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'American Idol' running on fumes

Farewell, “American Idol,” it’s been fun. You’ve changed television forever and you should be proud.  Now go away and let’s wait for the next media phenomena to come along. 
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So what’s the deal with “American Idol,” particularly now that LaKisha, who seemed to be the most talented singer, has been voted off?  Where does the show go at this point, particularly when the three contestants who remain standing—Melinda, Jordin and Blake—don’t generate any special interest or any real controversy, which, let’s face it, is mostly what “American Idol” is about.  We don’t have Sanjaya to kick around any more.  We’ve already accepted the fact that Paula has been out to lunch for so long that when she acts coherent and normal, that’s the part that’s shocking.

As for American Idol’s most enduring and interesting character, Simon Cowell, he is looking pretty bored to me.  Recently he said that there are many times when contestants are singing that he is engaged in conversation with Paula, basically teasing her or prodding her to say something stupid.  Translation?  We have “American’s Idol’s” most interesting and prominent judge who is not that interested in the proceedings. 

But Simon’s not alone.  Let’s be honest, “American Idol” has had an incredible run.  Right up until this year, my wife Jennifer and I, along with tens of millions of American viewers, made it appointment television.  We had to be there, not only for the performance, but to find out who was getting voted off.  There was real drama; it was exciting; it was intense. 

But now American Idol seems to be going out of its way to generate false controversy or make the show interesting in a really odd sort of way.  I think the show “jumped the shark” for me when Simon and host Ryan Seacrest started going back and forth with these idiotic comments about who was “coming out” (of the closet, I presume) and who liked to dress up in certain clothes that were less than masculine. 

So let me get this straight.  “American Idol” producers, along with Cowell and Seacrest, decided that it would be interesting to play off some of the rumors out there that Ryan Seacrest is gay or that Ryan might say that Simon is gay even if he isn’t?  I couldn’t figure the angle out.  It was so lame.  At least when Paula allegedly slept with a contestant a while back, it had some legs to it.  You could believe it.  I don’t know if it happened or not, but it was kind of interesting.  This recent stuff is weak at best. 

Any time a show, even one as popular as “American Idol,” starts going out of its way to generate bogus controversy, you know that it’s struggling to remain relevant.  Recently the Houston Chronicle blasted the show saying that “Melinda Doolittle is a background singer, Jordin Sparks is only 17, Blake Lewis beat-boxes and LaKisha Jones has a kid.”  While I’m still not sure why LaKisha having a kid or Jordin being 17 are supposed to be some sort of criticisms, there is a legitimate point being made here.  It’s that the performers are pretty good singers, but they aren’t that interesting or engaging.  They don’t stand out. 

At least Ruben Studdard was huge and Kelly Clarkson was a really different kind of performer with a huge voice.  And while I never really liked Justin Guarini, at least his hair, like Sanjaya’s, was memorable.  And Kerry Underwood has a great look; she’s blonde and sings country (even though that’s not my cup of tea).  And didn’t her dad have problems with the law?  Oh, no, that wasn’t her, that was Kellie Pickler, that other blonde girl who couldn’t say “calamari” and whose dad was in jail.  But you get the point.  That’s interesting stuff—whose dad’s in jail and who is almost 400 pounds.  And don’t forget Clay Aiken.  We are talking about the same guy that actually put his hand over Kelly Ripa’s mouth when he was subbing for Regis on their morning show, which really grossed her out.  Gay rumors about Clay?  Now that was intriguing. 

Let’s face it.  As a legitimate talent competition, “American Idol” is a snore.  It thrives on conflict, controversy, weird characters and powerful drama.  It needs us to really root for people and against others.  It has to pull at your heartstrings by telling dramatic stories of contestants that you can relate to.  And what about Chris Daughtry, the good-looking bald guy rocker who kept running around with the microphone stand?  He had real charisma and the women loved him.  The fact that he lost isn’t the point.  He was fun to watch and he had this powerful voice that kept you riveted every week.  Now he is a legitimate star. 

But even though the three contestants left on “American Idol” seem nice enough with a fair amount of talent, they just don’t grab me and I know I am not alone because the ratings are down considerably.  Admit it.  For those of you who DO watch, don’t tell me you are not fast-forwarding through huge chunks of the show, including the commercials, to get to the one or two performances you are interested in or the part where someone is getting thrown off.   

Bottom line?  The show has had a great run and has spawned countless spin-offs and knockoffs that don’t even come close to the legitimate viewer interest that “American Idol” created.  But it looks like this run is coming to an end, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of.  I thought it was great when “American Idol” tried to raise some money for charity recently.  Of course, you couldn’t get through on the phone, but that is pretty much par for the course for this show.  But don’t kid yourself.  While it was nice that they were raising money, they were also trying to generate some viewer interest that they have been lacking. 

If “American Idol” producers were really smart they would start to pack it in and shut this road show down instead of letting it drag on.  It’s like any great athlete who has an incredible run and breaks all sorts of records.  You have to know when to retire and get off the stage because when you don’t or can’t we start to remember you for the way you went out and not the way you played in your prime.  I just hope “American Idol” producers understand that. 

So farewell, “American Idol,” it’s been fun.  You’ve changed television forever and you should be proud.  Now go away and let’s wait for the next media phenomena to come along. 

Write to Steve Adubato at