Originally posted Friday, December 28, 2018 by RODNEY HOfirstname.lastname@example.org on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog
As I think about this year in “American Idol,” it wasn’t so much about the ABC network revival of the show, which was dropped by Fox in 2016 after 15 seasons.
It was more about the enduring power of the stars the show created in its early years: most specifically, season one winner Kelly Clarkson, season three’s Jennifer Hudson and season four winner Carrie Underwood. All three remained firmly entrenched in the pop culture world more than 13 years after their initial success on “Idol.”
And it’s ironic that two of them - Kelly and Jennifer - got scooped up by NBC’s “The Voice” as coaches. That’s the show which in many ways helped take down “Idol” in the first place.
It’s also worth noting that Simon Cowell remains a TV staple as a judge - just on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” which he executive produces. It remains America’s most popular summer series. Simon is grayer and gentler but still a riveting presence on TV.
At least ABC has had Carrie to co-host the CMA Awards on the network for the past decade with Brad Paisley.
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Anyway, here’s a quick summary of notable “Idol”-related stories I covered in 2018:
It’s back! ABC indeed scooped up “Idol” in 2017 after Fox decided it could live without it in 2016. The show’s owners - FremantleMedia and Core Media Group's 19 Entertainment - began shopping it around almost immediately after Fox aired what it called its “series finale.”
When ABC brought it back, it ran the show only 11 weeks, far shorter than Fox did during its peak years: 19 weeks.
This meant far fewer live shows, clearly a budgetary concession despite paying Katy Perry in excess of $20 million and host Ryan Seacrest north of $10 million.
For hard-core fans of “Idol,” the season felt familiar - if a bit rushed. And the talent wasn’t half bad with some truly quirky stand-out personalities such as awkward dork Catie Turner and drag queen Ada Vox.
There were some archetypes - like the old-school rocker (Cade Foehner), the country-pop singer (Gabby Barrett) and the R&B crooner (Dennis Lorenz).
And the show did try a few modest innovations. There were celebrity duets for the semifinals, which was not a bad idea. Then they tried live voting across all time zones a few times and airing “Idol” super early in Hawaii and the West Coast. I suspect this made it more about pure popularity and less about the performance that week because people could vote before the singers had even sung. In fact, I suspect, this might have placed the final singer at a disadvantage, as opposed to an advantage like it used to be.
The voters didn’t particularly cotton to the minority singers: the judges early on had to save the likes of Jurnee, Michelle Sussett and Ada Vox for the top 10. All three were then immediately eliminated the next week.
It all happened so fast. Suddenly, it was a final three: Mr. Country (and Dallas, GA resident) Caleb Lee Hutchinson, Gabby and quirky sweet singer-songwriter Maddie Poppe. Poppe was the type of singer that has never won this competition before so I thought Caleb would pull it off.
But instead, Maddie actually took home the crown, which was a pleasant surprise.
Oh, and romance! While the show has generated couples in the past, this season was unusual because the final five featured two couples: Cade and Gabby and Caleb and Maddie. In fact, Caleb and Maddie didn’t announce their coupling publicly until the season finale. Caleb was probably the happiest runner up ever given how smitten he was with Maddie. So far, several months later, they appear to be still together.
But will Maddie or anybody this season become stars? That’s the rub. The show hasn’t generated anybody approaching a “star” since season 11 when Phillip Philips of Georgia won and generated that huge hit “Home.” Subsequent winners faded away without as much as a radio hit. Maddie’s catchy coronation song “Going Going Gone” was going, going, gone from radio in a matter of seconds. And her first real single “Keep on Movin’ On” in October disappeared without a trace (and has had just 223,000 views so far on YouTube.) Unfortunately, her Colbie Caillat-esque style is not what current top 40 or even Hot AC is into in 2018.
As for the judges... They seemed somewhat promising in the auditions rounds, a pleasant trio of Lionel Richie (the sage vet), Perry (the pop star) and Luke Bryan (down-home country boy). They did a good job paring down the talent and had moments of chemistry. The problem began during the live shows when they suddenly couldn’t say a negative word about anything, as if they had all morphed into Paula Abdul. It seemed like, before a live audience, none of them could say anything that might provoke a negative reaction. Only toward the end of the show, after much backlash, did Perry and Bryan attempt some belated constructive critiques. (Richie, for better or worse, was a distinct disappointment. He kept to his steady drumbeat of repetitive and boring compliments to the end.)
Unfortunately, ABC has brought all three back. Perry, at least, showed flashes of personality and pizazz. (My favorite trio is still Harry Connick Jr., Keith Urban and Jennifer Lopez.)
And the ratings? They were decent, averaging around 9 million counting DVR usage up to three days after airing. The show lost some audience compared to the final season of “Idol” on Fox in 2016, but given that TV viewing in general on broadcast networks have dropped sharply the past two years, its numbers were relatively solid. ABC had no problem giving “Idol” a second season (or 17th, depending how you measure it.)
So was it worth it? I was still skeptical about it coming back so soon. But maybe it didn’t really matter. The reality is the show’s heyday is long past. It’s no longer discussed on morning radio or plastered on magazine covers. It’s just another reality competition show along with “Dancing With the Stars,” “Survivor” and “The Voice.” And there’s nothing wrong with that. If it makes money for ABC, that’s the bottom line. And as an “Idol” acolyte, I’m fine with that as well.
Kelly Clarkson keeps it moving: While Clarkson’s current album didn’t generate massive hit singles, she was with a new label and was able to infuse a more R&B style she was hungering for. She also joined “The Voice” as a coach for two consecutive seasons. Both times, her picks won. And her ebullient personality earned her a syndicated talk show set to debut in 2019. She will also be on tour next year, coming to Infinite Energy in Duluth March 28.
Carrie Underwood recovers from a facial injury and has another child coming: Carrie fell down some stairs late last year and had a whopping 40 stitches on her face. Thanks to some impressive medical work and makeup, the average person (including me) can’t even tell the difference. She also released a sixth studio album “Cry Pretty.” The first single of the same name was her lowest charting single ever on the Billboard country airplay chart. But it shows the power of Carrie that it still peaked at No. 9. She will also have her second child in 2019, followed by a massive tour, which brings her to State Farm Arena in Atlanta October 19.
Jennifer Hudson insures a busy year: She opened the year as a ubiquitous presence on TV courtesy of an American Family Insurance commercial shot in Atlanta. It also featured Atlantan Alex Guthrie as a busker who was genuinely surprised by her sudden appearance while he sang Bill Withers’ song “Lovely Day.” (My interview with him about the experience.) She also was a coach in the fall edition of “The Voice.” And her custody battle with her ex-fiance continues in court. She also sang during Aretha Franklin’s memorial service along with Fantasia and is set to appear during a Franklin special tribute concert in 2019.
Adam Lambert will rock you: He brought Cher to tears at the Kennedy Center Honors with his cover of “Believe.” He appeared in a “Wicked” anniversary special on NBC. He and Queen did a residency in 2018 in Vegas and in the wake of the hit film “Bohemian Rhapsody,” are planning to return on tour with Queen in 2019. He will be at State Farm Arena August 22.
David Archuleta is back! He began touring for the first time in years, including a stop at City Winery in Atlanta. He has also been open about the PTSD-like trauma “Idol” dealt him when he was a mere teen and how the show tried to play up tension between him and his dad. He has grown up and when I interviewed him in March, he seemed super self aware and thoughtful as well as grateful to his fans.
Clay and Ruben reunite: The season two finalists decided to do a Broadway Christmas show production, which got mixed-to-negative reviews. It was a mix of corny jokes, personal stories and Christmas music.
David Cook gets kinky: Speaking of Broadway, Cook did a second stint on Broadway in “Kinky Boots” before going on tour again. “I love the show,” he told me in November. “I love the story. I love the message. The show to me seemed so pertinent especially now, the idea of inclusion and acceptance. I had done theater in middle school and high school and went to theater school. But the band thing took over. To revisit this was an awesome shot in the arm. I made some amazing friends in the process.”
Awkward year for Ryan Seacrest: After an E! stylist accused Seacrest of abuse and harassment, he denied the charges. E! did an investigation and cleared him this past February. Some celebrities did avoid him during the Oscar red carpet. But he weathered the storm. It helped nobody else came forward with allegations. So in the end, he kept his gigs on “Idol,” AT40, KIIS and “Live with Kelly and Ryan.”
Other alums: Kellie Pickler is in her second year on syndicated talk show “Pickler and Ben” and had her first starring role in a TV movie “Christmas in Graceland’ on the Hallmark Channel... Katharine McPhee’s show “Scorpion” was cancelled by CBS after four seasons but she released an album of classics and got engaged to Grammy-winning producer David Foster... Chris Daughtry is still touring with his first album in several years... Bo Bice ended a five-year run as lead singer of Blood, Sweat & Tears and moved back from Covington, GA to Helena, Ala. where he opened a guitar shop/recording studio/teaching space.... Lauren Alaina got engaged to her long-time boyfriend Alex Hopkins... Paul MacDonald is dating former “Walking Dead” star and fellow musician Emily Kinney... Scotty McCreery scored his first No. 1 single with “Five More Minutes” and married his long-time girlfriend Gabi Dugal... Paula Abdul headlined her first tour in 25 years... Randy Jackson mocked his “Idol” judge persona in a Geico ad judging dogs - or “dawgs”?... Katie Stevens entered her second season starring in Freeform’s “The Bold Type.”