We can debate whether or not we need American Idol back so soon—it only went off the air two years ago, which means the gap between getting the boot and being rebooted is shorter than ever. One day that gap will cease to exist, and then what? Some version of the singularity where the computers take over but all they do is call us stupid and laugh at us randomly? Oh wait, that’s already happening.
Anyway, the observation I was setting up before I had a vision was: We can argue about the usefulness of Idol’s return, but what’s undeniable is that Sunday’s Season 16 premiere delivered a dump truck of melisma. Of course it did. I don’t think I’ve heard a run as absurd as that of Koby, and I listened to Christina Aguilera’s “The Christmas Song” as recently as December (more for scientific observation than for fun). (And yes, that’s Koby like the beef, but no she doesn’t enjoy being compared to cuts of meat, per her exchange with judge Katy Perry, which had a snippy undercurrent.) It took Koby about 50 seconds to sing, “The devil never stops coming for you/For you.” That’s five and a half seconds per word. As the planet slowly overheats, Koby could sing the elegy of our species. Who’s to say that she isn’t doing exactly that already?
That’s to say, look, there’s still some fun to be had in enjoying the harmless side of extreme human behavior that manifests when eccentrics who don’t have a shot at 15 minutes of fame gladly settle for two or so during the American Idol audition rounds. Season 16, for which the show has pivoted from Fox to ABC, introduced us to a virgin, a sock collector, the winner of some kind of American Idol-esque show in Russia, and a guy whose hard life was succinctly summed up by the hole in his acoustic guitar. I watched with my boyfriend and we laughed a lot for a little while until drifting away from the couch and paying less and less attention as time went on (he started drawing and I started ironing). It was like a family holiday gathering in which the question you initially ask yourself—“Why don’t we do this more often?”—is eventually answered—“Because it kind of sucks???”—as the night wears on.
It’s been a while since I’ve tuned into Idol. Trent Harmon, Nick Fradiani, Caleb Johnson, Candice Glover: These names mean nothing to me. I’m willing to bet they don’t mean much to you either. That’s a list of the past four winners of the show, which at its peak was a guaranteed ticket to No. 1 on at least a chart and a shot at cultural relevance beyond the Idol association. Hey, Kelly Clarkson’s hanging in there. I saw her on a talk show a few weeks ago. She’s on...The Voice.
Ratings, too, plummeted as Idol dragged itself along—the Season 15 finale had 13.30 million total viewers; nearly three times as many people watched Taylor Hicks (remember him???) win the Season 5 finale, which nabbed 36.38 million viewers. (The Season 15 finale was likely boosted by the since-broken promise that it would be the last Idol ever—the Season 14 finale had just over 8 million viewers.)
It wasn’t necessarily the clarion call of the comeback that had me tuning in for the first time in, god, over a decade probably. I don’t need a computer to tell me that would be stupid. No, what brought me back was curiosity regarding Katy Perry’s performance as judge.
Katy’s megastardom has long confounded me. I’ll concede she’s had a few good tunes, but you need more than just tunes to earn the temporary Midas Touch in which every single release is a smash. Generally speaking, only one woman pop star occupies this space in pop culture at a time. Out of all the utter greats who have sat on this particular throne (Janet, Whitney, Mariah, Madonna, Rihanna), Katy Perry has the least there there out of all of them, except for maybe Paula Abdul (and at least Paula can dance).
Anyway, given the way I file Katy next to Paula in my head, this gig made a hell of a lot of sense to me.
And Katy was good! Ya know “wacky” but good.
Granted, it’s rich hearing Katy Perry tell someone that she doesn’t know who he is after he sang one song, when I don’t know who she is after releasing five albums beyond someone who’s here to let me know that she’s wildly fun and someone who can’t stop putting her foot in her mouth lately. But she mostly gave it to people straight (“There are people who are out-singing you right now”), and bonded with a flamboyantly blushing young man over the word “wig,” which became their secret code that they said to each other throughout his audition.
Lionel Richie, meanwhile spoke in riddles. “Every once in a while, a Martian lands and we happen to see the Martian,” he said to a young, guitar-playing woman as a compliment (she was the Martian). “I’m just fascinated with your brain,” he added. And I, his. “I want you to come back…with your identity,” he told another aspiring superst...I mean, aspiring American Idol winner. “This is not a business of it’s just cute and I love to sing. It’s a mental game,” Lionel noted at another point. Fair. It’s completely mental.
Luke Bryan, the country singer with the heart of gold and stool of a sick dog (per a joke of his, he has worms), meanwhile talks like this: “Something about you’s pretty dag-gum inspiring, bud.” So yeah, he’s got a brand and he’s sticking to it.
I temporarily forgot that watching this show meant spending time with Ryan Seacrest. That announced itself as a dicey proposition when the show debuted, but now after the sexual assault allegations, yikes. Potential Idols don’t have the luxury of bypassing him like actual celebrities did on the Oscars red carpet. Nor do we if we invest in this thing.
That said, I guess Katy’s presence also might cast a shadow for some, given that a nun died in court while fighting Katy for the convent she’s been trying to buy for years now. But ya know, those nuns said some pretty judgmental stuff about wanting to bar Katy from buying their old convent (which they totally don’t live in anymore!) because her presence creates a “conflict with our philosophy,” which is vague enough to be irritatingly nun-ly, but also seems kind of assumptive and slut-shamey?
I don’t know, I resent these nuns for making me Team Katy, and I guess I resent American Idol for doing that, too. It’s back, you can resume ignoring it. I think that’s what I’ll be doing, at least.