       

 

If the over-exposed Ellen was entrenched to provide the face of “every man” and “every woman” among a panel of music industry people, why bother at all?  The panel is supposed to be comprised of people with industry knowledge and experience (talent, as Simon Cowell has proven, is not necessarily a criteria).  The judges exist to separate the wheat from the chaff during the audition stages, offer criticism, both negative and positive, during the contest and yes, folks, sway the viewing audience’s choices.  But the fact of the matter remains that America determines the winners, not the judging panel.  So why add a non-music industry celebrity into the mix?  

 

I have only one answer for these questions.  And that is, Idol is what it always was: a show concerned far less with finding true talent than it is with the entertainment factor, which equates to big bucks.   As Abe Lincoln so wisely stated, “You can fool some of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time.”   Me?  I’m not drinking the Kool Aid®.   But if you are, bottom’s up! 

The Very Best Moments of American Idol, 2009 (Part I)

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It was the best of seasons, it was the worst of seasons: American Idol, 2009.  But now that it’s over, including the shouting, why dwell on the shortcomings of 19 Entertainment’s golden child, the American dream gone haywire?  Why do that when, week after never ending week, the show brought such fun into the living rooms of so many across the nation? 

 

Every viewer remembers with fondness his or her favorite moments.  Here are mine:

 

Hero worship of the Almighty Buck.  Who says capitalism is dead?  It’s alive and well on American Idol and thriving with each passing season!  Seven years after Kelly Clarkson, the show’s first winner, warbled her tearful victory song, Fox’s brainchild has come a long way from its illusion of empowering unknowns to realize the American dream through million-dollar recording contracts (from which, by the way, hefty promotional and other mandatory fees are sucked).  Now that Idol’s rampant capitalism is out in the open, I say, “Bravo!” for honesty is the best policy.  Simon Cowell, the business shark-cum-judge, is to thank for letting the cat out of the bag.  Early on this season, he deadpanned to a contestant not to his liking, “We are looking for the entire package” — thereby broadly hinting that said contestant did not represent that package.  If a candidate does not possess bodacious looks (or at best, inoffensive) along with a ready-made stage presence and oh yeah, a palatable voice, he or she has about a snowball’s chance in hell of advancing within the competition — if Simon and his fellow judges have anything to say about it.   And they do.

 

But this not about Simon.  I’m talkin’ important stuff here, the thing that pumps the heart of every megalomaniac.  Molded upon its British predecessor, Idol was, of course, conceived as a moneymaker.  With Season 8 less than 24 hours behind us, the show has far surpassed this gal’s original assessment of it as a goldmine.  From paid downloads to pricey post-finale tour tickets to a plethora of merchandise that has Disney, Idol’s recent affiliate, grinning like good ol’ Mickey Mouse, to the commercials whose airtime rivals that of the actual performances and has, in several cases, caused the show to run late, it is clear.  The economy is booming, at least for those at the top of the Idol food chain.  

 

The introduction of the fourth judge, Kara DioGuardi.  With the addition of seasoned songwriter, one Kara DioGuardi, Idol may have sought to offset the elevator-like moods of Paula Abdul or perhaps enhance the show’s respectability.  All hope died aborning.  Entrenched in 19 Entertainment’s stable of writers, DioGuardi is the author and/co-author of the schlockiest tunes that the show’s winners and runners-up are obligated to include in their first post-Idol CD’s.  As a bastion of blatant commercialism, Simon Cowell’s take on music is as far removed from a genuine art form as Michael Jackson is from reality.  However, on air during the finale, Cowell himself decried the cheesiness of a song penned by DioGuardi, a song intended as the show’s tiebreaker for the two who battled it out on stage Tuesday night.   That would be Kris Allen and Adam Lambert.  I had to clarify the combatants because the previous week, DioGuardi and Cowell themselves nearly came to blows on air.

 

The near-fisticuffs resulted from Simon’s criticism of a song that Kara both had created and chosen for Danny Gokey.  Danny is the guy who, hmmm, had held the third-highest spot in the contest before he was forced to sing Kara’s song and yes, subsequently got voted off.  As Kara and Cowell continued to differ over what constitutes musical artistry, DioGuardi’s hot, vitriolic salvo degenerated into biting imitation of the judge whose wardrobe consists of three T-shirts.  When host Ryan Seacrest admonished the judges throughout the season to “Play nicely, children”, he meant it … particularly the “children” part.  Which brings me to my next choicest moment, the Judge’s Save!

 

My favorite new addition to this season, the Judge’s Save blows to smithereens, once and for all, the delusion that the American public chooses which contestant gets the boot and which one lives to see another round.  By consensus and majority rule, the four judges are empowered to rescue a single contestant from the chopping block.  Alexis Grace, the tiny girl with the big, promising voice, was the victim of this subterfuge.  The precise moment that the kid opened her mouth to sing once more for her life, the judges went into a Hail Mary huddle, buzzing audibly over their decision: a resounding “No.”  How the judges could have heard Alexis perform as they yammered on will remain one of the unsolved mysteries of the universe.  Clearly, the panel had made up its collective mind well in advance.  So much for the deus ex machina.  The decision to pull somebody’s you-know-what out of the fire came much later in the season with contestant Matt Giraud.

 

Waffling between contemporary R&B, old school soul, and boy band sound, this young man with a sporadically decent voice and an unfortunate ubiquitous fedora failed to define his stage persona and, ultimately, garner lasting support from the viewers.  When America had had enough of this kid, Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul, and Kara DioGuardi rushed to his aid.  As a grateful Matt wept with relief, believing his talent worthy of the save, Simon Cowell viciously cut the celebration short.  He let the world know that Matt would not advance past the following week.  To rob that young man of his shining victory before the American viewing public was akin to watching someone kick a newly healed animal for the sheer, sick fun of it.  Cowell’s monumental hubris demands that he have the very last word, no matter how long its acid may scorch a contestant’s psyche or the minds of potential record producers.   And, Idol/19 wouldn’t have it any other way.         

 

Paula Abdul’s performance (singing, that is).  Whatever possessed a middle-age choreographer who could not sing a lick back when she was playing footsy with Arsenio Hall — and who still can’t — to take the stage during the world’s biggest singing contest?  Was it validation?  Record sales?  Exhibitionism? That nasally-thready voice robotized through an electronic box, the hairstyle and lighting calculated to disguise her age, the Madonna production-like sycophants lifting and tossing Abdul about like so much floss all added up to one of the most cringing moments of my life.  Sadly, that is not a moment I will ever get back.  Ever.

 

But hey, it’s not Paula’s fault.  She was simply jumping on the bandwagon of the show’s newest trend of giving airtime to people without an ounce of musical talent, i.e., the guest mentors!

 

Read Part II tomorrow on Write On New Jersey.

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