'American Idol' notes: season 16 schedule, talks with 'Vote for the Worst' creator, MJ's Big Blog, Michael Slezak

Posted Friday, March 2, 2018 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

"American Idol" has released its schedule for season 16 on ABC.

The season will be far shorter than it used to be, spanning just 11 weeks with 19 episodes. During its peak, the show on Fox ran for up to 19 weeks with 40 or more episodes. By season 15, "Idol" had been cut to 14 weeks and 24 episodes.

The live shows span a mere five weeks over nine episodes. There will be only a top 10, not a top 12, so there will be multiple eliminations at least some weeks.

American Idol 2018 Schedule

Sunday March 11 (2 Hours) – Auditions Part 1 – New York City, Los Angeles, Nashville

Monday March 12 (2 Hours) – Auditions Part 2 – New Orleans, Savannah
Sunday March 18 (2 Hours) – Auditions Part 3
Monday March 19 (2 Hours) – Auditions Part 4
Sunday March 25 (2 Hours) – Auditions Part 5
Monday March 26 (2 Hours) – Hollywood Week Part 1
Sunday April 1 (2 Hours) – Hollywood Week Part 2
Monday April 2 (2 Hours) – Showcase Round/ Green Mile (Top 50)
Sunday April 8 (2 Hours) – Semi-Finals (Top 24) Group 1 Solo
Monday April 9 (2 Hours) – Semi-Finals (Top 24) Group 1 Celebrity Duets
Sunday April 15 (2 Hours) – Semi-Finals (Top 24) Group 2 Solo
Monday April 16 (2 Hours) – Semi-Finales (Top 24) Group 2 Celebrity Duets
Sunday April 22 (2 Hours) – Top 10 Live Finals
Monday April 23 (2 Hours)-  Live Finals
Sunday April 29 (2 Hours) – Live Finals
Sunday May 6 (2 Hours) – Live Finals
Sunday May 13 (2 Hours) – Live Finals
Sunday May 20 (2 Hours) – Live Finale

Monday May 21 (2 Hours) - Live Finale


Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

While doing interviews for a traditional print story about the "Idol" return, I tracked down Dave Della Terza, the man behind "Vote for the Worst," the tongue-in-cheek website from 2004-2013 that encouraged people to vote for the worst singers, not the best.

Amusingly, he is a librarian, the deputy director of the Naperville, Ill. library system. He's in his mid-30s with a young child. And the only reality competition show he watches now is "RuPaul's Drag Race." He barely is even aware of the "Idol" return and lost interest in the show long before it was over. In fact, he killed his website just before the debut of disastrous season 12 featuring Nicki Minaj, Mariah Carey and a cast of inept male singers. (Can you blame him?)

He never was a true fan of the show and barely even knew Katy Perry was involved. "I always thought it was ridiculous," he said. But he certainly made his mark, especially pushing Sanjaya Malakar to unlikely heights season six and gaining the admiration of Howard Stern and the ire of the producers.

At the same time, the website was a always just a hobby for him. "I'm lucky that wasn't a full time job!" he said. He said he only made money one year - thanks Sanjaya! Traffic was a mere trickle by the time he closed it down five years ago.


Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

And for folks who read MJ's Big Blog, I had the honor to speak to MJ Santilli, the Quincy, Mass.-based blogger who has run her site since 2006, which now includes coverage of the most popular reality competition shows such as "The Bachelor," "Survivor" and "The Voice." (She gets my kudos for keeping her blog viable this long.)

She has mixed feelings about the "Idol" return. "I love the show," she said. "I'm glad to see it back. But I worry." She sensed the desperation on the part of the "Idol" producers to get the show back so quickly.

"It would have been better for America to miss it a little first before bringing it back," she said. "Nobody is nostalgic for 'American Idol' yet." She said, in comparison, there is definite nostalgia for other shows such as "Queer Eye" (now on Netflix with new episodes 10 years after the final season on Bravo), "Will & Grace" on NBC (which also took a decade off) and ABC's "Roseanne" (back after two decades.)

The show, based on previews and what she has heard, is not veering from far the same formula: auditions, Hollywood, semifinals, live shows, winner. "American Idol" is "very much focusing on the contestants. You see the contestants in the advertising. They've put out little video clips of contestants."

She didn't think much of ABC pushing so hard for big-name celebrity judges, preferring an interesting unknown like Simon Cowell in 2002. And she isn't thrilled by the shortened schedule, which makes it more difficult for viewers to get to know the singers.

"My worst-case scenario is it bombs," she said. "It's completely embarrassing and it goes off the air. That's it. You can't keep bringing back a show that fails."

And the show will face off several weeks against "The Voice," featuring none other than Kelly Clarkson, a coup of a move on the part of NBC. "Obnoxious and delicious," Santilli said. "Everyone at NBC is delighted."

Santilli has been doing her site full time for the past decade though she said the past year without "Idol" has been tough. A newly rejuvenated "Idol" would certainly help her traffic.


Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

I touched base with former TVLine writer Michael Slezak, who used to do hilarious "Idol" video recaps with season 6 runner up Melinda Doolittle. He is now selling thoroughbred racehorses and writing pilot scripts, one which may involve a little "Idol"-like murder mystery.

He said he may do a podcast or video this season but isn't sure there is enough interest. "I'm not sure people are excited about its return," he said. "I don't know. I'm not feeling it, to quote Randy Jackson."

"Absence makes the heart grow fonder," he added. "This was barely an absence. It was more like running out to the car in the middle of a party to grab a bag of Cheetos and then returning. That's not leaving! That's not an exit!"

Slezak believes if ABC can get 9 to 10 million viewers as Fox did during its final season with "Idol," that would be considered huge compared to what the network now gets on Sunday nights. But that's a big if.

He enjoyed the last couple of seasons of "Idol" on Fox but understood a break was okay. "You don't want it to be a shell of its former self," he said. "You don't want to see a show limping along and not having an impact, investing in the journey of the contestants, then seeing the public be completely ambivalent or apathetic to what they're putting out. You don't want to see that. It's sad."  (Sadly, that is what happened with the last four winners.)


Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

Plus, I caught up with a friend of mine for more than a quarter century Fred Bronson of Billboard magazine, who appeared on "American Idol" four times as expert.

Of the four experts here, I'd say he is the most optimistic of the bunch.

"People say it's coming back too soon," Bronson said. "I don't really feel that way. I'm glad to be covering it again."

He noted that even in its final season, "Idol" was one of Fox's top-rated shows.

Bronson, who began covering "Idol" season two for Billboard, planted the seed in Nigel Lythgoe's to do Billboard songs as a theme season two. They repeated it again season four. Season seven, he explained the impact of Lennon/McCartney songs for folks who may not have known. Then they did a Billboard theme one more time season nine.

He said the future of this reboot depends on creating stars. "If they don't, I don't think it's going to have a very long second life."

He does like Hollywood Records, which will handle the winner. The label represents Selena Gomez and Nick Jonas, to name a few.

Bronson got a sneak peak at group rounds. It was difficult to gauge talent based on that. Oddly, he heard them sing two 1970s classics: "Stayin' Alive" by the Bee Gees and "The Chain" by Fleetwood Mac. He liked the judges.

"They all have great senses of humor," he said. "They play off each other and have fun with each other while giving some real serious criticism." He said people seem to have fallen in love with Lionel Richie.

Plus, "most of the people behind the scenes are the same," he said. "You've got continuity."

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