Missing Simon, Loving Steven

I’ve been an avid viewer of American Idol since Season 3, when local cable operators decided to pick up the franchise in the Philippines. However, I mainly watch the show because of acerbic British judge Simon Cowell, who despite being repeatedly booed in every show, is unfazed by the crowd and delivers no hold barred critique of contestants’ performances… thus earning him the reputation as the mean judge.

Last season (Season 9), Simon decided to leave the show to concentrate on developing X-Factor USA which will be airing later this year. And now that the judges’ table is filled with new faces, I couldn’t help but miss him and his brutal comments (The most classic being his reference to lounge singers and karaoke singers). He calls it like he sees it, he knows what he’s looking for, and he knows what he’s talking about. This season, JLo and legendary Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler filled the seats vacated by Simon and Paula (who left the show after season 8), and joined the remaining original judge Randy Jackson on the table. I liked Randy from Seasons 1-9, but boy, I am getting annoyed more and more with him this season for trying to be the “mean one.” First of all, Randy goes over the top in being mean, unlike Simon who does it naturally. Second, Randy now lords it over everyone that he is the senior judge (making references to past seasons every chance he gets) and tries to talk to contestants using technical terms to show the audience that he is a big music producer, perhaps to make a statement that he is deserving of his spot on the table among big superstars Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler. It’s kind of pathetic that Steven Tyler was the one to admonish him for being too mean during the earlier rounds.He should have known better.

JLo, on the other hand, has the makings of a good judge but only if she would let go and not be too much of a softie. I guess her innate niceness keeps her from giving good solid critiques that would help contestants grow more as artists. She also has the bad habit of interrupting other judges while they give their critiques if she thinks that it will hurt the feelings of the performers. But in recent episodes, she has been coming out of her shell so there’s hope for her yet.

Now, Steven — here’s someone to watch. He caught on with the nuances of judging early into the auditions and is quite a smart judge of star potential. He doesn’t say much (mostly — that was beautiful, you sing beautiful, you are a star, you did it for me again) but that is probably him paying respect to the contestants as artists, no matter how young they are. Real class act. I find myself sticking to Idol more and more these days (I sort of got bored with Season 9 because Simon was mellowing out) because of Steven’s witty critiques (“You continue to sing like that and you will be able to afford the rest of that dress” — in reference to Lauren Alaina’s party at the front, business at the back outfit). He has a way with words that only he can get away with and pokes fun at himself most of the time. He swears occasionally but that’s just who he is. He brings all of his rock star swagger into the table but leaves his ego aside every time to help develop these kids as the next generation of superstars in America. It is clear that he is not threatened. Why would he be? He’s already made his mark in rock history. And this rings true in his sincerity in judging.

It just goes to show that the judges need only to be true to themselves (Simon and Paula were very consistent in their judging styles throughout their runs in AI) and be honest about what they think about the performances. Steven is a great judge because of his experience in the business. JLo as well. Randy is an excellent producer and that is why he is mentoring these kids — not because he wants to compete with fellow judges. American Idol is a singing competition, not a judging contest. Bear that in mind, Randy.

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