Is Clay Aiken right? Are the Idol judges putting you to sleep?

Clay Aiken got a lot of attention for his tweets this season about the Idol judges. Basically he was saying that their comments are boring and that Simon Cowell’s mean remarks made the show entertaining. Is he right? Well, yes and no. Yes, it’s true that the judges no longer have the bite of a Simon Cowell. Simon had the advantage of being unknown. He didn’t start out with any fans so he had none to lose. He made his name as the mean judge. It’s what you expected of him and why you liked him. Subsequent judges had nothing to gain and lots to lose by making harsh comments. Ellen DeGeneres realized this immediately and got the heck out of there. The risk of hurting her image was too great. Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj turned on each other. That wasn’t great for their brands either, but it was better than attacking the contestants. Any judge with an existing career in the public eye (sorry Simon) can’t afford to be perceived as really mean. Even Harry seemed to have been asked to dial it back last season when there was buzzing that he was being too harsh. It’s a problem for a show that liked to play it both ways: building up some contestants as the next big thing while tearing down other contestants and mocking them. Given that the show seems to only want successful performers to serve as the judges now, they no longer have anyone who can do their dirty work. So they simply broadcast the auditions they want as comic relief, allowing the judges to make mild comments like “he has a good sense of humor”. I guess now it’s up to the viewer to make any cutting comments.

in comparison, the format of The Voice is pretty harsh. You’re up there singing and no one even turns around. The ultimate cold shoulder. You’re the kid no one wants to pick to be on their team. Ouch. But since it’s just a matter of passive inaction (not turning your chair around) and not a result of aggressive criticism, the judges on The Voice are insulated from appearing mean.

So yes, the Idol judges have no real bite and Simon was entertaining, but no, I don’t think it’s fair to say they’re putting everyone to sleep. Keith is amusing with his puns and singing of tv theme songs. Harry comes up with silly antics, sometimes teasing the contestants but in a gentle way. J Lo isn’t really there to be funny but we’re still interested in what she’s going to say. They’re doing the best they can in a situation where no famous performer is going to take the risk of calling people out in the manner of Simon Cowell. Well, no one other than Clay Aiken anyway. Maybe those tweets were Clay Aiken’s way of advertising himself as a potential reality show judge who’d be unafraid to say what he really thinks!