I have written this before on my blog, but in case you don’t remember every post I’ve ever written I’ll say it again: I used to be a huge fan of American Idol. So much so, in fact, that I regularly took notes on the episodes (examples here). You may think, then, that as a prior Idol fanatic, I would be overjoyed at the recent speculation that the show will be revived. I am actually not overjoyed at this news—if anything, I am skeptical and unimpressed.
I don’t have anything against revivals in general. I like the idea of taking something from the past and repackaging it for the current generation; Netflix’s Riverdale, a dark twist on the Archie universe, is a good example of this. Despite being created in 1941, the Archie characters have a certain timeless appeal. There will always be an appetite for classic all-American high school characters, and much of the drama Archie and his friends faced in the comics translates well into today’s world.
American Idol is different. I’d say that the main “character” on the show is well-known pessimist Simon Cowell—but he left in 2010. When I was younger and heavily invested in the show, my parents often had to explain who the judges were. Granted, the show wasn’t necessarily targeted towards ten-year-olds, but still.
Today I couldn’t even name the judges of the final season; Google tells me they were Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban, and Harry Connick Jr. If I am now the target audience of Idol—a young person with an iPhone who can vote for my favourite contestant without help from my parents—then I can say with certainty that those judges do not reflect the celebrity scene for my age group. This may very well be something addressed in Idol’s revival; a sweeping out of the “old”, so to speak, and a 2017-makeover for the show and its cast. But I am still not convinced.
In its prime, American Idol was the pinnacle of great television (or something like that). It produced huge stars and had a captive hold on viewers which was reflected in its ratings. Like most good things, it hit a peak and then it slid downhill. The show probably went on for too long as it was; it eventually became characterized, at least in my mind, by judge turnover and unmemorable contestants.
American Idol had its time in the spotlight, and it shone brightly. But it ended for a reason. Idol is one good thing that I wish could just exist in the past, without being repackaged for the future. I want to believe that Idol can be successful today; but there are already so many other reality competition shows, particularly singing ones.
American Idol was at its best when it was one of a kind, and it can no longer claim this. If it returns, it will be to a markedly different climate than the one it thrived in. If the show really is revived, it will be setting itself up for failure. And as a previous Idol superfan, I can’t bear to see this happen.