Pop Culture

Hey, 'Idol': Why not get rid of the judges for a week?

The “American Idol” judges this season are also the biggest fans of the contestants. They are setting the bar higher each week for how complimentary they can be to the remaining finalists, and the platitudes gush out like product-placement Coca-Cola from the soda fountain.

But while the feel-good style of rating the singers may allow everyone to go to bed with a clear conscience, it doesn’t seem to be the best way of judging the show.

Obviously the remaining singers are all very talented, and there aren’t the weak links that have plagued previous seasons. But not every finalist is a sure bet for superstardom, which is how the judges often make it seem.

That’s led to some strange results, with early favorite Casey Abrams needing the judges’ save to stay alive a few weeks ago, and Pia Toscano going home on April 7. The latter led to the judges berating the viewers for their decision. The judges seemed to wonder how the fans had misconstrued their praise for all of the contestants as being something other than a sign that they liked Toscano more than some of the rest.

Perhaps that is a fair point, and we’re missing something in the specific word choices the judges are using for every singer. Or perhaps those of us who want this kinder, gentler “Idol” season to develop a little bit of snarkiness are in the right.

So here’s a suggestion for the “Idol” producers: To find out, let’s have a week without the judges.

Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson can keep their seats, and the cameras can again catch them swaying to the music like any other celebrity with something to pitch. But for one week, let’s give them the silent treatment and offer other ways of rating the singers’ performance.

Some ideas include:

Audience feedback
Give those in the crowd a way to offer their instant analyses, either general (thumbs-up or thumbs-down) or more specific (rating the performances from 1 to 10). Aggregate those numbers, and the result would be a measure of what the crowd felt on the spur of the moment. The ratings would probably all be very high, but it would at least offer an indication of which of the "A" students should really rank at the top of the class.

Let the loved ones decide
Since the feedback is uniformly positive, why not let the singers' parents, spouses, siblings, or even children give the commentary? We’ve reached the point where the singers’ friends and family might offer more critical feedback than the judges do anyway, and who wouldn’t want to see what James Durbin’s son thinks of his daddy’s wildness onstage?

Critics for the day
For one week, bring in a new trio to offer feedback, with the goal of instituting a harsh dose of reality. Even if the current crop of judges is right in their assessment of the talent level, no singer ever gets to rise to fame without suffering the slings and arrows of negative feedback.

Bring in Simon Cowell (allowing him to plug his upcoming reality show), Harry Connick Jr. and another harsh judge designed to give them the uglier side of fame and fortune — the constant criticism that it entails. That might help the contestants be better prepared to handle it in the future.

Trade with the ‘Dancing With the Stars’ crew
Networks rarely cross-promote like this, but hear me out. The “Dancing With the Stars” contestants might appreciate a week where their efforts would be praised by J.Lo, Steven and Randy instead of picked apart by their regulars.

The “Idol” singers, meanwhile, would at least get a number rating as an indication of how well they did. Even if “Dancing” judges Len Goodman, Carrie Ann Inaba and Bruno Tonioli were more positive than usual because they were less familiar with the competition, they’d still have to hold up numbers at the end of it. And a 7 that comes with a lot of praise still gets you the low score of the day most weeks.

Random selections
“The Price Is Right” has made a living based on the entertainment that comes when the studio announcers begin the day with “Random Audience Member, come on down! You’re the next contestant.”

For one week, have host Ryan Seacrest pick three audience names out of a hat, and those are your judges for the week. What’s the worst that could happen? If they get too excited and start dropping curse words, it will be no worse for the censors than the usual Steven Tyler performance.

After one week of any of these options, the “Idol” audience may find itself wishing for the friendly faces of Steven, J.Lo and Randy again. Whether that happens or not, at least shaking things up on the panel would be something different in a season that has otherwise featured the same feedback every week.

Craig Berman is a frequent contributor to TODAY.com. Follow him on Twitter as he live tweets each episode.

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