An All-Approval ‘American Idol’

Anyone who needs proof that “American Idol” has changed completely from the show it once was need only look at Thursday’s episode of Pittsburgh auditions.

Where once the audition rounds was a place where some hilariously horrific auditions were occasionally interrupted with glorious singing, now “Idol” audition episodes are made up with one great singer following another. Golden tickets seem as plentiful as identification numbers for the overjoyed singers. Jennifer Lopez is smiling at each singer before her; Steven Tyler closes his eyes and shakes his head in wonder; and Randy Jackson merely bellows “You’re going to Hollywood!”

Are we to believe there was no comically bad singers who showed up in Pittsburgh? Only one on screen was turned down, and in that case the poor miner was told only to keep at it and try a little harder next time (you almost expected them to chase them down the hall and say they’d change their mind).

Heck, there seemed to be only a handful of turn-downs in Wednesday’s debut, and that was a two hour episode out of Savannah.

We can come to two quick conclusions: Hollywood is going to be overrun with singers and the odds of making it past this suddenly not very critical panel of judges are suddenly very good indeed.

“American Idol” made its name not just for digging up some decent voices, but by being brutally honest with those who were deluded about their own skills. Now it’s just another feel good talent show, along the lines of “The Voice” or “America’s Got Talent” where the overpraised “amazing” singers far outnumber those rejected.

It’s not that singers are getting better 11 seasons on in “Idol.” It’s that someone has made a conscious decision to spotlight the good singers and virtually ignore the poor.

Truth be told, the audition episodes with the judges are actually call-backs, featuring much smaller groups of dozens who were plucked by producers out of the thousands who are pictured lining up, months earlier, in stadium cattle calls where the judges never stepped foot.

If a certain day begins with a lot of great talent, it is only because the producers have lined up the good singers just so. If there are no bad singers, it’s only because the producers have kept them from coming back (or cut them out of the episode altogether before it goes to air).

That’s why there was such a wide gulf in performers in past years – producers wanted to put good voices in front of judges, but also some terrible ones – almost as if to put-on the judges, but almost always guaranteeing one of those watercooler moments (or occasional stars) who come out of the worst singers.

Former judge Simon Cowell was sometimes mean in dismissing the terrible, but he was also the most respected judge for telling the truth. Now the toughest anybody gets is when Jackson is leveling with singers, as he did with three Wednesday: “Awful.”

Lopez and Tyler will instead sweet talk the losers off the stage, telling them to keep practicing or come back next year. But they’re hardly having to do that at all this year, as producers keep packing their audition studio with the good singers.

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