Because of some rancid pepperoni at home last night we ended up ordering out and I found myself staring into this circle of reconstituted sustenance. Dominoes made a big deal this past year of their willingness to change, putting out viral videos that reveled in their own humiliation. They showed customers ripping them to shreds followed by a commitment to completely start over, from scratch, doing everything to get the pizza recipe right this time. There is only one problem. I thought it was right last time. I liked the old Dominoes Pizza. It was a staple as I pursued my higher education, cramming for tests, and trying to write in 5 hours the 10 page term papers that were intended to be slowly crafted over a semester. That old recipe is locked into my taste buds by the adrenaline of trying to craft compelling paragraphs on symbol theory as the clock from 24 counted down my final seconds. The new recipe? Well, it's edible. The sauce is much spicier (negative), the toppings seem good (neutral), and the crust is softer and better seasoned (positive). Overall though, it's the sauce that makes the difference, and it is so much worse that it makes the overall experience a far less pleasant piece of pizza. It really only takes that one change to completely throw off the recipe.
Which brings us to the fully reconstituted version of American Idol that was thrust upon us this week. There is a definite recipe that goes into this pop culture meal and it's been a part of the American diet for the past 9 years (it wouldn't be a rollin review if I didn't stretch this pizza metaphor until it's as thin as a Biggest Loser finale., so bear with me.) There are three main parts to the American Idol gumbo (sheesh, one sentence in and I'm already mixing my metaphors), the host, the judges, and the contestants. One by one lets see how the new Idol pizza stacks up to old.
The Host - Seacrest continues to take his place on the Mt. Rushmore of Reality hosts alongside of Probst, Deeley, and Anderson Cooper (The Mole version, not the CNN version). The host is the crust of any reality show pizza, it's seemingly insignificant but without it the pie completely falls apart. Crust also has the job of not interfering with the remaining featured tastes while adding just enough flavor to be distinct. Seacrest is a pro and he does his job adding just the right amount of zest while keeping the circus around him from losing structure. If anything Seacrest gets better every season, and in the first few episodes he is already showing that he can shoulder much of the weight left on the show after Simon left.
The Contestants - The toppings. Unchanged. If you showed someone who had never seen American Idol tryouts from the different seasons, there is no way they could tell one from another. Just like toppings on a pizza different people will find themselves preferring different contestants but some of the old stand-bys will always ring true. Some will sing good, some will sing bad, and the last one of the episode will either have a disease, come from a rough background, or be a single mom. To be fair, it's a formula that works, and it works as good this season as it did last. I'm a basic pepperoni kind of guy, just give me the singer that can sing the roof off and I'm good.
The Judges - There is only one name that has ever mattered amongst those who have sat at that table and sipped from those shapely coke glasses. Simon Cowell. He was the sauce that defined Idol. His sharp criticism stood out not only because he was generally right but because he understood that sugar coating leaves delusional people tasting only the sugar. He was occasionally unnecessarily mean but for the most part the darts were bulls eyes. The new judges? This Randy Jackson character seems to just pattern whatever else is going on in the room. Wait? He's been on the show before? Huh. Ok then. Moving on. Steven Tyler, whose previous credits include the Rock N Roller Coaster at Disney's Hollywood Studios, is a nightmare, a living breathing (I think) nightmare. The man has nothing constructive to say and seems to exist on the show to simply ogle the ladies and occasionally scring (look! I made screech and sing into a squished word, or would that be a squird?, never mind). And what's with the crew in the room trying to make him feel like he is Louis CK all of the sudden? Am I the only one that has noticed the immense laughter of the audition staff? It's almost as if they have gone from telling the production crew to stay as quiet as possible to telling them to be a laugh track. I find it very distracting and a bit rude to the performers as well. Jennifer Lopez has been a pleasant surprise and has even said an intelligent thing or two to these singers. But when the only one making any sense is also seemingly incapable of delivering a negative assessment there isn't much room for any kind of real tension. And that's the essence of this new sauce, there is zero dramatic tension. There are still the good stories, the great auditions, and the singing lunatics, but they might as well just let Ryan hand out the golden tickets with as much purpose as this threesome is serving. And it changes everything.
Because the sauce makes the difference.
The first 9 seasons Idol was a must see event, now it just feels like a chore. Will I watch? I'll probably stick with the auditions for the contestant insanity. Once we get to the performance shows I will likely skim through to the songs of the ones I like and if I find someone to root for I will see them through to the end. I doubt I will blog much about it, but it will still be on my plate. After all, even a bad pizza is still pizza and if there is nothing else I can say about American Idol...