Does the New 'American Idol' Need a Simon Cowell?
Does the New 'American Idol' Need a Simon Cowell?
Derek Stauffer
Derek Stauffer
Contributing Writer, BuddyTV
American Idol is back ... and it feels very different. Not only has American Idol moved networks but it's been given a whole new panel of judges. New judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan have the star power to be on Idol. They might, in fact, be the most successful musicians to be permanent American Idol judges. However, their prosperity in the industry hasn't really translated to judging prowess. The new American Idol panel is a letdown and is missing a harsh and brutally honest judge like Simon Cowell.

American Idol Season 16 Premiere Recap: The Iconic Franchise Returns with Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie>>>

'If I'm Being Honest...'

The grand return of American Idol started off on rough footing for several reasons. There was way too much time spent on the contestants' tragic backstories and a dearth of actual vocal talent. The biggest sin of all was that the judges didn't do much in the way of judging. The chemistry between the new trio was fine. This is something we saw when the judges were having fun with each other or with the contestants; as were the cases of Noah Davis' audition and (on the exact opposite end of spectrum) Koby's disastrous turn. Yet on American Idol the show has always been much more about the contestants than the star judging panel and those judges typically judge.

The new American Idol trio is entirely too soft on the contestants. The closest they got to criticizing an artist in the premiere was in the Koby audition. Yet even then they tried to soften the blow by telling her she belonged in other avenues of singing, not pop. Koby really should've been judged more harshly and without dancing around the fact that she screamed, not sang. Even worse was that the judges ended up putting contestants through who really didn't deserve it. 

Zach D'Onofiro was fine but his voice was just a little too underdeveloped. Neither Zach's speaking or singing voice has really matured. He's not ready for American Idol. The same goes for Catie Turner, who was a great songwriter but an OK singer. She's not terrible but not totally ready for American Idol. The most egregious example was Ron Bultongez, who was initially rejected for very good reasons but because of Lionel Richie's second thoughts -- AKA his backstory was just too heartbreaking -- he was given the golden ticket to Hollywood. This type of wishy-washy judging not only didn't feel like American Idol but just wasn't very fun to watch. 

American Idol was built on Simon Cowell and his brutally honest reviews of contestants' performances. While the collective impression of Simon was as the "mean judge," that wasn't accurate. Simon was just hard to please and he would turn out the compliments if the artists deserved them. Praise from Simon really meant something and singled out the real frontrunners. The new panel is so complimentary, all the time, that their praise lacks weight. Everyone's special, so no one is special. It's fine to have one or two "softie" judges but a whole panel of them is exhausting. 

Tightening up the Panel 

The new American Idol panel isn't hopeless and the reboot series isn't doomed to fail with them leading the charge. However, there really should be some changes moving forward on season 16. The judges need to toughen up, whether it's for the rest of the auditions or in the Hollywood rounds. Otherwise the talent pool on American Idol's live show is going look completely underwhelming (and will be crushed by its main competition, The Voice.)

Katy Perry is the closest to inheriting Simon's mantle as the honest judge. Katy was the only one who really leveled with Koby, telling her that her friends were lying to her when she explained they said she should try to be on American Idol

As much as Katy seems close to letting loose into some contestants who don't belong on the show, she's frequently holding back. Katy's still trying to stay close to her image as America's kooky, cutesy, singing sweetheart. There's an obvious dichotomy there and it, unsurprisingly, doesn't work. 

Katy needs to pick a lane. For the sake of American Idol, the best road would be the harsher one. Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan have the friendly faces covered on the panel. Katy should be a bit meaner. 

But do you agree? What do you make of the new judges? Do they need to be a little more judgmental? Do you miss Simon? Should the judges try to do their own thing? 

American Idol season 16 airs Sundays and Mondays at 8/7c on ABC. Want more news? Like our American Idol Facebook page.

(Image courtesy of ABC)