He is the face and lips of the Great American Rock ’n’ Roll band, but as dynamic as he can appear onstage with Aerosmith, Steven Tyler is a terrible choice for a new judge on “American Idol.”
He’s too damn old. He’s too damn dull.
“He’s a relic,” one industry observer said dismissively of the 62-year old frontman to me Tuesday, following all the reports that Tyler is a done deal for the Fox amateur-hour hit. “All he brings to the show is a scarf and giant lips.”
Now, as both Tyler and Mick Jagger will tell you, there’s a lot of mileage to be had in a scarf and giant lips — but not necessarily a lot of judgment. And judgment, on both sides of the camera, is what you need to resurrect a former ratings behemoth like “Idol” — especially after the disappointing season it had last year and the departure of bitchy Brit Simon Cowell.
Of course, Tyler does provide the novelty factor of actually having a genuine rock star on “Idol.” And they always could have done worse.
When "Idol" started to look for new judges this year, Tyler — who between rehab and band tensions hasn't had the best of years — probably didn’t think twice about taking the plunge.
“American Idol,” on the other hand, should have.
For a show increasingly skewing and feeling older, “Idol” should have gone young and brave — Justin Timberlake being the ideal. The worst part is Tyler probably wasn’t the first one on returning “Idol” executive producer Nigel Lythgoe‘s call sheet. Tyler’s the one you reach out to after Elton and Cher said "Not interested."
So what, besides a lot of Aerosmith tunes being sung by contestants, can we expect if Tyler actually gets the new gig?
True, Tyler can be saucy and sassy, but that’s in short sound-bitten bursts. In fact, left to his extended own devices — as too many interviewers and musicians have discovered — the hyperactive singer can ramble in a way that makes Paula Abdul look positively poetic.
His acting career, like the cameo as himself with John Travolta in “Be Cool,” never really blew anyone’s wig off. And while no one would undermine his love of his craft, Tyler’s never displayed the greatest of insights when it comes to talking about music.
If Ellen DeGeneres is the standard, that would make him the perfect “Idol” judge — but the point is not to limbo that low again.
Now don’t get me wrong. I love Aerosmith. To me, it really is the Great American Rock 'n' Roll band — more than Van Halen, more than Kiss — and a truly great American tale of redemption.
Since they blew out of Beantown in 1972, Aerosmith brazenly stole from the Rolling Stones the way the Stones stole from the blues and brought it back home all wrapped up in stars-and-stripes sexbeat boogie. They were raunchy and rich in the '70s, then messed up, broken up, really messed up and resurrected in the late '80s with counseling and killer albums like “Pump” to be bigger than ever.
They were “Behind the Music” before “Behind the Music.” They were “Celebrity Rehab” before “Celebrity Rehab.” And as everyone from lightweights like Motley Crue to worthy successors like Guns’N’Roses have admitted, they paved the road American rock needed to travel down after the onslaught of the British Invasion.
After 40 years, rising from clubs to giant stadiums, Aerosmith has become a beloved American institution, playing the Super Bowl, the Academy Awards, with their own Disney Theme Park ride and sold-out arenas around the entire world.
Then there's the dark side. Like their commercial and creative mentors the Stones, Aerosmith is now caught in a career revolving door of big tours and — because of the magnitude of hits like “Dream On,” “Sweet Emotion,” “Janie’s Got a Gun” and the Oscar-nominated “I Don’t Want to Miss aThing” from 1998’s “Armageddon” — irrelevant new material.
Which is exactly why spotlight-loving Tyler, who is touring with Aerosmith until Sept. 16 and actually hitting the Quest Center stage in Omaha, Nebraska, on Thursday, was probably looking for a change.
Like the acclaimed Roots deciding to become Jimmy Fallon’s houseband to get off endless touring, Tyler and Aerosmith needed to find a new direction or get off their own infinite road.
And if you think “American Idol” was the best exit ramp for Tyler, for the show and for us … well, let me quote a great American poet: “Dream on.”