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Raising Hell(en) Over Ellen


Ellen DeGeneres is cool and funny and awesome. But is she right for Idol?

Ellen DeGeneres is cool and funny and awesome. But is she right for Idol?

So it’s been like a week, and by now, pretty much everyone who has ever seen an episode of American Idol—heck, anyone who even knows of the existence of the television show called American Idol—has commented on the announcement that comedian/talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres will be taking over as the fourth judge on American Idol, claiming the chair once owned by the graceful and eloquent Paula Abdul.

This is old news, yes? And you don’t even care anyway, do you? I mean why on Earth would this news matter to you? What’s more, why in the name of all that is holy would you care about the opinions of a weekly newspaper columnist on this wholly irrelevant and inconsequential issue?


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Well, I won’t lie: I’m hurt that you feel this way. Must you be so callous, so thoughtless? Hey, my feelings count, too, don’t they?

Thank you.

Now that we’ve moved past your cruelty and sheer lack of etiquette, please allow me to share with you, at excruciating length, my feelings on this decision!

As you know—because every third installment of “Sonic Boom” is dedicated to my ongoing analysis of American Idol (due to certain performance-related stipulations in my contract)—I was never a fan of Paula Abdul. At least, I was never a fan of Paula Abdul as a judge on American Idol. When I was, like, 15, I was a fan of Paula Abdul’s videos, which, to my adolescent eye, were the very definition of sex. Seems crazy now, I know. But anyway: I never liked Paula on Idol for the following reasons: She seemed to know almost nothing about music; she misused and sometimes simply made up words, and was largely unable to construct a sentence; her weird and flirty riffs with Simon Cowell seemed horribly desperate and uncomfortable; she often appeared to be inebriated to the point of incoherence.

There were other reasons, too, but these were the primary ones.

To be clear, I’m glad she’s gone. I’m thrilled, really. And you know what else? I really like Ellen DeGeneres. She’s funny, smart, charming, self-effacing, sober… In these regards, she is everything Paula is not.

However, I’m not at all happy with the decision to replace Paula with Ellen. Well, that’s not entirely true: Frankly, I’d be happy with the decision to replace Paula with Bobcat Goldthwait or Jar Jar Binks or a three-pound tub of cookie dough. But that’s only a reflection of my feelings for Paula. My feelings for what American Idol needs, though, are more complex. See, I thought American Idol’s last season was also its best, and while there were myriad reasons for this, the most striking were the show’s two most divisive new figures: fourth judge Kara DioGuardi and contestant Adam Lambert.

The stories behind these figures’ divisiveness here are almost immaterial—both clashed with elements of the show’s conservative approach and base—but what they brought to Idol was hugely substantial. Adam was not just a remarkable singer, but an artist—maybe the first person on Idol to have such a wealth and range oDf talents. Meanwhile, Kara came from a music-industry background: She’s a songwriter for a who’s who of modern hitmakers, and she understands the business of making music—and making a career in music—better than anyone on the show. And what do these two people have in common?

Yes! Yes! That’s right! They are both relevant to the world of music today!

Of course, American Idol is only tangentially about music, but the fact that the show made such strides toward artistic and critical respectability not only suggested the dawning of a new era in American Idol history but also—miracle of miracles—made the show a lot more interesting, entertaining and exciting. A show about music actually being about music! Quite a concept! Who’da thunk it?

No, I know—I’m being a little sarcastic here. But look, seriously, this is exactly why adding Ellen to the mix is such a step backward. I’m sure she’ll be funny and cool, because that’s who she is, but she’s not going to build on what was started by Kara and Adam. As a judge of musicians, Ellen has no credibility, which means she’ll have to rely on humor and personality, which means the show is counting on her humor and personality to carry it, which means the show is planning to be less reliant on music, which means…the world…might…never…get…another…DAVID COOK?

I’m kidding. I hate David Cook.

But I’m not kidding when I issue the following warning to The Powers That Be over at Idol: Do not, my friends, neglect us, we the members of the music-critic community, when making these sorts of personnel decisions. As you know, we are a fickle lot, and we don’t like to be toyed with, and we definitely don’t like to think about Ellen DeGeneres making,  like, tens of millions of dollars to offer vague performance analysis and a few jokes about her own inability to hold a tune, when we are sitting here getting paid in expired MetroCards and rollover cellphone minutes. Do you hear me?! DON’T TOY WITH US! Because even though we do not buy music ourselves, we often influence the public to…steal music.

Thanks so much for listening! And, remember, all this can be mitigated simply by terminating Randy Jackson. Like, now.

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