There was a time, ten or so years ago, when American, and then Australian Idol, hit our screens and was judged by washed-up middle-aged music industry big wigs, like Simon Cowell, Mark Holden, Ian “Dicko” Dickson and the token female on the panel, Marcia Hines and Paula Abdul. These judges were mostly respected, if unfamiliar to Idol’s target demographic. Apart from Abdul’s “Opposites Attract”, I wouldn’t have known any of them from a bar of soap.
Not only was this before Britney, J.Lo, Mariah et al. demanded millions to sit in the judging chair, but it was also prior to the influx of talent shows; reality shows in general, really. Now we have a myriad of Got Talent’s, The Voice, The X-Factor and the truckload of former and current stars it brings with it.
For every Britney and Christina, whose careers have been languishing in the pop wasteland for the last few years and could be helped by a judging role, there’s a Nicki Minaj, whose choice to judge the latest season of American Idol in the prime of her career baffles me. And we can’t forget Jennifer Lopez, who was the epitome of irrelevance prior to taking on the gig, and is now once again one of the highest earning performers in the industry (thanks, in no small part, to her franchise of perfumes), deservedly so, as I saw her in concert last year and she is the consummate performer. Closer to home, Guy Sebastian, a reality singing competition winner himself, had a sprinkling of top ten and number one hits in the last few years, but really hit the big time with the Eve and Lupe Fiasco collaborations, “Who’s That Girl?” and “Battle Scars”, respectively, released after his turn as a judge on The X Factor.
So the “expert” record industry execs have pretty much gone the way of Dicko, albeit with the mainstays Cowell (The X Factor in the U.S.), L.A. Reid (ditto) and Randy Jackson from the original series of Idol, to make way for younger, sexier and more relevant, sometimes with an overhaul in between each season. And then there’s just the question marks that were obviously hired ’cause everyone else turned them down: Demi Lovato, Khloe Kardashian (tenuous) and, arguably, Nicki Minaj.
I think the new season of Idol’s focus on the feud between Mariah Carey and Minaj hinders not only the show (it’s about the TALENT), but also Nicki’s career in the long run. 2012 was perhaps Minaj’s strongest year to date, with “Superbass” being certified platinum, and “Starships” dominating the airways. While she’s never had a number one hit on the U.S. Billboard charts, Minaj was infiltrating pop culture at warp speed, so to her it might have seemed logical to dominate reality television as well. But, to me, singing competition judging panels are the domain of has-beens; people who’ve been down a similar road and can offer advice on the highs and lows of stardom. Who knows? Maybe Minaj will be the one to change that.
What do you think? Do you long for the no-frills early days of Idol, or are you all for big names on the judging panel overshadowing the talent?