By Tom Comi
Viewers always gets blamed when a contestant on American Idol goes home prematurely, because it is they who ultimately cast the votes. But I am calling out the judges today for being accomplices to the crime that was committed last night.
When it was announced that Pia was shockingly going home, the crowd booed, the judges were speechless and host Ryan Seacrest brazenly scolded the American public for not supporting a contestant that many considered one of the finest singers in the competition (see a recap of the show by my colleague Ruth Boulet here).
What goes overlooked, however, is how complicit the judges have been in determining not only who goes home but — more importantly — who stays. There is no question that there are many singers still left who can’t hold a candle to Pia, but they are still alive because the judges have been handling all of the singers with kid gloves. This is where the void of not having Simon Cowell around is really felt.
Randy Jackson is the only judge who is remotely critical of singers, and he is instantly shot down by newbies Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler every time he tries to speak the truth. Both of them are so afraid to hurt the feelings of the contestants to the point where they end up inadvertently saving the very singers who should be going home. And as we saw last night, it’s coming at the expense of much more accomplished vocalists.
When Randy justifiably criticized Stefano’s mediocre performance of “When a Man Loves a Woman” Wednesday night, Jennifer immediately came to Stefano’s defense like she was protecting a loved one. And while she probably thought she was doing the right thing in defending a young kid, what she ultimately did was garner him more votes than he deserved. Part of this is because amateur music fans value her opinion; a bigger part is that they pity him and want to offer their sympathy through their vote.
Either way, a performer who deserved to stay several more weeks is now at home, while another who arguably should have left weeks ago is still in the hunt for the coveted American Idol crown. And this isn’t about me defending Pia or dumping on Stefano. It’s about the judges taking their obligation seriously and realizing the power they wield. If they are afraid to speak their mind after an average performance, then they shouldn’t have taken the gig in the first place.
So moving forward I want the judges to look themselves in the mirror instead of making the American public the scapegoat. I want them to find some fault with Scotty, the 16-year-old country singer who is rarely critiqued poorly by the judges. I want them to be tougher on Haley Reinhart, whose wannabe-performance of a Janis Joplin song this week was average at best.
I’m not saying they have to be as brutal as Simon, but they can learn a lot from his power of his conviction. The only thing worse than hurting a contestant’s feelings is making them think they are better than they are. And that, sadly, is why Stefano is still around and Pia no longer is.