The American Idol reboot no one asked for premiered this week. Lionel Richie, Luke Bryan and Katy Perry make up the new judging panel. We've been writing about the strategy behind Perry's decision to do Idol since it was announced last year. In May, Lainey asked, "American Idol needs Katy Perry but does Katy Perry need American Idol?"
Idol's rollout was a mess. Before Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan were confirmed, there were daily headlines about how no one wanted to do the show. They lost Kelly Clarkson to The Voice. Leading up to the premiere, the buzz was tempered at best and Ryan Seacrest - Idol's one true constant- isn't exactly ABC's MVP anymore.
American Idol's success hinges on Katy Perry. Back to Lainey's question, yes, they needed her. Unless you're a country music diehard, you probably don't care about Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie is LIONEL RICHIE so he's going to be fine whether Idol fails or not but I don’t think he’s a big enough draw for TV audiences. It’s not like Lionel’s got a current Top 40 hit. Katy Perry is one of the biggest pop stars in the world but she's coming off of a lackluster album and mediocre tour sales. She needs this too. She needs to be personable, watchable and everything Jennifer Lopez was on Idol. She needs to be everything Mariah Carey wasn't.
After two episodes, Katy Perry is not as enchanting as J.Lo but she's also not the robotic hot mess that was Mariah Carey on American Idol. Remember how good for gossip that season with Mariah and Nicki Minaj was? Anyway, Katy Perry on Idol is solid. The biggest thing she has going for her is her brutal honesty.
Taking a cue from The Voice, Idol has decided to be nicer. They won’t show the bad auditions the show became known for. There will be no William Hung 2.0s. The Voice coaches give constructive criticism but the show is more about their dynamics and the competition to win artists over than it is about critiquing contestants’ voices. I agree that the bad auditions were a bit mean-spirited and Simon Cowell’s zingers got old real quick but the dashing of delusional dreams is what set American Idol apart. It is woven into the fabric of the show. I don’t really care about watching the first few weeks of Idol if everyone is going to be nice all the time. I’ll just flip over to The Voice, which coincidentally, was on at the exact same time as Idol last night.
Katy Perry almost made me want to keep watching. While her niceness seems a bit performative (like so many other of Katy’s personality traits), she has enough bite to make it entertaining. She doesn’t get swayed by contestants with heartbreaking backstories. A sob story makes for good TV but it doesn’t make an American Idol. You’ve got to have the talent too. Katy Perry tells a dude who bares his soul about his abusive father that he “[hasn’t] found [his] thing yet.” She also tells another Hollywood hopeful, “You are NOT a pop star” in a harsh yet straightforward tone. Katy Perry is surprisingly really good at this.
Here’s the thing: it doesn’t really matter how good Katy Perry is at judging American Idol if no one cares about American Idol anymore. I did get bored halfway through Idol and switched it back to The Voice, where Adam Levine, Alicia Keys, Kelly Clarkson and Blake Shelton are more fun, likeable and watchable than Katy Perry on her best day. Katy brings snark and honesty to Idol but she’s still not enough to make me care about the revival of a show that has been off the air for less than two years. Do you care? Are you watching?
Did you see this moment? Do you think it’s as creepy as everyone on Twitter does? To me, it seemed harmless and just another one of the moments that Katy Perry looked like she was having more fun than anyone else.
Is Katy having fun enough to carry an entire season of American Idol? Better question: was her $25 million contract worth it for ABC? According to early ratings results, the answer is a surprising yes. The ratings are strong. According to E!, the premiere gave ABC its biggest audience in that timeslot since 2012. Most of those viewers could have been tuning in for curiosity’s sake so it remains to be seen if they’ll stick around for a full season. If Katy Perry was worth ABC’s investment though, will she get what she wants in return? Does Katy’s competency as an American Idol judge translate into some more hit singles? Hey, it can’t get any worse than the Witness era, can it?