Why we give Steven Tyler a mixed vote as an 'American Idol' judge
Is Steven Tyler good or bad for “American Idol?” Fox hasn’t officially confirmed him, but it looks like his addition as a judge is a done deal (of course, people were saying the same thing about Jennifer Lopez two weeks ago).
Why should we care? Because more people vote for the “American Idol” winner than vote for U.S. president. And, in case you haven’t noticed, “American Idol” needs our help. Sure it’s still one of the top-rated TV shows, but the past season’s ratings fell of drastically. This is a national emergency, people!
But back to Tyler. Let’s evaluate a few salient criteria:
Is he qualified? We’re getting rid of the obvious. Of course he is. He clearly knows how to sing so none of the criticism that Ellen DeGeneres received applies to him. Plus, he’s been performing for more than 40 years so he understands what it takes to get up on stage and make an impression.
Can he play well with others? Simon Cowell showed that this is not a job requirement, and, in fact, can be a detriment. Through his various stints in rehab and through decades of working through really tough band dynamics, he’s probably mastered the art of pretending to listen and appreciating opposing views. Hopefully not too much though since who wants the civility all the time.
Can he play second banana? Here’s my first of only two real qualms about Tyler. Tyler is a star. He is not only used to all eyes being on him, he lives for it. I don’t know if it’s reasonable, or even fair, to expect him to sit quietly and let the spotlight be on the contestants. There is no comparing his role as an entertainer/superstar to Paula Abdul’s (and that’s no dis to Paula)so she can’t be a barometer here. Say what you will about Abdul, she was very comfortable nurturing and coming up with positive things about the contestants. Perhaps that’s because she knows how severely the criticism all performers receive stings.
Can he make trenchant, valuable commentary? In terms of technical evaluation, sure. But so can Randy Jackson (and we wish he’d do that more) and so can/could Kara DioGuardi, as she showed during her vastly improved performance in season two. As someone who’s interviewed Tyler a fair number of times, he can bring the crazy just as much as Abdul when it comes to making comments that leave you shaking your head or going “Huh?” That makes great copy, but I don’t know if it’s a great criterion for a judge.
Is he too gosh darn old? Tyler is 62. I’m not one who believes that age has anything to do with ability to remain current, plus “American Idol” is hardly concerned with appearing hip. It is a populist show and Aerosmith is a great, populist band. Case closed on that one. That said, I would probably counter program against him with someone who is young and hip in order to give a broader range of opinions among the judges.
Why is he doing this? I can really only think of one reason: To expose Aerosmith to a younger audience. We’re hoping he doesn’t need the money, although that rock and roll lifestyle (and hair extensions and plastic surgery) doesn’t come cheap. “American Idol” has made a cottage industry of using artists who have been around since the ’60s and ‘70s as mentors. In fact, we love how the Oscar-worthy performance some contestants give, many of whom were born 30 years after the artist’s hey day, when they meet the mentor—as if they were their biggest fan instead of the reality, which is they’d probably never even heard of them until 30 minutes earlier. We don’t know if their appearance has done much for those artists, other than provide a modest, momentary blip in sales for that week, but it couldn’t hurt. And not to be too cynical about it, but as a judge, he'll get plenty of interview time on "AI" host Ryan Seacrest's KIIS morning show, which will do more to expose him to the 12-14 demo than the "Idol" gig.
What do you think about Tyler walking his way to "American Idol?"