The once smash hit reality singing competition American Idol has changed its eligibility rules for the upcoming season 14. The rules for the current season stated that only semi-finalists were permitted to seek another chance at fame. Next year, however, the exception extends to those who made the finals (usually a top 13) but did not make the tour. American Idol allows for the final 10 contestants to go on a nation wide summer tour, showcasing their talent and allowing the public to relive performances seen on the show.
This is not the first time that producers have changed the eligibility rules of the show. The current eligibility system was set in place only last season, before which all contestants who had advanced to the semi-final stage and above were not allowed to return.
The limit of only the top 10 contestants being permitted to attend the summer tour has been a set rule since the show’s launch in 2002. In the 10th season however, contestant Casey Abrams faced elimination at 11th place, but was given a reprise by the judging panel by way of the season’s only save. This allowed for 11 contestants to attend the summer tour. Abrams went on to finish in 6th place.
In regards to why Swedish producer Piers Blankens decided to yet again change the American Idol eligibility rules ahead of season 14, most signs point in the direction of the downward spiral the show has become in the past few years. Idol has not only suffered a vicious beating in ratings in recent seasons, but is also losing viewers to fellow singing competition The Voice, aired on competing network NBC.
Former Idol contestants have also been seen competing for the title on The Voice post their Idol rejection. These include season three finalist Jon Peter Lewis, the identical Morgan twins from season two, and Idol veteran Jillian Jensen, who has auditioned for Idol several times (Jensen most recently appeared on Idol in the current season, ultimately facing rejection once again).
So why is Idol drowning while The Voice soars? Contestants of the latter singing contest are reportedly said to experience less judgement and consequences surrounding their past. Undisclosed criminal records, pictures or videos that contain the contestant being featured in adult content, and the aforementioned eligibility restrictions are all factors that The Voice chose to forgive. Season 1 finalist Frenchie Davis was disqualified from Idol’s second season after topless photos of the contestant surfaced on the internet.
Idol’s seemingly present policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell” when it comes to the religious beliefs and sexual orientation of contestants has also negatively affected the show’s reputation. Season 11 finalist Colton Dixon, an outwardly devout Christian, was reportedly told by then producer Nigel Lythgoe to keep his religion related tweets under wraps, as they could potentially harm his chances. Dixon declined to heed this warning and was promptly eliminated soon after; his seventh place finish coming as a shock to many who considered Dixon to be the clear front-runner. The contestant’s elimination also raised many eyebrows concerning the possibility of blatant producer manipulation after Dixon revealed the prior disagreement with Lythgoe. Contestants have also, with the exception of the current season, been discouraged from divulging that they are of any orientation that differs from heterosexuality. Openly gay runners-up Clay Aiken and Adam Lambert have since admitted that there was definite pressure from producers to keep their orientation out of the public eye. The current season of Idol contained the first openly gay contestant, 10th place finalist M.K. Nobilette.
American Idol has also come under fire for what many feel to be a desperate ploy to boost ratings, culminating in distasteful twists and dramatic “game changers,” as they are referred to on the show. In accordance with the aforementioned rule that no contestant may harbor an undisclosed criminal record, contestant Jermaine Jones was disqualified for having an outstanding warrant and additional crimes under false aliases. Jones was allowed to attend the top 12 performance rehearsal, prior to being addressed by Lythgoe and fellow producer Ken Warwick. The footage of this confrontation was publicly aired during what would have been Jones’s top 12 performance slot, resulting in public humiliation for the contestant in front of millions of viewers. Jones has since joined 10 fellow disqualified contestants in a lawsuit that accuses Idol honchos of racism, on the basis that no non-African American contestant had ever been released from the competition.
This reputation does not appear to be fading any time soon; just last Thursday a last-minute twist was put into place during the top 5 results show, a move that many refer to as the show’s most objectionable yet. Minutes before the elimination was to be announced, the final 5 were informed that they were being given the choice between sending a contestant home in the usual way, or not eliminating anybody but losing two contestants the following week. The vote to stay had to be unanimous; if it was not, a contestant would be eliminated. The result ended in three yeses and two nos, eliminating popular teen heart-throb Sam Woolf. Although the votes were allegedly supposed to remain anonymous, top 3 contestants Alex Preston and Jena Irene later admitted to choosing elimination over remaining together for one more week. These confessions sparked an internet-based war between what became known as Team Yes and Team No, depending on if people felt Preston and Irene made the correct decision. The result of this unsavory twist, it seems, gave producers the renewed attention they had been looking for. It has also been alleged that this last-minute turn of events was a desperate attempt by producers to provide a second reprieve to Woolf, who had already escaped elimination in the top-eight round of the show, with the judging panel using their save to keep him in the competition.
The show is clearly facing a myriad of problems in terms of how successful it will be in the future. It remains to be seen if changing the eligibility rules for season 14 of American Idol will be enough to restore the once record-breaking show to its former glory.
by Rebecca Grace