The brand once built upon the personalities of its judges announced another shake-up this morning: Nicki Minaj, Keith Urban, and Mariah Carey, the long-rumored judges for the new season, were confirmed to join Randy Jackson at the judges table next season.
The appeal of the show was once that contestants got to face these famous trio of caricatures—Randy Jackson, Simon Cowell, and Paula Abdul—and hear their critiques, however positive or loathsome. Cowell was in all rights a character that may as well have been written by Aaron Sorkin. His pithy, sarcastic reviews of singers drew viewers to the show, and when he was kind and appraising, America knew someone had made it. Paula Abdul loved everyone with ferocity, and even when she critiqued idols, she did so kindly. Randy was the swing vote, his characterization less colorful—his vote perhaps less meaningful or gratifying—but nonetheless necessary to even out Cowell and Abdul.
In early January 2010, Cowell, the evil genius of musical critique, announced his departure from American Idol. The talent competition that made him a household name, and using that new reputation he wanted to create The X Factor to sarcastically mock singers under a different monicker.
Abdul had already left at the beginning of that season, the show’s ninth. This left just Randy Jackson, the infamous judge of “pitchy” contestants, as the original judge.
Since 2010, Jackson has been joined by judges including Ellen Degeneres, Kara DioGaurdi, Steven Tyler, and Jennifer Lopez. All four departed at some point or another, and so early this morning, Minaj, Urban, and Carey were confirmed.
Shifting judges raises a broader question: Does America still care about American Idol?
With the barrage of new judges brought in recently, no one knows what to expect. None of these judges has an identity as a judge. Their musical success is unquestionable, but that does not mean America wants to hear what they think of wannabe Gavin DeGraws and Colbie Caillats? Do they have anything insightful or fresh to add to the conversation?
The drawback is, by the time these judges do establish themselves as funny or clever or quippy, they may want off the show. That has been the pattern thus far with DeGeneres, DioGaurdi, Tyler, and Lopez.
America may keep watching because they like the watching the realization of the American dream or want to cheer on hometown heroes, but the lack of personality in the judging booth is certainly a downfall of a show that staked its brand on personality.