American Idol

'American Idol's' slow slog to live shows is zombielike

Feb. 22, 2012 at 8:55 AM ET

Contestants learn their fate in front of the judges at the Cirque du Soleil's Viva ELVIS Theatre in Las Vegas.

You have to give "American Idol" credit for latching onto the zombie craze. The six weeks of audition episodes are the reality show's approximation of the walking undead.

From the "Idol" season premiere on Jan. 18 to the first live performances next week, the 24 semifinalists will have been through the initial screening, live performances before the judges in their audition cities, a Hollywood solo, a Hollywood group performance, another Hollywood solo, a Las Vegas group performance, and one final solo performance this week. After each round, the majority of singers move on while the smaller group of eliminated contestants do the sad and angry mumbling trudge back to their hometowns, like so many people looking for judges' brains to chomp down on in their rage.

To call this a long, slow slog to the audience participation portion of the season is an insult to long, slow slogs.

Of course, there is a method behind the badness. The benefit of how “Idol” sets things up is that it emphasizes the discovery process. You, the viewer, get the impression that you're seeing the strengths and weaknesses of each singer for the first time along with the judges, and there is some enjoyment in watching them go through the process.

It’s not like “The Voice,” where the culling of talent is largely done before the season premiere. We're finding a Carrie Underwood from small-town Oklahoma, not choosing a favorite from a bunch of people who are obviously very good by virtue of making the initial cuts but simply haven’t gotten that big break yet.

That part of the show is smart. Almost as long as Hollywood has been around, since Lana Turner was legendarily discovered sitting on a stool at a drugstore counter and went on to movie stardom, we've loved the notion that there is untapped talent out there just waiting to be unearthed. That's what "Idol" sells.

But why does it have to take so long?

Also unlike “The Voice,” “Idol’s” initial audition episodes are boring (except for the annual psychological study that is the Hollywood group round). The judges' chairs turning around on "The Voice" help the NBC competition's early episodes drive interest in the show. "Idol" has no such luxury -- in fact, there's little incentive to watch the first few weeks. The stakes are lower because each singer who advances through the initial cuts has so many more hurdles to clear before the live shows, and plenty of people who seem like great stories in San Diego become quiet eliminations in Hollywood.

For every diamond in the rough, there are a lot of shiny but less valuable stones that have to get tossed aside. That makes sense. But can’t this take place any faster? Four performances before the judges isn’t enough to make a decision ... they really need that fifth?

If "Idol" were a diamond mine, it would go out of business because of the amount of time it spends carefully examining stones that can’t be sold. Let’s reduce the hurdles to the live performances, and let the best of the best sing to us for their survival already.

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