There is nothing quite as sad as an aging champion who doesn't know when to quit.
It's the boxer who fights one too many bouts, the baseball player who plays one too many games and the television show that airs one too many seasons. A house guest who overstays his welcome is in danger only of being a bore. But a champion who overstays his welcome is in danger of hurting his legacy.
But this isn't about boxing (Mike Tyson) or baseball (Willie Mays). I'm talking about American Idol, the ratings champ that should have quit while it was ahead. Instead, I think we're looking at a punch-drunk champion that will not be looked upon fondly in future years.
This is absolutely the worst season in the nine-year history of a storied franchise that has launched a handful of significant music careers, including those of Kelly Clarkson, Chris Daughtry, Jennifer Hudson and Carrie Underwood.
But the blows to the head that the show has taken this season are evident. American Idol is ripe for a fall.
And, of course, every great fall starts with a single misstep.
At this point, it is an inescapable fact that dumping Paula Abdul was the beginning of the end. Kara DioGuardi was a mistake from the beginning, and the show's producers are too stubborn to admit it. They even hired Ellen DeGeneres to cover their mistake, without having to concede the original sin.
Kara is not only a drama queen (give me a break; a professional songwriter shedding tears at the end of an amateur's performance?), but she likes to hear herself talk. So does Simon Cowell, but at least he's occasionally humorous, albeit predictable.
Ellen, who at first was a breath of fresh air because she wasn't Kara, is already starting to annoy. She has nothing substantial to offer, except for the well-placed joke. She says she likes everybody, even those she criticizes. I know she's trying to be Paula, but it's not working. She completely lost me when she hugged that contestant a couple of weeks ago. Not only was it unprofessional, but she unfairly influenced the voting.
Randy Jackson has become a caricature — "Hey, Dog, you're pitchy" — and Simon's superficial pop sensibilities are silly.
But the judges' greatest crime is their inability to spot talent.
More than 100,000 wannabes auditioned, and this is the best they could come up with? It doesn't say much for the musical talent in this country.
I don't think I am alone in my disappointment with this season's crop of singers. The guys are a painful waste of our time every time they step to the microphone. Of the women, only two showed any promise, and one of them already is off the show. I understand that Lilly Scott was ousted by a public vote, but I think the judges set her up with their constant carping.
What is really pathetic is a noticeable change in attitude in the past couple of weeks. The judges are trying to be nicer to the contestants — particularly the male performers — because the show's producers fear a viewer backlash. They are afraid that the public will turn off their TV sets any time a male contestant performs. Their fear is justified. I went out one night when the men were competing, and I didn't even bother to record the show. Frankly, the women aren't worth recording, either.
Other than the judges' bad taste in musical talent, I can't really explain the lack of exceptional performers this year. I don't buy into the notion that the first eight seasons exhausted all the undiscovered talent in America. With a minimum age of 16, there should be a never-ending supply of young performers turning 16 each year.
Perhaps the fix is in. We know that Simon is jumping ship (to the American version of the Brit hit The X-Factor), and I suppose it is possible that American Idol producers also have other projects in the works. Rather than go out on top, they might assume it would be easier to make American Idol so bad that nobody will miss it when it's gone. At the same time, those frustrated fans would be hungry for a new talent competition.
Whatever the reasons, the show is clearly running on fumes. Yes, it continues to garner impressive ratings but it's been a ratings behemoth so long that it has become a habit in American households.
What's needed is an intervention. That's the point of this diatribe. I am trying to free you from your addiction to American Idol.
I think you can beat this thing. You are free to change the channel. Your world will not collapse if you stop watching.
Perhaps you could wear a patch. Or read a book.