Jeff Pearlman

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Why American Idol’s judges sorta lost people

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It’s Friday night. You’re at the office, working late on the big project. It’s been an exhausting week for you and the cohorts. Red eyes. Fatigued hands.

“Yo, guys?” Ron says from behind his cubicle. “Let’s go karaoke.”

It strikes you as a silly idea. But suddenly people perk up. Jim is in. Randi and Susan, too. Kelly likes the idea. So do Shannon, Ned, Malik and Kate. So, within a half hour, the whole lot of you are inside a $50-per-hour rented room at Musical Palace, jamming away. Ron goes first, and his “No Rain” is solid. You take a try, and “Greatest Love of All” comes from your lips at lopsided-but-passable pitches.

Then Susan steps up, selects song No. 543 and clears her throat.

This follows …

“Wow!” you say when she’s done. “That was amazing.”

“Thanks,” Susan replies. “I was in high school choir.”

“I can tell,” you say. “You’re definitely one of the best in this room.”

Beers are chugged.

Karaoke continues.

•••

My wife and I watched the entire season of American Idol, and (to my great shock) truly enjoyed it. In a way, it felt like home—a program we’d watched religiously, back after a hiatus. From Ryan Seacrest to the cheesy theme music to the contrived audience arm swaying, Idol works because it’s familiar, it’s upbeat, it’s righteous.

This year, however, there was one issue I could never get past: The judges.

Oh, Lionel Richie, Luke Bryan and Katie Perry were plenty likable. And spirited. They all seem like they’d be fun hangouts. But, for the purposes of the show, their unbridled kindness and support was, well, frustratingly dull. In the land once reigned by the dark price named Simon Cowell, choppiness now rules the day. Every song was brilliant. Every effort was spirited. No on stunk—ever. And when they did stink, well, they didn’t really stink. They were just, eh, merely excellent.

Case in point: Gabby Barrett singing “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey.

If you didn’t watch the above clip, take a second and press PLAY. Barrett is a legit talent, and the wife and I both think she’ll have a fruitful career in country music. But, man, this was bad. Like, bad-bad. Like, if you saw her in concert you’d be thinking, “Eh, no.” Like, were she Susan at karaoke, and afterward she said, “I’m gonna win American Ido!,” you’d slowly back away and out the door.

The judges, however, praised it. She was terrific, amazing, spectacular.

Ultimately, she was voted off.

Ultimately, she was too karaoke.

  • George Amores

    You nailed it Jeff as you usually do. Cheers

  • Sanford Sklansky

    I think you meant dark prince not price. And I think you meant no one stunk. I know it is just the internet and spelling some times doesn’t count.

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life