Move Over, ‘Roseanne': ‘American Idol’ Is the Reboot You Should Be Watching
Move over, Roseanne.
While Darlene, Dan and the Conner crew have comprised what’s been considered by most to be the network television reboot of the spring season, there’s another revamp that has been winning in a big way since March, and it’s American Idol.
After nearly a decade of diminishing ratings, thinning talent pools and eventual conquest by its chair-swiveling successor, NBC’s The Voice, Idol ostensibly called it quits in 2016 after 15 seasons on FOX. But after only a one-year hiatus, the former reality juggernaut is again under contract, this time with a new network in ABC — where it should have been all along — and a new trio of judges in Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan. Host Ryan Seacrest is the long mainstay.
And so far, Idol Season 16 has been a pleasant and deeply satisfying surprise, mixing a bit of the show’s lore and nostalgia with more humor and the best overall crop of singers in at least five years. Now, The Voice, which is currently in its 14th season in just seven years, is the stale singing show and this new-old kid on the primetime schedule block is all sorts of fun.
Idol kicked off its first live round on Sunday, April 16, where viewers finally got the chance to vote on the Top 14, the format has remained largely the same: auditions in cities around the country (with a viral Katy Perry “love triangle” mixed in), a bunch of difficult cuts in Hollywood Week including the dreaded Group Round, then the Top 24 getting whittled down to a baker’s dozen or so by the judges who lament just how hard these decisions are.
The one major difference thus far has been an additional round of celebrity duets (typically saved for the season finale) for each of the Top 24 who sang with some reasonably hot stars over the past two weeks: Lea Michele, Bishop Briggs, Rachel Platten, Allen Stone and Sugarland, among others. Good on the Idol execs for understanding the reboot would need some extra star-power early on. It worked.
But what’s been most surprising is just how genuinely “woke” this Idol season seems to be. Eight of the last nine Idol winners were white men, most of them also toting an acoustic guitar. But this season, the two most exciting artists have been:
- Jurnee, an 18-year-old, married and gay woman of color from Denver, whose wife serves in the military. Her best performances so far have been covers of “Never Enough” from The Greatest Showman, and a duet of Lea Michele’s “Run To You,” with Michele herself.
- Ada Vox, a drag queen persona created by former Idol auditioner Adam Sanders, who never made it beyond Hollywood week under his own moniker. With enormous wigs, sparkling gowns, dramatic makeup, and sky-scraping performances of “House Of The Rising Sun,” “Feeling Good” and “Defying Gravity” with Lea Michele, Ada has proven herself the season’s surest showstopper each week. Even a few years ago, could you have imagined a drag queen frontrunner on Idol?
Other favorites so far have been more typical: gritty southern rocker Cade Foehner, and low-singing country kid Caleb Lee Hutchinson.
The Idol editing, which has always done a stellar job of forcing its viewers to connect with the artists, is as strong as ever — I’ve seen every season and was burnt out by the show in 2016, but I’ve been rooting for these contestants as fervently as in the Carrie Underwood days more than a decade ago.
And that’s the difference between Idol and The Voice: the former is more focused the singers and the latter gives far more airtime to its judges and the element of them controlling their own teams of singers.
Judges Perry, Richie and Bryan have been balanced well in the first seven weeks, having their fun — especially Perry, who’s hammed it up plenty and even ripped the seat of her dress in a recent episode — and providing constructive criticism that isn’t just endless gushing, i.e. The Voice. But ultimately, they are doing as they should and bowing to the immense heap of young talent before them.
Has this translated into ratings? Well, not exactly. The March 11 premiere was the least-viewed Idol season debut in the show’s history, which perhaps was to be expected considering the lukewarm reception to the 2017 announcement that it would return after just one year away. Though the numbers are relative: it’s still more than 10 million people who tuned in for the premiere last month. The Voice's 2018 premiere drew more than 12 million viewers.
Will Idol ever return to its monster days of bringing in 30 million viewers per episode? It seems unlikely, but if you’re someone (like me) who always enjoyed the program and was disappointed to see it finish with little more than a whisper, rest assured that it’s returned with a list of soaring voices and some of that old Idol magic. If you loved the old show, you’d be remiss to sleep on this one.