* American Idol S06E41 And How To Fix The Show

Jordin Sparks wins, an open letter to the AI producers, and the year’s best judge.

Congratulations to Jordin Sparks for winning American Idol 2007. (Ryan Seacrest conspicuously did not call it “American Idol Season 6” last night.) But many have criticized American Idol for not being as interesting this year as last. I agree, and here’s an open letter to the AI producers about how they can fix the show.

Dear American Idol Producer Peeps:

You’re still number one, but you’re falling, and it’s arguable that you’ve jumped the shark. But I can help. Trust me. Here’s what you have to do to fix the show and save the American Idol franchise.

Figure out what kind of show American Idol is. Your brand is not what you say it is. Your brand is what the public says your brand is. Is American Idol a singing contest? A performance contest? A popularity contest? A variety show? As it currently stands, I would argue that American Idol is a talent/popularity contest on Tuesdays, a variety show on Wednesdays.

Figure out what your goal is. After you’ve come to grips with what kind of show American Idol is, figure out what you want to do with it. In other words, from a branding perspective, after you’ve determined your marketing position (as determined by the public), then figure out your marketing positioning (i.e. where you want to be). As currently situated, AI is very good family entertainment on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. High ratings equates to high advertising revenue, but success on AI does not necessarily equate to commercial success (but it could).

Know your artists (or as Letterman would say, “Know your cuts of meat.”) AI has a good track record of putting out poor first albums for AI contestants. Kelly Clarkson is a rocker, but her first album was a ballad-fest. Kelly Clarkson’s second album was successful because it includes songs that fit her style. Bo Bice is a Southern rocker, but his first album contained no Southern rock, and it sold fewer than one million copies. Taylor Hicks is a live performer, but his first album contained no live tracks, and it too has sold fewer than a million copies. In last night’s finale, Clive Davis was quick to point out that a successful album requires a strong singer, strong production, and strong song-writing. Does Clive Davis take the blame when one or more of these elements is missing from an album (as they were from the first albums for Kelly Clarkson, Bo Bice, and Taylor Hicks)? Compare the live version of Taylor Hicks singing Runaround on Jay Leno (see below) to the studio version on the CD: it’s a home run vs. a strike out. The only first Idol albums that have been huge commercial winners are those from Carrie Underwood (a country girl singing country songs) and Daughtry (a rocker singing rock songs). Bucky Covington may sell more songs (in the country genre) than Taylor Hicks, and he wasn’t even signed by Sony BMG! See how that works?

Fix the voting. Fans should be able to vote via the Internet. When statistical ties exist (which I’m guessing is often), there ought to be a tiebreaker (perhaps the number of unique votes could break the tie). Disclose the vote totals. Get a truly independent party to oversee voting. And the singing order each week (which matters).

Tell the background stories. People were invested in American Idol Season Five because AI went out of its way to tell their background stories. Kellie Pickler, Taylor Hicks, Chris Daughtry, Elliott Yamin, Bucky Covington. Each had a story, each had a fan base. The stories created loyalty, the loyalty translated to viewers, the viewers translated to sales. In 2007, the viewing public was not provided with as much background as in past years. Have the parents of Jordin Sparks spoken a single word on television this season? I don’t think so. Where were the hometown crowds for this year’s finale? They were absent, because AI failed to create enough buzz this year. But the person who “wins” American Idol will not necessarily be the one who sells the most CDs. Deal with it.

Be like the Red Sox. People who follow Red Sox baseball consider themselves part of Red Sox Nation. They watch the pre-game show, the game, and the post-game show. Because all three shows have “Red Sox” in the title, they can TiVo them without missing a prediction, a play, or a replay. This year, AI’s red carpet preview was not broadcast on TV (only on americanidol.com), the AI finale ran over by ten minutes (much to the chagrin of everyone who tried to record the show on their DVR), and there was no post-finale show. Way to mess with your audience.

Have an “anything goes” week. No, not a show tunes week. But a week were the contestants can sing any song they like, including their own songs, and can play instruments if they like. I’ll bet that some of the original songs penned by contestants are better than this year’s “This Is My Now” coronation song.

Fix the song-writing contest. I voted in the contest, but there was no way for me to hear the songs after I voted. No viewer investment, no strong sales. While you’re at it, prohibit all ballads from the song-writing contest and make the coronation song an upbeat tune.

No ballads on the finale. Every singer loves to sing ballads, but ballads kill a good party. I know, I’m in a band. Stick to upbeat numbers in the finale and make it a party. Bette Midler nearly killed last night’s party. Plus why was she there in the first place? Also, feature the contestants more during the finale. Fewer celebs, more idols.

Eliminate the trivia contest. Some of your viewers have an IQ greater than 10. Eliminate the trivia contest, with its questions as complicated as “Which AI winner is named Carrie Underwood? Select ‘A’ for Carrie Underwood, ‘B’ for Kelly Clarkson, or ‘C’ for Ryan Seacrest.”

Have a judging contest. Clearly the judges (Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul, and Simon Cowell) have proven that they are incapable of predicting the results from week to week. But there are judges who can predict the winners, and many of them are the show’s biggest fans and promoters. Many of them are bloggers.

Listen to me. I know what I’m talking about. I picked Jordin Sparks to win six weeks ago, and I correctly picked the bottom singer each week this season. I was twelve for twelve. (See chart below.) This stuff is free press, and American Idol should leverage it. There is already a singing contest (ostensibly), a song-writing contest, a band contest (spin-off show). So why not a judging contest?

American Idol Episode

Erik’s Bottom Picks

Actually Eliminated


Blake Lewis

Blake Lewis


Melinda Doolittle

Melinda Doolittle


Lakisha Jones

Lakisha Jones



Chris Richardson

Phil Stacey

Chris Richardson

Phil Stacey


Sanjaya Malakar – sell

Lakisha Jones – sell

Sanjaya Malakar


Haley Scarnato – sell

Phil Stacey – sell

Haley Scarnato


Phil Stacey – sell

Gina Glocksen – sell

Sanjaya Malakar – sell

Gina Glocksen


Chris Sligh – sell

Haley Scarnato – sell

Chris Richardson – sell

Chris Sligh


Stephanie Edwards – sell

Phil Stacey – sell

Gina Glocksen – sell

Stephanie Edwards


Brandon Rogers – sell

Sanjaya Malakar – sell

Stephanie Edwards – sell

Brandon Rogers

In closing, have your people call my people and we’ll do lunch. Oh yes, you’re welcome.


Erik J. Heels

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4 Replies to “* American Idol S06E41 And How To Fix The Show”

  1. I just love this post. You could not be more accurate. I hope that the AI staff is surfing the net for great comments like this.

    Nice blog. I like the readability factor in all of your posts. You manage to sprinkle law, creativity and humor in every post. This is refreshing for a legal blog. Being in the legal community, I read my share of them on a daily basis. And most are not as enjoyable as yours.

    Most legal bloggers miss the mark. You have to bring fun and excitement into your postings to get the readers coming back.

    As a new blogger, I am learning this one post at a time. When you are starting out, you have to take it in strides. One post at a time…

    I look forward to reading more of your engaging posts. Keep up the good work…. and keep having fun…

    Juliet Sallette

  2. Thank you for a well written and intelligent critique of who and what American Idol is. They are now at the top, but as the old saying goes…..”never forget whenst you came”

  3. I absolultely hated most of the finale last night. What happened to the 12 finalists? I enjoy seeing them sing together, yet we hardly saw them last night. What’s up with Gwen and Green Day? Why, in the world would AI think that viewers would tune in to see them? I watch because I like the contestants. Oh,and Bette Midler? Please! She sounded horrible. I was very disapointed and so were the people I watched it with. Everytime I got frustrated, my phone would ring, and guess what?! My mom was on the other line, complaining also. I agree with you, the show is so PREDICTABLE! I, also, was right on target with eliminations. This show is turning into a circus. I’m not so sure I’ll be able to watch next year. Come on Idol, get with the program. Stop using the show to promote singers, who already sing! We don’t care. Thanks.

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