Though it seems like we’ve known the makeup of American Idol’s new judging panel for months despite it only having been officially unveiled today, there’s still one thing we won’t know until January: Will these three have any chemistry together? With Randy Jackson there mostly for continuity’s sake and Jennifer Lopez principally angling for a springboard back into stardom (her Fox contract was the only one to include a first-look film and TV deal), Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler is the table’s biggest X factor — and potentially, its biggest problem. Here are three questions we have about Tyler’s ability to replace Simon Cowell.
What If He’s Too Nice?
Like Ellen DeGeneres before them, both Tyler and Lopez still have their own careers to think about, and neither of the judges is likely to put likability on the line by being overly critical of the contestants. To help fill Cowell’s void, executive producer Nigel Lythgoe has installed Interscope’s Jimmy Iovine as a tough-talking resident mentor, but it’s going to seem like quite the anticlimax (not to mention an inversion of typical reality-competition procedure) if the mean mentor sends the contestants out in front of a judging panel that’s too afraid to offer much aside from wan praise.
What If He’s Too Old?
Cowell always dug into the contestants for not sounding “current” enough, but deep down, Idol has never been current — it’s why contestants are forced into ill-fitting Frank Sinatra theme nights and the season finales are always overstuffed with bands that haven’t had a No. 1 hit since the introduction of the cassette tape. Though Tyler is a music-industry veteran, his hiring pushes Idol further in a direction it shouldn’t necessarily go — and the decision to formulate this season’s finals around decade-themed nights will only exacerbate the problem.
What If He’s Too Incoherent?
Success as a famous singer doesn’t necessarily beget success in a new medium. For every Bret Michaels — a rocker who took to reality television like a fish to water — there’s a David Lee Roth, who attempted to replace Howard Stern as a radio-show host and was fired after four months of unlistenable babbling. When you’ve spent decades onstage, cheered by millions for saying the most inane things and constantly complimented by yes-men, your ability to discern what’s actually smart and interesting may be dulled a bit. It’s telling that the few people who can actually talk back to Tyler — his Aerosmith bandmates — are now feuding with the singer for his indulgent, often-incoherent behavior. If that’s what Idol producers wanted in a judge, couldn’t they just have hired Paula Abdul back?