American Idol premiered Sunday night after a two-year absence from our screens. Many wondered if it had been gone long enough to actually miss. Now the question: what has changed? After a highly publicized search for new (and ultimately pricey) judges, the show landed on the respectable pop, country and R&B trio of Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie. So, new judges!
But after watching the season 16 premiere, we can see not much else has changed. And, here's the thing: that's good.
It's the age of TV revivals, but "reboot" doesn't have to mean "completely revamped show." Will & Grace has returned successfully without changing much from its first iteration. The upcoming Roseanne season is being touted as "same cast, new episodes."
Much like those series, Idol was a landmark show; it changed the landscape of television. To come back, it didn't need to change. But now, it's pitted up against The Voice on Monday nights, and you do need to give Idol a chance. Here's why.
Idol is truly a singing competition.
When The Voice premiered in 2011, it was fascinating for its format. With coaches facing away from the contestants, they judge their voices alone, not on their looks. But those voices are also backed by a powerful, professional band during auditions, which are done in front of an audience. Voice auditions are in many ways karaoke. On Idol, competitors mostly sing a cappella (some play the guitar or piano.) Their voices are stripped down, sans microphone in front of the judges.
Idol's contestants are raw and real.
On The Voice, contestants are styled for their auditions by the show's wardrobe department. They look great, but Idol brings a rawness that's captivating: Who will walk through the door? How will their clothing reflect their personal style and artistry? More importantly, only two episodes in, we've already seen several contestants perform original songs for the judges. On The Voice, that's rare.
The judges judge.
Perry has promised to be "more the Simon Cowell" on Idol. Cowell was sometimes criticized for being too mean, which helped The Voice find a niche as the "nicer" singing show when it debuted. But the music industry is a ruthless one, and competitors can often benefit from a little harsh reality. Perry, Richie and Bryan have already sent several Idol hopefuls packing, telling them the industry isn't for them at all.
It's not all about the judges.
We love watching Adam Levine and Blake Shelton's banter, Alicia Keys is captivating and Kelly Clarkson has been a funny, energetic addition to The Voice. The coaches are great, but the show is also largely all about them, and sometimes to a fault. Idol places the focus back on the contestants; the judges don't have to compete with each other or build their own teams to try and win the show.
Idol makes idols.
Perhaps the biggest criticism of The Voice,even from its own coaches, is that it has yet to produce a lasting superstar. Idol gave us Carrie Underwood, Adam Lambert, Scotty McCreery, Kellie Pickler, Jordin Sparks, Jennifer Hudson and Clarkson to name a few.
Two episodes in, Idol's ratings are subject to some debate. Its premiere was the least-watched in its history, but remember that Idol dates all the way back to 2002, when the television landscape (no streaming!) was vastly different. In the mid-2000s, it hit a staggering 30 million viewers. The Sunday night episode garnered a solid 8.2 million and gave ABC its best Sunday night in more than five years.
On Monday, The Voice beat Idol, marking the first time ever the two had gone head-to-head with regular new episodes on the same night. So watch one, or watch both, but give Idol the audition it deserves. Ryan Seacrest might even say, "This still is American Idol."