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Five Things 'American Idol' Could Learn From 'Dancing With the Stars'

by Don Reisinger, posted May 27th 2010 2:05PM

Just a few months ago, 'American Idol' was the country's most popular television show. It was a juggernaut that most believed couldn't be matched. But 'Dancing With the Stars' challenged 'Idol' in the ratings this season, thanks to an all-star cast that offered the best dancing ability of any group so far.

Some say that 'Idol's' ratings decline can be attributed to the poor quality of talent this year. Others say that it's viewer fatigue. In either case, something is seriously wrong with the show. And until it starts taking cues from 'Dancing With the Stars,' it will only get worse.

What should 'Idol' learn from 'DWTS?'

1. Stop with all the buildup: Is anyone else sick and tired of all the buildup that goes into each new episode of 'American Idol?' First, Ryan Seacrest comes on the air and tells us all about the "theme" for the night. And then, we're inundated with self-promotion from current artists and inane comments from the judges. The performances, once the focal point of the show, are now an afterthought.

'Dancing With the Stars' is nothing like that. Although it's still a long show, it focuses on the talent. And along the way, it keeps the comments to a minimum and the entertainment -- what everyone is watching it for -- to a maximum.

2. Bring on celebrities: 'American Idol' is turning into a karaoke contest. Yes, finalists Crystal Bowersox and Lee DeWyze had nice voices, but most of the other "artists" couldn't carry a tune this year. Maybe 'American Idol' should follow the lead of 'Dancing With the Stars' and start bringing celebrities onto the show. It could call it 'American Idol: Celebrity Edition.'

It's not as dumb as some might think. 'Dancing With the Stars' would be nothing without celebrities. Even Donald Trump's 'Apprentice' franchise reinvented itself with celebs. Why can't 'American Idol?'

3. Too many voices, too little time: Ellen DeGeneres and Kara DioGuardi have been criticized extensively this year. Although those complaints have been shrugged off, they highlight a major issue for 'American Idol:' there are too many judges offering too little in the way of constructive criticism.

Let's be honest: Ellen and even Kara have shown that they know little about musical talent. When Paula, Simon, and Randy judged the show, it made sense. But now there is a team of judges that talk too much and say too little.

That's certainly not the case on 'Dancing With the Stars.' Carrie Ann, Bruno, and Len are dance experts. They know what to look for, understand what goes into choreography, and provide useful tips to the celebrities each week. That's important. It not only helps improve the quality of the show, it also brings the audience in on the learning process. And it can't be underestimated.

4. Compact the season: 'American Idol' lasts forever; the ninth season premiered on January 12 and just finished yesterday, near the end of May.

'Dancing With the Stars,' on the other hand, understands the value of shorter seasons. Season 10 of the show started at the end of March, and ended earlier this week. It was two months of non-stop action. No fluff, no wasted time. And America loved it.

5. Make the judges count:
The judges mean nothing on 'American Idol.' And the longer it stays that way, the worse it will be for the show.

'American Idol's' finale showcased the program's desperate need for judge scoring. When it was Simon's turn to discuss the finalists' performances, he seemed aloof, and his criticism was empty. The singing was over and he knew that it just wasn't up to him who won or lost. If he and the other judges had been allowed to score performances, it might have drastically changed the dynamic of that episode. It could have also changed this season's outcome.

Like 'Dancing With the Stars,' 'Idol's' judges need to account for 50 percent of the vote. The season's "save" option is a good start, but they should be scoring each performance. Yes, it will make the show look more like its arch-enemy, but you know what? It works. Plus, it will ensure that the so-called "experts" can have a say in keeping the best talent on the air.

With Simon leaving after this season, the future of 'American Idol' is decidedly in doubt. And without some serious restructuring, it might only be a matter of time before 'Dancing With the Stars' is crowned the show that killed one of America's biggest sensations.

Tell us: What can 'Idol' do to improve next season?

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I am not sure what all the griping is about. The show is what it is. Its a talent show that got really big. Randy says nothing but with style, Ellen is funny, Kara knows music and Simon was honest. The main reason the show did not work this year was the lack of talent. A change I would make immediately would be to let the singers sing thier own original songs if they want. I would also go back to 3 judges and say goodbye to Randy and have someone replace Simon who is just as honest. There a many English music judges that could fill the same role.

May 28 2010 at 10:13 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Well, it's a combination of things: 1. Paula. Noone filled the void of "nice judge who makes contestants feel good before the others tear them apart." Ellen did that okay, but she was kind of out-shined by three other judges over-criticizing. Paula was far from perfect, but she did what was the show needed. 2. Kara. She is freaking annoying. I don't care how 'constructive' her criticism is--it doesn't matter if I can't stand to hear her voice. She comes across extremely arrogant (without any right to be), and a bit of a Simon wannabe. And she couldn't even write a good winning song last year (how much is it to ask for her to top something like "Inside Your Heaven"?). 3. FOUR judges. When Paula left, I was amazed that they were looking for another judge. 4. Really sucky talent. Each week, I had no idea who would leave because they all sucked equally bad. Crystal was the only stand-out, and then she didn't even win! Insane. I think the bad talent might be because Kara, Ellen and Randy ruled the board over Simon, who was really the only one who should have had a say in who made it.

So, I agree with the article's advice: get someone credible to fill Simon's role (too bad Elton John turned them down; he might've saved them), nix Kara, and find a way to balance the tween girls (who'll vote for anyone as long as they're male).

People complain about Ellen a lot, but she said from the beginning that she was meant to be a voice for the public (and, I'm guessing, to do what I said above with Paula and be a ray of sunshine among the other judges). So I definitely don't want her to leave. Get rid of Kara first, at least.

May 27 2010 at 11:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I agree with the make the judges count. Since Idol has the viewers vote to keep their favorites in the competition it allows young girls to vote for "cute" guys even if they arent the best singers. Also websites like Vote For the Worst can rally their troops to vote for who they think is the worst on the show.

If not for that idea maybe doing votes like americas got talent does, limit the amount of votes per person. Either 10 votes per person or so.

May 27 2010 at 9:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Kevin C.

Note: While Dancing With the Stars was doing well earlier this season (when people tuned in to watch the trainwrecks), it had a bit of a collapse at season's end. The DWTS finale was down by **27%** from last season's finale, enough to make the Idol drop look like a ratings miracle.

May 27 2010 at 2:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
matthew barnes

okay... a few quibbles with what you said here...

yes... AI's ratings are down (and i think there are legitimate reasons for that) but the average episode of AI has much higher ratings than, for instance, the LOST finale. it's doing fine ratings wise. you're going to lose people over the years. it happens.

as for the judges... Ellen... i agree. doesn't belong. Kara, however, give probably the most constructive feedback of the bunch. she knows music. Simon generally just told people what he thought (it sucked or it was fantastic), but Randy and Kara told people why and how they could improve.

the biggest problem with Idol is that they have thousands and thousands of people to choose from and the top ten this year didn't reflect that. that's been true other seasons, but the last two have had fairly strong top tens. (the winners... not as much.) this season was ridiculous. i personally know 9 singers that could have done a better job. (i left a spot for Crystal who was amazing.) with the pool of talent they have, it should be damn near impossible each week to choose who to let go. they should be that good!

the buildup doesn't bother me and the season length, i love. but get better singers. replace Simon with Harry Connick Jr. get better guests for the finale. and give the judges more to do than give opinions that don't have an impact.

May 27 2010 at 2:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I agree there should be changes, but comparing DWTS to Idol is a false compariosn. For one, DWTS doesn't have auditions. I agree they should cut down auditions from 6 weeks to 2 weeks, but it's hard to argue ratings, especially for the early weeks of the season when AI is a powerhouse.

And while I don't disagree that Kara and Ellen add nothing by way of commentary, I think you miss the mark on scoring. Marketing ploys aside, people don't idolize Crystal or Lee because the judges say they should, voters idolize who they like and who they feel a connection too.

Granted, I may not prefer a show where my favorite comes in second every year, but honestly, I don't worry if the runner up doesn't win. I know the runner up will land just as a lucrative a contract and go on tour and make the records they are meant to make.

May 27 2010 at 2:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Linda R Snyder

In my opinion that really, really terrible results show last night was the last nail the the AI coffin. Washed up has-been clebrity performances coupled with lame stupid comedy directed at Simon was an unforgivable combination. Nothing about that show was right this season. Crystal Bowersox is, aside from Carrie Underwood, far and away the most talented performer ever to perform on the show. For two years in a row, two duds have "won" based upon teenie bopper votes. The scoring needs balance and DWTS has found a very workable solution to that problem. Farewell American Idol. I can't imagine there will be an audience for this fiasco in future years...I certainly will not accommodate their lame excuse for a talent show.

May 27 2010 at 2:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I agree - too many judges causing Idol to run late every Tuesday. 3 judges are enough like they way it used to be. Also, what does Ellen know about music?

Also, Idol takes too many breaks. Instead of breaking after every singer, do two singers then break.

Finally, the results show doesn't need to been an hour long dragging out the results. All we need is 1/2 hour.

May 27 2010 at 2:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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