Pop Culture

How far can Steven Tyler go with icky comments on 'Idol'?

Michael Becker / Fox / Today

Steven Tyler's had a number of memorable moments already this season as a judge on "American Idol," mostly related to the ridiculous hats he's been wearing at auditions.

But the one that was most notable was when 15-year-old Shannon Magrane showed up for the Savannah tryouts. Her parents and sisters were brought into the room, and her dad asked Tyler how it was going. "Hot, humid and happening -- just like your daughter," Tyler replied.

And the show stopped.

Granted, it did so because of editing and creative sound effects, but also because it was easy to see the thoughts going through Mr. Magrane's head -- and those thoughts were that his daughter would never be allowed near Tyler again without armed guards. It also was the first moment of the season that got an “ewwww” reaction from the audience, or at least those viewers with daughters of their own.

Magrane shouldn't have been surprised by Tyler's response, and viewers shouldn’t have been either. One of the reasons for hiring Tyler as an "Idol" judge was his status as a rock icon, and Tyler plays the part well. The Aerosmith frontman has the swagger that causes women of all ages to swoon before him on the "Idol" stage, adulation he strongly encourages.

The crowd usually meets him more than halfway.  For example Jennifer Dilley didn't show up to her San Diego audition in a bikini because she sings best without a shirt on, and Erica Nowak didn’t call him “my future ex-husband” and make a grab for his rear end because it would help her vocals.  Plenty of dreamers of both genders use whatever tools they have to give themselves a tiny edge.

But when Tyler hits on teens it leads to some uncomfortable but logical questions: What's the line that he can't cross? And how close is he to reaching it? When does he cease being the wacky comic relief and become the creepy old guy leering at girls young enough to be his granddaughters?

The show encourages such behavior -- as long as it remains chaste. Judge Jennifer Lopez is always getting songs dedicated to her by awestruck male contestants, and who can forget the Kara DioGuardi-Casey James “cougar” storyline of a couple of years ago?

And to be clear, there’s no sense that anything untoward is happening, or that Tyler is doing anything more than playing a role. He’s engaged to be married to 38-year-old Erin Brady, and there haven’t been rumors of him doing anything more than exchanging risqué puns with anyone on “Idol.”

But there’s something a little ... well, off-putting about watching Tyler leer at attractive young women as they audition. He is, after all, 63 years old. He has a grandson who was born in December 2004. It won’t be long until the little guy’s eligible to try out for the show as well.

As a rock star, what he’s doing is entirely within character. (After all, Mick Jagger is older than he is and still going strong.) But as a reality show judge? That's the big question.

Should there be a line drawn for Steven Tyler? If so, what's OK and what's not? Tell us what you think on our Facebook page.

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