10 Big Questions For “American Idol” Season 12

The show has added some fireworks with new judges Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj — but is it too late to save Idol?

1. 1. Can the show be saved?

Fox

This is the big one. Since Idol’s very first season, it has been declared dead more times than Freddy Krueger. But for the past two seasons, with ratings in free fall, reality might, at last, be catching up with the obituaries. For nine years, Idol was the most stable entity in television, reliably decimating every other network five months a year. But now, though still number one, it barely holds off The Voice and has at moments fallen behind Dancing with the Stars.

Idol 2.0, featuring JLo and Steven Tyler, gave the show a boost of excitement, but that quickly faded. Will this year’s much-heralded Season 12 premiere give Idol another boost? And if it does, will this one hold up better than the last?

2. 2. Is this one makeover too many?

Fox

Idol featured the most consistent of formats and lineups for nine straight seasons, but now it has gone through two complete overhauls in three years. Are loyal fans ready for one more change?

3. 3. Will the new judges find a way to get along?

Fox

There has not been a great running judges’ feud since the golden age of the Simon/Paula buddy team. Building up to the show, Idol has certainly pushed the Mariah/Nicki grudge-match storyline. But will the hype match the heat? Will the two be able to keep it up? And even if they hate each other, will they find a workable chemistry, or will they each just pretend the other doesn’t exist and sit on their own private islands?

4. 4.What does Keith Urban think of all this?

Fox

The country star is actually the new judge with the biggest current connection to today’s Idol audience. How is he going to deal with the diva wars? Insert himself into the fray? Play referee? Or just — as he seemed to do in the show’s PR campaign — fade into the background?

5. 5. Is the audience ready for a splash of youth?

With the median age of Idol viewers now at 48 years old, the show’s attempt to attract younger viewers with an edgy, contemporary act like Minaj risks alienating the audience it has today. Further, Idol audiences have always placed great stock in the show’s “heart” and compassion. Will the harder bite of the current panel — particularly if the sparks fly — chase away those who see Idol as a safe place in the airwaves’ vast wasteland? If the audience is turned off, the ratings decline could turn into a rout.

6. 6.Why do these people want to be judges?

Fox

To date, not a single singer-turned-judge has wowed with their transition. Some offer effective advice. Paula Abdul soared as the straight man in a buddy routine. But none has done what Simon Cowell is capable of doing: telling the audience why a singer connects and how they are growing or failing as an artist.

It’s not solely the judges’ role to give advice; the contestants have plenty of time to get that backstage. The judges are there to explain to us the journey the singers are on. This is what record executives — like Cowell and Jimmy Iovine — do every day. But singers do not generally have to verbalize what makes them interesting, much less explain why any other singer is great. As a result, the singer/judges thus far have been more content to sit back, soak up the burst of press appearing on the show provides and use every chance they can to promote their day job.

7. 7. Did Phillip Phillips make a difference?

For years running, Idol has failed to do the very thing it promised right in its title: create genuine pop idols. As a result, the contest has largely lost its meaning and floated adrift. But last season, the show’s biggest star in six years emerged. The ridiculously handsome, low-key Phillip Phillips swept Season 11 and went on to produce the biggest selling coronation song in Idol history. To date, the now ubiquitous “Home” has sold a staggering 3.4 million copies. Will having something real on the line again put some spring back in Idol’s step?

(It should be noted the extensive presence of bona fide X Factor sensation One Direction did little to help Simon Cowell’s new show in this season’s ratings.)

8. 8. Why is Randy Jackson still there?

Fox

When Idol was created, the dawg was brought in as an inoffensive counterweight to balance out the toxic Cowell. Eleven seasons later, the inoffensive counterweight is still there, chewing up airtime. If the producers want continuity, why not bring back Brian Dunkleman? He’ll at least have a story to tell about his 11-year hiatus.

9. 9. How will they pretend that the female performers have a chance in hell of winning?

Fox

Now that five straight white guys with guitars have won, only a lunatic or the willfully self-deluded could believe that the winner of this season will be anyone other than a white guy with a guitar. But how will they pretend the women are doing anything other than providing cannon fodder on the road to the lad’s victory?

10. 10. Can they ever get modern song styles on this show?

Fox

It is 2013 and most of what you hear on Idol still sounds straight out of a 1980s beauty pageant. To date, hip-hop has yet to make an appearance in the final rounds. With an aging audience controlling the ballots, can that ever change?

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