x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

American Idol judges told it's time for tough love

Expect more contestants to crumble when American Idol returns for its 11th season and ups its game with brutal group competitions and solo challenges.

American Idol judges Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson say contestants should be prepared for tough love this year. Michael Becker / Fox / AP Photo
American Idol judges Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson say contestants should be prepared for tough love this year. Michael Becker / Fox / AP Photo

This year's American Idol will up its game with brutal group competitions and solo challenges, says Greg Kennedy

Call it the season of "tough love". When one considers that the tears of failed, broken-hearted American Idol contestants to date could easily refloat the Titanic, one can't help but wonder just how much harder the judges Jennifer Lopez, Steven Tyler and Randy Jackson can possibly be on the 11th season hopefuls.

"The judges should always call it as they see it, not as people want them to call it," Jackson told a recent Fox news conference with his fellow judges and the show host Ryan Seacrest in Los Angeles, adding that Lopez is handing out "a lot more 'nos'".

"I'm not sure if we [should have been] harder," the Aerosmith rocker Tyler said of last year's series, citing the necessity of finding a star.

"We try to give them advice as we would want it to be given to us, that's how I always deliver what I'm saying," said Lopez. "I want them to hear me, but there's nothing wrong with a little tough love and a little encouragement, either. And we have our own styles and personalities of how we do that, but at the end of the day, we're trying to get them through to be the winner."

Make no mistake — despite all the previous season winners and runners-up who failed to sustain the magic and fell off the showbiz radar to croon in shopping malls and casinos - the ratings blockbuster American Idol has lit up some true stars such as the likes of the country superstar Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, Adam Lambert, the Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson and last year's winner, Scotty McCreery (whose debut album, Clear As Day, became the first debut album by an Idol winner to reach number one on the US Billboard 200 since Ruben Studdard's Soulful in 2003). Country boy McCreery also scored the Best New Artist award at the American Country Awards 2011.

According to the show's producers, the challenge this year, with competition so fierce and plentiful, is to find the fastest way to cull the diamonds from the coal.

While early audition episodes will still trot out the lump-in-the-throat onstage choke-ups, the truly awful self-delusional wannabes and the jokey, gimmicky acts, it's later, in the middle rounds, known as Hollywood Week, where changes in the show's format will hack numbers ruthlessly.

Contestants can expect more group numbers and elimination based on how well they harmonise to a traditional late-1950s tune, for example, followed by a solo performance.

"We took them out of their comfort zone - they had to sing a song that's nothing like what you'd find on radio today," said the show's executive producer Ken Warwick, "We've had to reinvent those middle rounds to get the numbers down."

"That centre portion of the series is now always going to change up … different venues and musical choices," added Cecile Frot-Coutaz, the chief executive of FremantleMedia North America, which produces Idol.

Even without the judge Simon Cowell - who left Idol last year to helm the US version of The X Factor - to jab a stiletto of stinging criticism into their craw, this year's discarded contestants will no doubt still fire attitude and profanities at judges who fail to appreciate their vocal stylings.

One of the great moderating influences on American Idol has been its classy host Ryan Seacrest who, over the past nine seasons, has made viewers totally forget the first season (2002) host Brian Dunkleman, now reduced to a trivia question, at best.

Seacrest, 37, is fast becoming an American institution, not just for Idol, but also as the host of On Air With Ryan Seacrest, a Top 40 radio show in the US and Canada and syndicated internationally as American Top 40; as the host of E! News; as a television producer (Keeping Up With the Kardashians, Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution) and as the co-host of the holy grail of year-enders live from Times Square (Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve With Ryan Seacrest). With his good looks and tabloid-friendly romance with the gorgeous dancer and actress Julianne Hough (Dancing With The Stars), Seacrest would appear to have it all.

But American Idol will definitely not have Seacrest after this season, when his contract expires, unless continuing Los Angeles contract talks prove fruitful. Some media reports claim that Fox - which bumped J-Lo's pay to more than US$20 million (Dh73.4m) to keep her on the show for this year - now wants to claw back cash by shaving Seacrest's $15 million salary.

Rumours abound that Seacrest may defect from Idol to NBC's competing show, The Voice, or to host the Today show (should Matt Lauer depart).

Seacrest has never been one to pander to the judges (a huge plus) or fawn over the contestants during withering criticism from the judges. In fact, without his pluck in standing up to Cowell in seasons past, Idol could easily have fallen flatter than week-old ginger ale, and the show might not exist today.

Fox's entertainment president Kevin Reilly and Mike Darnell - an Idol producer and Fox's president of alternative entertainment - are both on record as saying they can't imagine the show without Seacrest.

"It's very hard to imagine the show without Ryan," said Reilly. "We certainly want to keep him. There's no creative discussion there whatsoever. It is a deal issue."

Ever the gentleman, all Seacrest would say of the negotiation grind: "I've done this for the past decade. I love doing it, so I can't imagine not being on every week."

American Idol returns tonight and is broadcast on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays on OSN First HD, OSN First and OSN First +2. It also returns on Sunday, January 22 on StarWorld HD and is broadcast Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, for its first week