AMERICAN IDOL Showcase Recap

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In it fourteenth season, ‘Idol’ seems desperate to reinvent itself but is undone by what amount to a string of half-measures.

What was once a show built on crushing the dreams of a large number of hopefuls before ultimately building up one winner into something positive at its end, is now a show beaming with positivity to the extent that it seems modeled after the sob stories that stretch Olympic telecasts. It’s no longer about building stars on the backs of heartbreak and hard work, but instead through relationships. Like a brand marketing itself on social media.

That isn’t necessarily a bad idea. In a splintered media landscape where audiences are bombarded with the next wonderful performer in a myriad of ways on a near-daily basis, distinguishing itself through taking the audience along a journey with its performers is a way to make a different type of impact. But ‘Idol’ doesn’t want to go that deep at this point. It’s cut a lot of the fun in search of something more, but that more has resulted in much less.

Last night’s episode was a perfect example of that half-step forward and two steps backward momentum of this season. In an inappropriately titled new “showcase” round, the show seemed to be giving each of its contestants another chance to shine, connect with the audience and have their story told. But what the show seemed to forget is that it’s impossible to cram everything it’s trying to do into one hour and also kick off a few contestants.

So what did we get? A conveyor belt episode that shuffled between 45 seconds of singing for those who made it through to the live show, shuffling back and forth with five people getting kicked off. This was a show stuck in what it used to do (fun suspense from contestants with their vocal chords on the chopping block) while trying to move forward with its relationship building.

Instead, we got none of it. Eliminations and acceptances were rushed to the point that they were almost afterthoughts. Exciting moments of gritted teeth and clinched sphincters were eschewed in favor of mere efficiency as the show tried to run through as many contestants at possible under some bizarre delusion that we’ve grown to know all its hopefuls well enough that we actually care what happens to everybody who’s appeared on the show so far.

But if the eliminations were an afterthought, then the performance were damn-near non-existent. We’ve seen a lot of these types of “weeks” like Las Vegas performances and other live performances where the contestant really got a chance to stand out before the live shows started. This year, the House of Blues performances seemed like segments in a recap montage – maybe a verse from a half-dozen contestants while the promise of a full performance in front of a live audience was left wanting.

That’s where ‘Idol’ failed in the early part of its fourteenth season. It’s tried desperately to make us care and relate to its contestants through everything but actually showing them sing. Singing is what we care about. Performances create the relationships. Learning about somebody’s dad or how they’ve only ever sung to the mirror is not going to make anybody care about how they’ll fare in the competition. Instead, it’s going to make us feel like we’re seeing the entire top 24 for the first time.

That being said, check back tomorrow when I attempt to make sense of the entire top 24. Who knows? Maybe I can help you build a relationship with the contestants.

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