America’s Got Talent, a show that is in its second season here in the US, is a much better reality competition show than ratings juggernaut American Idol. Here are 5 reasons why:
1. The “nice judge” isn’t useless
Sharon Osbourne, who has replaced Brandy as the middle judge, is generally the “nice” one on America’s Got Talent. Space Cadet Paula Abdul serves the role on Idol. The thing is, Abdul is useless. Abdul is a cheerleader at best, and utterly worthless at worst. When pressed, she offers up condescending comments like “Pretty girl!” She generally has no constructive criticism for the contestant.
Osbourne on the other hand isn’t as much nice as ladylike and tactful. She’ll gently offer a “no” with a “thank you,” and you’d believe that even though she hated your act, she’d be happy to serve you tea. She’s a breath of fresh air, and she’s likable, and most of all, she’s able to form complete sentences.
2. The “mean judge” isn’t so mean
Cranky Simon Cowell is part of American pop culture for good. But in recent season, he’s just as useless as Paula Abdul. Cowell usually conjures up comments like “utterly horrendous” and “dreadful” without so much as a blink. But that offers NOTHING to the show. A judge OUGHT to say something like “Your high notes are off pitch” and “when you focus on melody, you lose your connection to the audience.” It’s rare he offers up legit critique, and when he does it, it’s snotty, such as his comments about season 6 contestant Chris Richardson’s nasally vocals.
Contrast that with grumpy Piers Morgan, who is often a disrespectful, snobby jerk. The thing is, more often than not, he can at least offer up some justification for his pissiness.
Where Cowell seems annoyed to be there, Morgan seems like a harsh critic, which is okay in my book.
3. AGT showcases the good, AI focuses on the bad
The endless auditions of American Idol are entertaining, and many people tune in just for that part, often because it’s so funny. But isn’t it telling that America Idol, a show dedicated to finding the greatest singer, spends so long and so much camera time on cretins who can’t sing a note? With the rise of douche bag Ian Benardo (who is such a putz he doesn’t even get a link!), it’s become fashionable to ham it up to get on camera. What a sad state. Idol spends very little time on discovered gems and very much on asshat contestants who couldn’t get a tuning fork to ring on key.
American’s Got Talent, on the other hand, focuses primarily on people who actually have talent. There are very few people who are terrible, and those that are are usually either people with weird or unconventional talents – arguably, still talented – and are generally still entertaining. Take last week, yes, we had to deal with “guy who breaks things with his butt,” but we got ubercool singer/beatboxer Butterscotch, whose audition song has been in my head all week.
4. AGT has variety, AI has little
American Idol has no variety at all. They tried to use a “rocker” with Bo Bice three year ago and Chris Daughtry last year, and they try to always have a soulful black woman and a few other stereotypes need annual reps. Too often, like this most recent season, Stephanie Edwards, Sabrina Sloan, Melinda Doolittle, and LaKisha Jones were all competeing for the uncoveted title of AI “diva.” As a result, the audience revolted, and eliminated the two former names early. Thankfully, by making everyone sing similarly styled songs, you grant an advantage to people who can stand out. However, you also lose your edge. It forces people like Chris Daughtry to reinvent themselves when they don’t need to. Daughtry’s multiplatinum album does not feature a broadway cut, a country cut, etc. AI is about singers performing outside their range. But ultimately, it’s just people recycling other songs, usually in a way that pales to the original.
America’s Got Talent, on the other hand, doesn’t force people outside of their comfort zone. The goal is simple: showcase what you can do. Yes, you must continually step it up if you want to continue to impress. But isn’t that good?
5. Contestants aren’t ridiculed (as often)
The biggest downside of American Idol recently has been the way they have not only made fun of people that deserved it. There was “The Hotness.” There was the kooky Darwin Reedy. But what of poor Nick Zitzmann? Here’s this poor sap’s myspace page. Did he deserve the “ultimate nerd” treatment? How about Jonathan Jayne and Kenneth Swale, aka the “bush baby?” Is it really ok to make fun of people who are honestly nerds or possibly even have some sort of syndrome or disease? Is that what we’ve come to, mercilessly making fun of people for cheap entertainment?
This isn’t just a search for a great singer, it’s a search for entertainment at others’ expense. You could argue that if you try out, you deserve a response. But I’d say that if you aren’t offering anything constructive, a “no, thank you” would suffice. I’d suggest that it’s ok to tell a dancer “you’re too heavy and you don’t get enough height when you jump” but it’s not ok to say “you look like a bush baby” to a singer in a singing competition.
America’s Got Talent is about finding the best talent. Aside from the obvious zaniness, in most cases, the people actually have talent, and it’s just a case of “is it interesting enough?” What you’re watching, even through auditions, is people trying their hardest and doing something well. It’s all entertaining.
America’s Got Talent is, for the most part, positive TV. American Idol professes to be about offering someone an amazing chance. And while it’s great TV, AI is really, at best, a sham. It’s not a “singing competition;” the judges critique the dress, the contestants’ looks, their hair, their audience connection. It’s not about singing. America’s Got Talent is, mostly, about talent. Yes, it’s true, when the audience connects, that bodes well for you. But in the end, Talent is better, smarter, nicer TV. And despite two British judges, I’d venture to say it’s actually more American.